At the February Oneida County Board meeting, the board was planning to go into closed session in order to review and approve bid packages for a mining lease. Many people had been attending the Mining Committee meetings and raising concerns to the committee, but after more than two years of these concerns falling on deaf ears at the committee level, it was time to address the full board. Because of the concerns raised at the board meeting, the board never went into closed session, and the bid packages were never reviewed or approved, and the board directed the committee to look into holding public hearings on the leasing issue.
The committee seemed to get off to the right start, although there was clear defiance from some committee members to having hearings, most notably from Gary Beier and Tom Rudolph. After the spring elections, a new mining committee was appointed by Chairman Ted Cushing. Mr. Cushing turned a bad committee into an even worse one, and consequently, meeting after meeting, public process was whittled away at until the hearings were rendered as meaningless as possible.
In early May the committee met with the Lac du Flambeau Tribal Council in Minocqua. Because the Lac du Flambeau have a vested interest in the natural resources of the area, they have considerable knowledge and technical expertise, and freely offered this to the committee. Faced with the prospect of large amounts of information and technical expertise on the issue at hand, how did Chairman Beier respond? By making a decision to cancel the hearings altogether, even though they had twice been scheduled. There should be no place in our county government for this kind of rude, arrogant maneuvering aimed at stifling public process.
Now, after spending the entire spring and most of the summer squashing public debate on this serious issue, the committee is giving the county board an ultimatum. I believe that the board should reject this ultimatum, stop the process and have open public debate on Resolution #94-2009, which I believe would result in the rescinding of the policy of leasing county forest for metallic mining.
If the board decides to start soliciting for bids on a mining lease, it would be a repeat of the mistake made 23 years ago, except that the negative consequences would be much greater. State rules protecting our water resources have already been weakened, with many more waiting on the horizon, and the DNR is in no position to review a major mining proposal.
We treasure our water resources in Oneida County, and we expect integrity from our local governments. Both will be at stake at the August Oneida County Board meeting.
Karl A. Fate, Rhinelander