The Oneida County board of supervisors made a decisive decision at their monthly meeting last Tuesday, concerning mining in the Town of Lynne. That decision came after more than 100 citizens packed the conference room, most to object to the board even soliciting bids for a metallic mine in an environmentally sensitive area near the Willow Flowage.
In a nine to 12 vote, the board decided not to move forward on the mining issue anymore and that vote, brought a long and loud round of applause from audience members. “Finally, we can breathe easy again,” said one audience member.
The idea of mining at this site is not a new one. Back in 1990 Noranda Minerals, from Canada reported finding 5.6 million tons of zinc, lead ore, gold and silver in this area, which is located in southwest Oneida County. However, vocal opposition to mining at this location, which is near the Willow River and other watersheds, forced the company to back away from the project.
Then in 2009, Tamerlane Ventures approached the county, suggesting they would like to once again explore the site. From the beginning the issue was a hot one. At almost every monthly board meeting mining was brought up, but there was never a clear and definitive plan on how to proceed. In addition, as the issue became more public, more and more people started attending the monthly county board meetings, voicing their objection to a mine at this site.
But there was a contingent on the board that wanted the mine exploration revisited, believing that such an enterprise could bring much needed revenue to the county as well as jobs. Earlier this year the Mining Oversight /Local Impact Committee was combined with Forestry Land and Recreation Committee and that committee consists of county board supervisors, Gary Baier, who serves as chairman, Jack Martinson, Jerry Shidell, Jack Sorensen, Tom Rudolph, and Dave Hintz as an advisor. Dave Schatzley, who is the town chairman for the Town of Lynne is also included on the committee, as a non-voting member.
Five of the 21 resolutions on Tuesday’s agenda pertained to mining. These resolutions ranged from including a non-binding referendum on Nov. 6 ballots to releasing bid packages for the exploration, prospecting and mining lease agreements. One resolution brought to the board by the committee addressed the possibility of going forward with releasing bid packages or stopping the process all together.
Before any resolutions were acted on, Board Chairman Ted Cushing, opened up the meeting for public comment and the first speaker was Schatzley. “We have been denied opportunity to engage in a meaningful exchange about this mine,” he said. “The mining committee has not done what is was directed to do. I’m asking you all to vote no to put a stop to this. The environmental challenges are too great.”
The Town of Lynne also hired an attorney, Glenn Studdard, based out of Eau Claire, who has “been involved in mining for many years.” He told the board that he has been involved in representing towns where mining was proposed and towns have fought in court, and won, rulings where county rule was overturned by smaller municipality ordinances. “I urge you to go slow on this,” Studdard said. “It’s tempting to think about the money but mining is a boom or bust mentality. There are huge problems with infrastructure, property values go down and there’s pollution. Mining companies come in and play shell games. These companies have questionable track records. The Town of Lynne has authority on this and we will exercise it. My advice is to protect your forests-this is your asset.”
Next to address the board was Lac du Flambeau Tribal Chairman Tom Maulson. The Lac du Flambeau tribe has ancestors buried at this site and the land where the mine is proposed is culturally significant to the tribe. “We want to respect people’s wishes but no one respects our wishes,” he said. “You will have a problem digging up Mother Earth and taking from her body. Women are keepers of the water and you women on the board should realize this. We know how ground water runs. I have not seen mines that are safe (to the environment.) Look at the generations to come. We have obligations from our elders to protect them. We need to be a part of these decisions. The resolutions you have written are vague but we are savvy people. The Anishinabe people will be here making sure you are going in the right direction. We will be watching you.”
Brooks Big John, a member of the tribal council, also spoke. “You need to take a step back and do some soul searching,” he said. “Listen to what your constituents want. The Town of Lynne has concerns and issues and cries of help have fallen on deaf ears. You have a battle ahead of you in the direction you are going. Mining is boom or bust-and there’s no boom without bust. You can’t let jobs outweigh the environment. The environment is foremost.”
Mark Pflieger of Harshaw also presented the board with a petition with more than 1,200 names opposing the mine. “Many people worked to get this signed,” he said. “Every person signed the petition after they saw (pictures) of the site. We are all downstream from this. This was an issue 23 years ago and nothing has changed. The two streams and seven lakes in this area are still here. The tribes are still here. The Town of Lynne is still here and the citizens that don’t want this are still here.”
For almost two hours the board listened to close to 20 people voice their objections to the mine, some passionately, almost on the verge of tears. Only one speaker, Carlton Schroeder, spoke for the idea of exploring the site more. “I support the idea of drilling and how this site could be mined in a respectable way,” he said. “We won’t begin to understand any of the issues until we get into the permitting process.” His statements were met with stony silence.
After the public comment portion of the meeting closed the board discussed how to proceed. Board supervisor Bob Mott expressed his opinion that if the mine went forward there was lots of work ahead for the mining committee. “We will need detailed monthly reports,” he said. “This should not be a closed process. We need a step by step approach and an organized plan that is open for the board and the public. We need to know what revenue can be gained; how it will affect the infrastructure; what sulfide mines have been in operation and what are the (after) effects of closed mines. I want to be educated. How can people vote if they are not educated?”
Supervisor Tom Rudolph, who has been a proponent of the mine from the beginning, also spoke. “What we have heard here today is based on emotion,” he said. “Let’s get the factual side from the (mining) companies. There has been very little factual information from what we have heard here this morning. We are asking for bids to see if companies are still interested. The bid process does not commit us to mining. There are many hoops to go through. We’re not committing to anything at this point, but to get more information.”
But supervisor Bob Metropulos cautioned about the legal ramifications of going forward with the mine. “‘Some of us here have deaf ears,” he said. “Can we afford to get into litigation for the next five years? Now we’re talking about tax payer money. I don’t know if our general fund can handle something like that.”
Supervisor Jerry Shidell authored the resolution that would determine if the committee would go forward with mining or not. “Do you want us to go forward or not?” he asked. “It’s that simple. If you vote no the mining committee will close shop.”
The board then voted. Supervisors in favor of continuing with the process included, Shidell, Denny Thompson, Mike Timmons, Gary Baier, Dave Hintz, Rudolph, Mott, Jack Sorensen and Scott Holewinski. Those for stopping the process included Jim Intrepidi, Jack Martinson, Sonny Paszak, Romelle Vandervest, Paul Dean, Bob Martini, Candy Sorensen, Carol Pedersen, Billy Fried, Greg Berard, Metropulos and Cushing.
And with that vote the crowd rose to their feet and cheered and applauded. “This vote means there is no need to continue pursuing the mining process,” said corporate counsel Brian Desmond.