Tensions between state regulators and a company that wants to bring an open pit iron mine to northern Wisconsin could be a signal of more conflict yet to come.
Gogebic Taconite and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources got into a public dispute last week over how much regulatory authority remains in the agency’s hands after Republicans in 2013 enacted a law that rolled back environmental restrictions to make mining easier.
The dispute over what is and isn’t allowed under the untested mining law may be a preview of what’s to come when the company seeks a mining permit, the Wisconsin State Journal reported Sunday.
Letters illustrating the tensions were posted on the DNR website last week. The company objected to a DNR research document that listed environmental hazards of mining, which the company considered biased, and it sharply criticized the extent of agency questions about Gogebic’s plans to dig up rock for testing.
“All of the tests and modeling we’ve done cost money,” company spokesman Bob Seitz said. “(Some studies cost) tens of thousands of dollars a crack. So this should be about what’s necessary and not what’s wanted to satisfy curiosity.”
Seitz said multiple rounds of questions from the DNR have delayed completion of its plan for collecting bulk samples from the site in Iron and Ashland counties.
Sen. Bob Jauch, a Democrat whose district includes the mine site near Mellen, accused the company of “bullying” tactics.
Gogebic Taconite’s tough tone will backfire if the DNR is forced to deny the company’s final mining permit because the company fails to provide needed data within the new law’s tightened timeline for decision by the state, Jauch said.
Meanwhile, the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters issued a statement to supporters highlighting the developments and problems with the proposed mine.
Kerry Schumann, the group's executive director, referred to reports: that Gogebic president Bill Williams faces allegations of violating environmental laws in connection with the development of a copper mine, that the leaked DNR report says Gogebic's proposed mine in Wisconsin presents a threat to "human health and clean water" and that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says Wisconsin's new fast-track mining law would slow the approval process because it's inconsistent with federal law.
Calling Wisconsinites to action, Schumann stated, "Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters knew from day one that Bill Williams and Gogebic Taconite couldn't be trusted. Unfortunately, their friends in power at the Capitol gave them a free pass to pollute our air, land, and water."
"GTAC and other corporate polluters have no more allegiance to our home state of Wisconsin than to a foreign country like Spain. To them, your favorite places in Wisconsin - its land and water - are just commodities with dollar signs on them."