2016 Reports

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Testimony opposing mining permits
for the Aquila Back 40 sulfite mine

Presented in person by Karl Fate of Rhinelander, WI, at the public hearing held in Stephenson, MI, on Oct. 6, 2016
I am speaking in opposition to these permits. There are some who are citing the Flambeau Mine as a successful massive sulfide mine. There are problems with this argument. The Flambeau mine was the simplest of sulfide mines. Although, the mine did generate a considerable amount of high sulfur waste rock that remains on site, the ore itself was processed in Canada, so there are no actual tailings at the site.  It was a small and extremely short lived mine. And the mining company was competent enough. Despite all of this, there are water quality issues at the site, and who knows where things will be after another 20 or 50 years of seepage from the backfilled pit.

This proposed mine would be much larger, much more long lived, and much more complicated. There is no reason to believe that this proposal would not result in commensurately greater water quality issues than resulted from the Flambeau mine. 

It is hard to imagine how this mine could be permitted given the large number of cultural resources of such significance that would be impacted by this project.

 Given the presence and nature of these cultural resources, the fact that much of the water issues are interstate in nature involving the Menominee River and Lake Michigan, and the fact that Aquila has been involved at two properties in Wisconsin and interested in a third, this proposal should be receiving a full and independent Federal evaluation.

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Lake association leaders adopt resolution supporting
local control of zoning protections

A report appearing in the Sept. 3, 2016 edition of the Northwoods River News

More than 60 lake association leaders from northern counties have signed a resolution opposing state legislative actions that have eliminated local control of protective shoreline zoning measures. The resolution also strongly supports efforts "to repeal or substantially modify these legislative actions in order to return the powers of local control to county and local officials." The resolution was circulated at a June 10 meeting in Rhinelander for the Lakes and Rivers Associations of six counties: Vilas, Oneida, Forest, Iron, Langlade and Lincoln. Copies of the resolution are to be circulated to appropriate elected officials in the six counties.    Continue reading.
     The resolution:
       WHEREAS, the 2015-2016 legislative sessions have produced numerous changes in Wisconsin State Statutes resulting in significant loss of local controls designed to protect local water resources; and
       WHEREAS, the counties represented at this conference contain over 5,000 lakes, thousands of miles of rivers and streams, and other natural water resources vital to the economies of these counties; and
       WHEREAS, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has adopted the NR115 shoreland zoning rule package and updated it periodically after public input and review; and
       WHEREAS, the counties represented have been enforcing the minimum standards of NR115 and have accumulated considerable experience when working with NR115 over many years and in so doing have developed additional and more protective local measures to safeguard water quality, property values, wildlife habitat, fisheries and the natural scenic beauty of the "Northwoods"; and
       WHEREAS, local control of shoreland zoning is essential to meeting the individual needs of counties and other local governments to protect their unique water resources;
      NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the undersigned individuals and representatives of organizations hereby go on record in opposition to the legislative actions that have eliminated local control of the many long-used and proven protective measures; and
      BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the undersigned will support all efforts to repeal or substantially modify these legislative actions in order to return the powers of local control to county and local officials and will support calls to action for such repeals or legislative revisions.

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Huge sulfide mine proposed for the Wisconsin-Michigan border
threatens environment and Menominee Nation's sacred sites

By Al Gedicks
Al Gedicks is executive secretary of the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council and emeritus

professor of environmental sociology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

Sept. 13, 2016--Imagine an open pit mine deeper than the height of Wisconsin’s tallest building, Milwaukee’s U.S. Bank tower. The depth of that pit, a mere 150 feet from the Menominee River (a major Lake Michigan tributary that forms the Wisconsin-Michigan border and flows into Green Bay) would exceed 700 feet. The pit would be 2,000 feet wide and 2,500 feet long. That would be the enormous size of the controversial open pit gold and zinc sulfide mine recently given preliminary approval by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

​The proposed Back Forty mine project has special significance for the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin because it is their original tribal homeland. The Menominee reservation is 60 miles southwest of the proposed mine. The tribe is concerned about pollution of the Menominee River and the destruction of sacred sites. Similar concerns about harm to water supplies and the destruction of sacred sites have resulted in massive tribal and environmental protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline next to the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota.

Multiple burial sites and mounds sacred to the Menominee are within the footprint of the Back Forty mine. Joan Delabreau, Menominee tribal chairwoman, said she was “sickened” by the DEQ’s decision and promised that her tribe “has and will continue to fight to protect any land within our ancestral territory that contains the remains of our Ancestors and our cultural resources.”

The Archaeological Investigation Report for the proposed mine identified several archaeological sites that are likely to be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The federal government is required to consult with tribes in the identification of historic properties under the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).

However, because Michigan is one of only two states that has been delegated authority under the Clean Water Act, the mine application process is subject only to state permits. Michigan DEQ is not required to consult with the tribe or comply with the provisions of NHPA. David Grignon, Menominee tribal historic preservation officer, says that the federal government can delegate CWA authority to Michigan but cannot delegate the trust responsibility to protect the tribe’s cultural resources.

A possible solution to the lack of federal protection under NHPA is recent Michigan legislation (Act 247) that calls for a “master plan to promote and preserve the history of Native Americans in Michigan” including “the making of applications for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.” However, the effective date of this legislation is Sept. 22.

Why is DEQ in such a rush to grant preliminary approval for the Back Forty mine project? The scientific studies necessary to evaluate the impact of the mine on wetlands and the Menominee River are incomplete. A final permit cannot be granted until all the studies are completed and there is a public hearing. Is DEQ afraid to allow the Menominee Tribe an opportunity to submit an application to preserve its cultural resources for fear it will delay a final mine permit for Canada-based Aquila Resources?

On Sept. 21, the Menominee Nation will lead a “Walk for the Sacred Water Where Our Wild Rice Grows” from the Menominee reservation to the proposed mine site. The “Remembering Our Ancestors Gathering” will take place the next day at the boat landing on the Menominee River, about 100 yards north of Aquila’s field office. Despite DEQ’s preliminary approval, this mine project is hardly a done deal

Posted with permission of the author.
This editorial also appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Sept. 13, 2016.

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State of Michigan announces approval of open pit mine near tribal sacred grounds in the UP 

A report by Brian Bienkowski, Environmental Health News, Common Dreams

Sept. 6, 2016--The State of Michigan on Friday announced its intention to approve, over tribal protests, an open pit mine near burial and other culturally important sites in the Upper Peninsula. The mine would provide an economic boost to the region and metals such as gold, zinc, copper and silver that fuel our tech- and gadget-driven lifestyle. But would come at the expense of land and water that is central to the existence of the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin. The decision comes as Native Americans across the country are unifying to buck the trend of development on off-reservation land. Continue reading.

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DNR Board says there isn't enough money in the state coffers to protect public waters from farm manure contamination

A report by Steven Verberg, Wisconsin State Journal
Aug. 4, 2016--The state Department of Natural Resources policy board on Wednesday approved limited plans for reducing manure contamination of public waters despite complaints about excessive dairy industry influence and worries the department won’t have staff to enforce any new rules. Continue reading.

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The state's list of impaired lakes and rivers keeps growing, with no quick fix in sight

A report by Steven Verburg, Wisconsin State Journal
April 17, 2016--Environmental regulators say they are making strides in controlling runoff of farm manure and fertilizer that are the state’s most prevalent polluter of lakes and streams. But each year, as more bodies of water are monitored and standards are written with greater precision, the state is finding hundreds of additional waters so high in phosphorus that swimming, fishing and boating are being limited due to weeds, algae and other problems. Continue reading.

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A manual for how to seize power
How Sen. Tom Tiffany successfully took away local communities' ability
to create their own more protective shoreland regulations 

Analysis by Karl Fate, Rhinelander, WI
April 2, 2016
--In Wisconsin today we are seeing an unprecedented level of extreme catering to big money special interests. It would be bad enough if this was merely being perpetrated on the taxpayer’s dime. The cost to the people of our state, our water resources, and society as we know it, is much greater.

In 2013, and again in 2014, Sen. Tom Tiffany of District 12, an area that contains one of the world's highest concentrations of freshwater lakes, introduced legislation that would restrict the police powers of Wisconsin’s towns and would have severely damaged the ability of local government to protect the "health, safety, and welfare" of local residents and property owners. Both of these efforts were undertaken primarily on behalf of the frac sand mining industry and both failed.

On Dec. 15, 2014, Sen. Tom Tiffany and Sen. Kathleen Vinehout were interviewed by Joy Cardin on Wisconsin Public Radio. The interview focused on Tiffany’s consideration of a third attempt to curtail the towns' police powers. During the interview, Sen. Vinehout stated that "The rumors in the Capitol have been very strong that Senator Tiffany is planning to put this legislation in the budget at the last minute where it doesn’t get to a public hearing, where the statewide press is paying attention to a lot of different issues and it’s hard to find that bandwidth for the people and the press to pay attention to this particular issue."

Although Tiffany has not yet gotten around to his third attack on the police powers of Wisconsin towns, it is obvious that he realized at least as early as 2014 that if he was going to destroy local control in Wisconsin, he would have to make sure there were never any public hearings.

Instead of going after the towns' police powers, Tiffany used the most recent state budget process to attack local control at the county level. He inserted a provision that blocks the counties from enacting a shoreland ordinance stronger than the state minimum standards. This maneuver, which obliterates the critical relationship between state and county governments necessary for the protection of our lakes and streams, was included with several other controversial measures, including the effort to eliminate the Public Records law, so it received little attention in the state press. Now, without public hearings, counties across Wisconsin are being forced to spend time and resources .to rewrite their shoreland ordinances. This is destroying decades of thoughtful hard work by the counties and invalidating the results of many pubic hearings held across the state over the years.

Once Tiffany made sure there would not be a public hearing on this maneuver, all he had to do was to ignore and dismiss the overwhelming opposition that his office received, including by many county boards across the north, knowing that he could avoid most of the negative publicity that a hearing would bring, at least until after the motion became law.

Tiffany is the worst of the bad actors, but there are others, and none of them would get anywhere if not for nearly total partisan complicity. When politicians spend their time catering to special interests instead of working for the public interest, it invariably results in flawed decision making and bad law. This is what has become of the Republican Party in Wisconsin today, and it is being fueled by a combination of the whims of political power and the unbridled influence of big money.

Consequently, the waters of our state are being threatened, wetlands are being destroyed, and local control is being eliminated. Ultimately, this means that wildlife values and the health of our fisheries are impaired. The taxpayer and property owner are disenfranchised because we can no longer appeal to our own county government for the protection of our lakes and streams where we live and work.

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Under new leadership, Wisconsin Natural Resources Board holds unannounced
private meeting prior to its regularly scheduled monthly board meeting

A report by Tim Eisele, Freelance Outdoor Writer and Photographer,
Appearing in Outdoor News

Mar. 1, 2016--The Natural Resources Board appeared to “stub its toe” at its February meeting in Madison.
As required by the state’s open meeting law, the board always issues a public notice of the time, place and date of its meetings, and any time that a quorum of the board is together at one time. Continue reading.

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Wisconsin State Assembly passes property rights bills,
which critics say weaken water protections

A report by Steven Verburg, Wisconsin State Journal
Feb. 19, 2016--A pair of "private property rights" bills aimed at loosening environmental regulations passed the state Assembly on Thursday. Senate Bill 459 makes changes to existing laws, including weakening protection of wetlands and eliminating safeguards for about 9,000 water bodies with endangered species and other sensitive features for an indefinite time period. That bill passed the Assembly on a 56-37 vote. Continue reading.

2017 Reports

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Al Gedicks:
Personal attack during mining hearing was unwarranted

(Al Gedicks is emeritus professor of environmental sociology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and executive secretary of the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council.)

Sept. 25, 2017--How far is Sen. Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, willing to go to do the bidding of the mining industry with his legislation to repeal Wisconsin’s “Prove It First” moratorium on sulfide mining?

Tiffany made that clear to everyone who attended the public hearing on Sept. 7 in Ladysmith on SB 395, the so-called “Mining for America Act,” when he broke all the rules for public hearings and common decency by launching a personal attack on me for an arrest record from 47 years ago. He launched his attack in the middle of my testimony in opposition to repealing the mining moratorium law. Read the full editorial in the La Crosse Tribune.

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Sen. Tom Tiffany's 'model mine' for his repeal of the Sulfide Mining Moratorium law

was bad for Wisconsin
Mining bill supporters distort its impact on the environment and jobs

By Raj Shukla, Urban Milwaukee

Sept. 23, 2017--Foreign mining companies, and the politicians they lavish with contributions, tell us sulfide mines—which bring copper, zinc, and gold to market—bring jobs too. They tell us sulfide mines that generate toxic byproducts like cyanide and sulfuric acid are safe for our communities. They are not telling the truth and that’s precisely why we need to continue existing protections from dangerous pollution that makes these mines, effectively, “acid mines.”  Continue reading.

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Public Hearing in Ladysmith:
Opposition turns out in force to oppose Sen. Tom Tiffany's bill

A Report by Karl Fate, Rhinelander, WI

At 9 am on the Sept. 7, 2017, a hearing was held in Ladysmith, WI, on the proposal to repeal the "prove it first" Sulfide Mining Moratorium law.

In State Senator Tom Tiffany's Sept. 8th newsletter, Tiffany treats his constituents to a fictional account of what occurred at the hearing. The newsletter states, "As the chair of the committee, it was important to me to schedule a public hearing on SB 395 up north where the citizens who are most affected by mining will have a better opportunity to testify. The committee heard ten hours of testimony from experts and local residents that demonstrated the success of the Flambeau Mine in addition to the vast economic opportunity that lays beneath our feet."

It is good that this hearing was held "up north" rather than in Madison. However, the reason that you schedule a hearing at nine in the morning during the week is to cater to lobbyists and paid professionals, not so that "citizens who are most affected by mining will have a better opportunity to testify."

During the time that Sen. Tiffany was in the hearing room he appeared to be preoccupied and obsessed with sifting through the hearing slips, carefully deciding who should testify when. The lobbyists, paid professionals, and supporters of the bill, along with some opposing the bill, went in the first portion of the hearing, most of them not "citizens who are most affected by mining," nor "local residents."

Tiffany even brought down to Ladysmith an indigenous representative from the far northern part of Canada to support his bill, but the Indian folks living in the Northwoods who opposed the bill had to wait to speak.

Once Tiffany spent his pool of bill supporters he had no choice but to let the others testify. It was a long list of folks speaking against the bill, the vast majority being those "citizens" from "up north," "who are most affected by mining."

The first in this long string opposing the bill was Al Gedicks. After his testimony, Gedicks was asked several questions and then Tiffany grilled Gedicks about a criminal conviction for which Gedicks was sentenced to three years' probation with the first 90 days in county jail under the Huber Act. This occurred 47 years ago during the Vietnam war and was totally unrelated to purpose of the hearing.

Apparently, Tiffany felt that this maneuver would intimidate and somehow invalidate the long string of Northwoods residents that he knew had yet to testify. He was wrong. One by one, they came to the microphone and spoke against Tiffany's bill.

Tiffany was right that the hearing lasted for 10 hours. However, it did not last that long because of "local residents that demonstrated the success of the Flambeau Mine" and because "the vast economic opportunity that lays beneath our feet," as Tiffany fantasizes. It lasted for 10 hours because of the overwhelming opposition provided by folks "up north" to his bill.

Senator, you have every right to propose legislation for any reason, but please stop trying to justify it by lying to your constituents.

And when you hold a public hearing, you should bother to take it seriously and then bother to represent it accurately. It's what a public servant does, but then, it isn't really the public that you are serving, is it?

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Looking for leaders of courage:

Our counties must fight against the state legislature's power grab that is adversely impacting the quality of our lakes and rivers

By Karl Fate, Rhinelander, WI

Testimony presented Aug. 30, 2017, at the Public Hearing held by the Oneida County Planning and Development Committee, on revisions to the Oneida County Shoreland Ordinance

Every supervisor and most everyone else in this room knows how these changes became law.  They were stuck into a budget bill, even though they have nothing to do with the budget, and even though they would negatively impact the waters of our state. This was wrong. It was done in this manner to control and diminish the inevitable backlash that these changes would create. What this means is that the Wisconsin State Legislature denied due process to the owners of the waters that would be impacted by these changes.

These are changes that will have substantial negative long-term impacts on the lakes of our county. These changes will ultimately have negative economic repercussions for our county as well.  The details of these impacts have already been provided to this Committee in previous testimony.

In Wisconsin today, we have an enormous leadership void when it comes to protecting our waters. This has happened because the Wisconsin State Legislature has abandoned its constitutional responsibility to protect the waters of our state and the public’s interest in those waters. We saw this with the Iron Mining Law of 2013, and we are seeing it again with this one.

Counties across the north need to stand up and fill this leadership void. These changes should be rejected.  But that is not enough. Oneida County must substantiate why these changes will be harmful to our lakes and to our county. This is entirely doable, but I am convinced that it cannot happen through this committee.  To accomplish this, an ad hoc committee comprised of supervisors and others with expertise in water issues should be established to itemize how these changes would be harmful to our lakes and our county, culminating in a report to be sent to all of Wisconsin’s state legislators with copies sent to the governor, the DNR, federal representatives, tribal governments, and to all Wisconsin counties.

How much time and resources are the counties willing to spend to facilitate the degradation of our Lakes because the legislature won’t uphold their constitutional obligations.

Oneida County needs to stand up and lead for the sake of our lakes. 

* * *
A foreign corporation aims to mine sulfide
ore deposits in our Northwoods

     And some Republicans hope to accommodate them by doing away with our state's

     20-year-old mining moratorium law

By Spencer Black
(Spencer Black represented the 77th Assembly District for 26 years. He was chair of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee and the minority leader. He is vice president of the national Sierra Club and is adjunct professor of urban and regional planning at the UW-Madison.)

Aug. 29, 2017--Twenty years ago, Wisconsin politicians did what they should do. They listened to the people and enacted common-sense legislation to protect our outdoors despite an unprecedented flood of special-interest lobbying money. Continue reading at the Wisconsin State Journal.  

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Sen. Tiffany is at it again
No Wisconsin state senator loves the mining industry more

Aug. 18, 2017—Two Wisconsin lawmakers on Thursday introduced a controversial proposal to repeal state law requiring mining companies to demonstrate that they have operated without polluting before they are permitted to extract metals here. Read the Wisconsin State Journal article by Steven Verburg.

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How Oneida County supervisors can redeem themselves:
Take up Bob Mott’s challenge to protect our 1,100 lakes

By Karl Fate, Rhinelander
May 29, 2017--County Supervisor Bob Mott deserves our commendation for standing up for Oneida County and for the health of our incredible lakes. His challenge to the County Board at its monthly meeting on May 16  to protect our most valuable resource is what a county board supervisor is supposed to do. Too many supervisors are willing to roll over and play dead on this issue. Our lakes are more important than that.

The controversial law at issue, which became known as Act 55 in 2015, was created when a bill, known as Motion 520, was inserted by State Sen. Tom Tiffany at the last minute into another state budget bill, so that it would receive little public scrutiny and no public hearing.

The overwhelming opposition to the proposed law received at Tiffany’s office was dismissed and ignored. Many county boards passed resolutions opposing it. Eventually there were hearings held on this law, but not until after it was already law, and not until county legislators had spent thousands of tax dollars trying to figure out what to do with it.

Mott pointed out that the County Board could seize the initiative and rewrite the shoreland protection ordinance in a way that truly would protect our lakes. At stake, he said, was our county’s $221 million tourism industry. Lowering our standards to the current state law minimum as written in NR 115 jeopardizes that industry.

You could call Tiffany's law underhanded, despicable, or corrupt, but democratic it is not. In fact, this law was deliberately designed to deny due process to the actual owners of the waters that this law impacts. The legislature has constitutional responsibilities to protect our lakes under the Public Trust Doctrine.  (For a full explanation on how important this doctrine has been to our state during the past 150 years, read the presentation given at the 2010 Wisconsin Lakes Convention in Green Bay.)

What this means is, Act 55 is literally a legislative betrayal of the public trust and is a perversion of the legislature’s responsibilities.

Oneida County has legitimate cause to reject the changes that can be brought about by this law, because those changes will negatively impact our lakes. Thanks to Bob Mott for setting a leadership example on protecting our lakes for future generations to enjoy as we all have.

* * *
Since the DNR can no longer protect our lakes, each county must resist

the lower state standards and save our lakes from further degradation

Comments presented at the March 2, 2017, Public Hearing in Rhinelander
on the proposed changes to the Oneida County Shoreland Ordinance
By Karl Fate, Rhinelander, Wisconsin

One of the foundations of our State Constitution is the Public Trust Doctrine.  Under the Public Trust Doctrine, Wisconsin lakes and rivers are public resources, owned in common by all Wisconsin citizens.  It declares that all navigable waters are "common highways and forever free," and held in trust by the Department of Natural Resources.

As the doctrine evolved over many decades, “it was read to protect a variety of rights of water including the right to recreate, to fish, to hunt game, to enjoy scenic beauty and to enjoy clean and healthy water.”

Our lakes are owned by all Wisconsin citizens, not by special interests. The changes we see before us today are driven by special interests. The actual owners of these waters were never consulted about these changes and we have never given our consent.

One of the primary objectives of these changes is to strip counties of the ability to protect the waters within the county owned by the citizens of the state. The Department of Natural Resources cannot carry out its obligation to protect these waters, that it holds in trust for the citizens of our state, if counties cannot go beyond minimum standards to meet the unique requirements necessary to protect its Lakes.

Over the last three decades, the structures being built on our lake shores have dramatically increased in size. Because of these new changes, setback averaging is being forced on all the state’s counties, resulting in structures being built closer to the water, and 100-foot lots are being forced on the counties, even on small lakes. Massive party deck boathouses are being allowed. And, we are seeing constant pressure to allow clearing vegetation from our shorelines. Next up is a proposal that would make the dredging of our lakes easier and much more likely (see below).

  In combination, these changes will dramatically increase runoff into our lakes. This will lead to decreased water quality, a diminished fishery, and it will ruin the scenic beauty of our lakes.

  These changes are detrimental to the long-term health of our lakes, they do not protect the public’s interest in the waters of our state, and they are not in the county’s best interest. Oneida County should never willingly comply with changes that will harm the health of our lakes and that are contrary to the county’s best interest. Oneida County should reject these changes. Oneida County should then appeal to our state government and its representatives to do their jobs and work with the counties to protect our lakes for its current and future citizens. 

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Truth and falsehoods about clean water in Wisconsin

By Nick VanderPuy

Feb. 7, 2017--State Senator Tom Tiffany and Representative Adam Jarchow announce water and air quality are improving in Wisconsin. Their statement is demonstrably false.

Clean water eludes many.

Ask Kewaunee County farmer Lynda Cochart whose well was so poisoned by salmonella, nitrate, E. coli and manure born viruses that one researcher compared the results from her farm to contamination in a Third World country.

IN THE HOME. “Realize that we can’t drink, brush our teeth, wash dishes, wash food; we can’t use our water,” Cochart wrote in a letter four years ago to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, seeking intervention in the county’s drinking water problems. “Our water is on our mind all the time. If drinking it doesn’t kill us, the stress of having it on our mind and worrying about it all the time will.”

IN THE COURTHOUSE. Three years ago, Judge Jeffrey Boldt, an administrative law judge, accused the DNR of “massive regulatory failure” for failing to prevent widespread contamination in the private wells used by Kewaunee County residents living near large dairy farms. He ordered Kinnard Farms to conduct off-site well testing and cap the number of cows based on “limits that are necessary to protect groundwater and surface waters.”

The problems are statewide.

Ask retired retired Wisconsin Department of Health Services Lynda Knobeloch who estimates nearly half of Wisconsin's private wells are unsafe.

Ask someone from the Lake Superior band of Red Cliff Chippewa about algae blooms showing up the past few years at Raspberry Bay.


Over the last four years, Tiffany has received $155,000 in contributions from people in agriculture, business, construction, manufacturing and distributing, oil and gas, and real estate. Over the same period, Jarchow has received $60,000 from people in these same industries, as well as mining. As an attorney Jarchow has represented frac sand mining interests.

Tiffany led efforts to gut water protection safeguards for the proposed Cline/GTAC iron ore mountaintop removal efforts in northwestern Wisconsin. He also busted local control of shore land development, building on more lakefront, making it much more likely to contaminate water. And now, he and his colleagues are going to bring us more Shock and Awe by gutting the Mining Moratorium law and permitting sulfuric acid mine drainage in the purest water left in northern Wisconsin. This depravity might rub out the brook trout and downstream wild rice.

The ancient Greeks had an interesting way of governing. When new laws were being proposed a noose was put around the legislator's neck to remind him of consequences for poor laws. And every year the worst member of the legislature was selected and banished for ten years. I nominate Tiffany and Jarchow for this award.


The source for this information is an article by veteran Wisconsin journalist Ron Seeley for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. Nick VanderPuy lives in Mellen Wisconsin near the headwaters of the Bad River where he is a hunter, gatherer, journalist and anarchist in black granite territory.

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Sen. Tom Tiffany announces legislation to repeal the mining moratorium law of 1998;
Al Gedicks and Dave Blouin challenge the basis of his argument

Jan. 25, 2017—On Monday two northern Wisconsin legislators held several joint listening sessions around the Northwoods for their constituents. The one held in Rhinelander at Nicolet College was packed to capacity with approximately 50 people in attendance. Thirty-fourth District Representative Rob Swearingen and 12th District Senator Tom Tiffany skipped opening remarks and solicited questions and comments. The audience was ready. Citizens expressed concern about broadband access; the current punishing state aid formula that leaves public school districts in the Northwoods underfunded; the governor’s proposed dismantling of the DNR; where adequate oversight for a clean environment will come from; an impending bill by Sen. Tiffany to lift the motatorium on sulfite mining; more help needed in fighting Eurasian milfoil in area lakes; the delisting of the wolf on the Endangered Species list;
the $1 billion shortfall in the state transportation budget, and whether to address the statewide​ deterioration of roads with a gas tax, higher license fees, tolls, or taxing heavier vehicles; the current government’s cuts in taxes to the wealthy, leaving state services and programs underfunded; the state’s decreased commitment to the Stewardship Fund for preserving natural areas for future generations.

Sen. Tiffany's views about the environment and the mining moratorium law

"We are steadily getting better as a society, country and state in terms of making sure we have a clean environment. It was recently it was shown that the eagle and osprey populations in nest counts are at their highest levels. Loon populations are at some of their highest levels. We are a coal-dependent state with ⅔s of our electricity from coal, maybe a little less, and we have reduced sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions by 80 percent over the past 15 years."

On mining, Tiffany said he will be offering a bill in February to repeal the mining moratorium from 1998, a statute which required that there must be a sulfide mine that has been operated for 10 years and meets the state's emissions limitations, and also there must be a mine that has been closed for 10 years with no emissions that exceed the state law.

Tiffany said, "We have some of the toughest laws in the US regarding to mining, passed in the early 1980s by both sides of the political spectrum stating it as a model law. The Flambeau mine by Ladysmith has been closed for 10 years. When it was contested in court whether it was a clean closure. Judge Barbara Crabb said there is a small problem with Stream C going to the Flambeau River, showing pollutants, but that the company has done an exemplary job of closing the mine. The company appealed Crabb's the ruling in 2013, and the appeals court said there are no emissions that violate the law, stating that it is a 'clean closure' over a period of 10 years.

"I believe we have met the intent of the moratorium in the state statute and therefore it is no longer necessary. I’m not talking about changing any nurmeric standards in terms of emissions that go into the environment; there’s nothing like that will be included in a bill… I will be introducing a bill into legislation within the next month that will call for the repeal of the mining moratorium law. I would emphasize that former sec. George Meyer back in 1998 is on record as saying to the legislature, 'Do not pass this bill, it will not have the impact that you think it will.' He strongly advocated against passing that bill. I believe we’ve met the standard that was put in that law and that the law is no longer needed. If you look at the case that went before the courts, even Judge Crabb said this was an exemplary closure. This bill will be introduced as a stand-alone piece of legislation.

"I have made it a priority with this bill to be very forthright with people about what is about to be introduced. I sought out the interview with Channel 12 that has led to multiple other interviews that I may be introducing this piece of legislation. I want people to know what my intentions are here so they can voice their opinions. I want to be fully transparent with this process as we go forward.We will have a public hearing, it will be fully transparent."

When asked by an audience member why the law needs to be repealed if the Flambeau company represents an example of how the law is working, Sen. Tiffany responded, "I believe the law is mute at this point; we’ve had bills that went through the legislature and there are laws that are still on the books that are no longer valid or needed. I see this one in the same vein. A second part of this -- and this is what former Sec. George Meyer emphasized -- is that there was a mining company back in the late '90s, that, under the law as it’s written the company went on to Arizona and said, 'See, they closed this [mine] for 10 years,' and this was out in desert high country. As Sec. Meyer says, this has nothing to do with Wisconsin, yet they were able to use this as an example for how they met the requirements of the moratorium bill.

"I don’t think we should have moratoriums on business sectors like this. We should have a permitting process and then decide if the company can meet our level of scrutiny and high standards. If so, they can get the permit, if not, they can’t. Go to NR 140—those are the administration rules that dictate the threshold emissions that can go into groundwater. There will be no changes in this bill for NR 140. We are not changing the numeric standards for emissions into the environment. They still have to go through the same permitting process as laid out by the law.

"We have left mining behind as part of our economic development in this state. We will not reach our economic potential as a manufacturing state. We've always been a good manufacturing state; we’re No. 2 behind Indiana. I hope we can continue that. It’s been a good source of middle class jobs, and when you look at our energy saving gadgets that use minerals — for instance, I read that the Toyota Prius uses 64 pounds of copper — we need these materials to have our technological innovations. Our rigorous state standards in our law will be followed in the permitting of mines. Read the mining statutes administered by the State of Wisconsin."

A refutation to Sen. Tiffany’s claims about the moratorium law

In a recent article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Al Gedicks, the executive secretary of the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council, and Dave Blouin, the Mining Committee chair of the Sierra Club–John Muir chapter, write, “Tiffany and his mining industry supporters are misleading the Legislature and the public by asserting that the Flambeau mine is an example of environmentally safe mining. In June 2014, the EPA listed 'Stream C' at the Flambeau mine site as 'impaired waters' due to copper and zinc toxicity linked to the Flambeau mine operation. Stream C was the issue in the Clean Water Act lawsuit. The Flambeau mine also has severely contaminated groundwater.”

Gedicks and Blouin note that “the company with the most to gain by repealing the mining moratorium is Aquila Resources, the Canadian exploration company that owns the controversial Back Forty metallic sulfide mine proposal adjacent to the Menominee River that forms the border between Wisconsin and Michigan and flows into Green Bay.” Aquila also owns two other metallic sulfide deposits in Wisconsin. For more information, read the complete article.

2015 Reports

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Scott Walker and Legislature alter Wisconsin's way of protecting natural resources

A report by Steven Verburg, Wisconsin State Journal
Oct. 4, 2015--Nearly five years of one-party Republican rule has significantly altered the way Wisconsin protects its bounty of forests, lakes, streams and other natural resources, and more change may be on the way as the Department of Natural Resources reassesses the work its employees do. Read More. 

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Oneida County Board rebukes Sen. Tom Tiffany a second time for his role in taking away

local control in shoreland zoning

Sept. 16, 2015-- Once again the Oneida County Board censured Sen. Tom Tiffany's successful maneuver to create policy without public input through the State Budget process. At its regular monthly meeting held Tuesday, Sept. 15, Resolution #78-2015 was offered by Supervisor Tom Rudolph. It passed with a 14 - 6 vote. The previously passed Resolution #52-2015 vote, in June, was 14 - 4.

Resolution #78 asked the Wisconsin State Legislature to repeal Paragraph 23, Motion #520 of its 2016-17 Budget Bill (SB 21 and AB 21) during its upcoming short fall legislative session. Motion #520 was authored by Sen. Tiffany through the Joint Finance Committee. When signed by Gov. Scott Walker in July, it was incorporated into Act 55 and became the law. The Motion effectively took away local control of shoreland zoning, reducing all regulations to the State's NR115 standards. (For more information on Act 55, see Archives.)

The Resolution will be sent to the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau, a non-partisan legislative service agency which Rudolph said is creating a bill for the upcoming session pertaining to Motion #520. Rudolph said that the Board's previous effort "wasn't as effective as we wished. The governor pushed through Sen. Tiffany's amendment. What followed was an uproar, so new legislation for repealing and creating new legislation is being proposed, which would restore the current NR115 provisions." Rudolph added, "The State's minimum standards do not adequately protect the assets in the northern part of the state. One size does not fit all." Supervisor Bob Mott said, "We need more protection [for zoning] here to protect our $20 million tourist industry." Superintendent Ted Cushing asked, "Why can't the State let counties control their own destiny in zoning issues?" Supervisor Carol Pederson said she supported the Resolution because it asked for a return to local control in zoning. "I do not trust the DNR one iota," she said. "They change their minds every time we turn around."

Push-back came from Supervisors Scott Holewinski and Rob Jensen. Holewinski moved to amend the Resolution so that it also asked for the repeal and rewrite of NR115. "I want to go back to the 2012 version," he said. Several Supervisors said that would change the entire purpose of the Resolution, detracting from its clear message of asking for a return to local control. The amendment failed. Jensen moved to table the Resolution. This likewise failed.

After a lengthy debate, the Resolution passed 14 to 6. Voting in favor were Supervisors Ted Cushing, Dave Hintz, Jim Intrepidi, Tom Kelly, Lance Krolczyk, Bob Metropulos, Bob Mott, Sunny Paszak, Carol Pederson, Tom Rudolph, Jack Sorensen, Alan Van Raalte, Alex Young, and Lisa Zunker. Against were Supervisors Billy Fried, Scott Holewinski, Mitchell Ives, Greg Oettinger, and Michael Timmons. 

Sen. Tom Tiffany side-steps Act 55 in his stump speech to Oneida County supervisors

Aug. 19, 2015--Sen. Tom Tiffany spoke at the Oneida County Board’s regular monthly meeting on Aug. 18. The room was packed, standing room only. The senator had requested to speak at the board meeting to provide an update on the State Budget 2015-17, which went into effect July 14. Tiffany serves on the powerful Joint-Finance Committee, responsible for crafting the legislative version of the State Budget. Tiffany was co-sponsor of Motion 520, which became Act 55, notable for removing local control over Shoreland Protection regulation in deference to the weaker state code. Lake-rich northern counties such as Oneida and Vilas, with their stricter regulations for protecting water quality, are especially affected by the new law.

Tiffany’s speech followed a presentation by Planning and Development Director Karl Jennrich. The director reviewed the impact of the new law on Oneida County’s Shoreland Ordinance. “As of today, Act 55 is in effect,” Jennrich said, and it prohibits the county from regulating more restrictively than the rewritten NR 115 ordinance by Wisconsin’s DNR. The county’s Shoreland Ordinance will have to be rewritten immediately to comply, he said. Jennrich enumerated the many areas of zoning that will be affected. The county is prohibited from requiring a vegetation buffer zone on previously developed land or expanding an existing buffer; the county can no longer establish a 35-foot buffer, or 40 feet from the ordinary high water mark; the county is prohibited from establishing lighting restrictions; the county can no longer differentiate between types of structures on the shoreland for assessment; non-conforming structures will no longer need approval, or pay a fee, for maintenance changes, if the footprint is not expanded. Impervious surface regulations will not change, he said. Jennrich mentioned several areas that will need clarification, including what is meant by “regulating a matter not covered by the DNR Shoreland regulations.” Jennrich said other unknowns include any litigation that may ensue over Act 55. He asked for patience as the county wades through  and tries to integrate three separate codes: NR 115, State Statute 59.692, and Oneida County’s Shoreland Ordinance.

Sen. Tiffany spoke for 25 minutes about the State Budget, basically delivering a stump speech on what he views as its merits. He declined to address Act 55 in his speech. Comments and questions by the supervisors challenged Tiffany to explain why he had pushed his agenda through the State Budget process without holding public hearings and in light of 20 county boards -- Oneida and Vilas included -- passing resolutions asking for Motion 520 to be withdrawn from the budget. Supervisor Bob Mott: “With 15 conservation groups and up to 20 counties asking you to remove Motion 520, representing about 100,000 people, why didn’t you respond? Would you be open to removing these controversial areas through the legislative process?”

Tiffany responded, “You should travel with me and hear the other side’s comments. Others also have strong feelings about this. It’s about striking a balance with property rights.” Tiffany said he had been working with a group consisting of surveyors, builders, real estate people and county administrators, since 2011, to get the DNR to rewrite the NR 115 code, but when the group didn’t get the results it wanted, “we went to Plan B.”

Mott pointed out that both Vilas and Oneida Counties rely on tourism dollars. “Vilas takes in $200 million each year with tourism. Sixty percent of Oneida’s tax value comes from riperian owners. Why treat Vilas and Oneida the same as other counties that have little lake-based tourism?” Tiffany responded that the tourism dollar estimates include construction. “Part of tourism is based on the people who build on lakes. It’s part of the trade-off: property rights versus protecting the environment,” he said.

Supervisor Tom Rudolph asked Tiffany “where did the pressure come from for you to introduce this bill?” Tiffany responded that there were many county boards that did not send in resolutions because “they agreed with us.” Rudolph then asked, “Your Plan B — why did you go to that? Why not take up your issue with the DNR through the legislative process?” Tiffany responded, “There already had been plenty of debate. Enough.”

Supervisor Jack Sorensen said that he, a Republican who supports Tiffany “95 percent of the time,” started a resolution of non-confidence in Tiffany. “Local control is fundamental to the Republican Party,” Sorensen said, and used his own Pine Lake township as an example of how its citizens exercised their local control. Through meetings and a questionnaire, “they determined that they want to keep Pine Lake as a rural residential nature and the quality of our lakes high for as long as possible.”

Supervisor Scott Holewinski expressed support for Tiffany’s initiative. Most of the supervisors, however, remained silent on the Act 55 issue.

When the floor was opened to public comment, about a dozen people spoke at the mike, all negative toward Tiffany’s action. None spoke in favor. Tiffany, who sat with a beseiged look, deigned not to answer most of the comments, which ranged from pointing out the absurdity of enforcing a one-size-fits-all shoreland ordinance for the whole state, to how Act 55 undermined Wisconsin’s heritage as a state dedicated to protecting its waterways and lakes in the Public Trust and requiring laws that protect our waters from degradation and pollution. Several lake property owners despaired how the new law removed local control to regulate more strictly development on individual lakes. Two Sisters, for example, a premier area lake, requires a 150-foot frontage ownership. The new law will supersede this with a lower requirement. One commenter asked Tiffany, “How do you justify not championing local control, now that you are at the state level, when before you always presented yourself as in favor of local control?” Tiffany answered that if a local law adversely affects private property rights, “then it’s wrong.”

Later in the meeting, the Board passed unanimously Resolution #61-2015, to not allow non-budget items, such as Motion 520, be inserted into future budget bills.

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In 2015, for the first time in a decade Wisconsin failed to honor Aldo Leopold
Curt Meine, author of the biography "Aldo Leopold: His Life and Work," explains in his article of March 7, 2015 , how Gov. Scott Walker's 2015 budget "undercuts the foundations of conservation and environmental stewardship that Leopold and others put into place over the last four generations," and how this new direction created one of the worst state budgets ever for preserving the environment. Read the article.

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Earlier articles from OCCWA's home page

Oneida County Clean Waters Action