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Oneida County Clean Waters Action

2018 Reports

Testimony Presented to the Oneida County Planning and Development Committee
at the June 6, 2018, Public Hearing on Mineral Extraction in Oneida County

Joint Comments before the Oneida County Planning and Development Committee
on Oneida County Bulk Sampling Moratorium and Metallic Mineral Exploration, Bulk Sampling
and Mining Ordinance Amendments, on behalf of the Sierra Club–John Muir Chapter, the River Alliance of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Resources Protection Council, Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, and Midwest Environmental Advocates    

 Presented by Dave Blouin
Mining Committee Chair, Sierra Club - John Muir Chapter

Thank you for the opportunity to make these comments and suggestions related to the draft Oneida County Ordinance Amendment #10-2018, Chapter 9. Article 9.61, Metallic Mineral Exploration, Bulk Sampling and Mining.  We understand and appreciate the difficult position that the passage of 2017 Act 134 by the legislature has put the County in.  The draft ordinance is an important and significant starting point for discussion and we offer our comments with hopes of making the ordinance as protective as possible of the County’s interests in safeguarding its residents, property values, and natural resources from destructive industrial-scale metallic mining.

Our interest in this issue comes from our members and supporters who have an interest in protecting and preserving the natural habitat, air, waters and public health of Oneida and its neighboring Counties and citizens.  Our interests include preserving County forest lands for their sustainable income and recreational resource benefits and the Willow Flowage and its tributaries.  As you know, the Willow Flowage is a state protected Outstanding Resource Water that is already being harmed by mercury deposition.

Our concerns arise from the failed environmental track record of the mining industry and metallic sulfide mining in particular. Despite the repeal of the state’s Prove It First regulation requiring proof of successful mining in metallic sulfide minerals, the mining industry has yet to demonstrate any examples of mines that have safely operated and closed without causing pollution.  Mining projects are amongst the largest industrial activities proposed in Wisconsin in terms of land use and leave behind multi-millions of tons of reactive mine wastes covering hundreds of acres of land.  Open pit and underground mines expose the same reactive rock.  The mines are not usually backfilled and closed to limit acid mine drainage production of acid and the release of heavy metal contaminants and both mines and wastes must be managed to control acid production on time scales that begin with decades and can stretch to centuries.

Timing of ordinance approval

Act 134 has established an artificial and arbitrary deadline of July 1 for completion of updating ordinance language but we encourage the Committee to ignore this deadline and take the time to consider amendments or to reject the permitted use approach of the Amendment and return to your existing zoning approach to make the ordinance as legally robust and protective to your residents and natural resources as possible. The likeliest mineral deposit to be proposed for development is the Lynne deposit that is owned and controlled by the County. This means that a company would have to be granted a lease before any exploration or bulk sampling work can be done.  That fact alone means that any company interested in Lynne cannot vest legal rights in your ordinance anytime in the near future and means the July 1 deadline does not apply to Oneida County and you control if and when a mining permit application can be submitted. 

In fact, the Wisconsin Counties Association guidance points out that only a full mine permit application to the County would result in vested rights in the ordinance language at the time of the application[1].  This means that a Notification of Intent to apply for permits, or exploration and/or bulk sampling permit applications would not result in vested rights related to the full mining sections of the ordinance and gives the Committee additional time to consider amendments or even scrapping the current proposal to return to County zoning.

Legislative Intent of County Board to restrict mining

We urge the Committee to honor the vote by the County Board made in August 2012 that rejected mining as a form of economic development for the County and maintain the current legal land use zoning restrictions in the 1-A Forestry District that do not list mineral mining as a conditional use. Mineral mining is currently and appropriately allowed only as a conditional use in the Manufacturing and Industrial, and General Districts and Act 134 did not preempt the County’s authority to maintain this appropriate land use restriction.

Applicants interested in mining in Oneida County could work with the County and other local governments to re-zone County Forest land if necessary for mineral development if the Ordinance Amendment is not adopted.  If the draft Amendment is adopted, we urge the committee to amend it further by deleting the District 1-A Forestry from the list of districts where nonferrous metallic mining is a permitted use in N.2. (line 576).  This amendment would be consistent with the legislative intent established in 2012 by the County Board.  

Issue with Permitted Use Model and Local Agreement

The Wisconsin Counties Association (WCA) Handbook states that Zoning Ordinances are “zoning ordinances are arguably the strongest and most legally defensible regulatory framework available to counties.[2]”  Oneida County’s current regulatory approach for mining is zoning but the Amendment replaces it with a Permitted Use model.  The WCA notes in its discussion of Licensing Ordinances (or Permitted Uses as in the Amendment) that the Licensing approach has inherent legal issues that could result in the state approving mining permits without the requirement of a demonstration of local zoning approvals based on inconsistent language in the statutes (see WCA excerpt below).

The WCA also notes that there is legal uncertainty over whether a license ordinance is a legal land use ordinance under state law if the license incorporates code elements that can be considered zoning.  If either of these two legal issues are challenged by a mining company or its proxies, the County could find itself unable to enact and enforce a local agreement and/or the state could simply permit a project without proof of local approvals. Neither of these outcomes are desirable for the County if the goal of the Amendment is to include a valid Local Agreement.

Items 4. & 5., excerpted from Section VIII, Licensing Ordinances, pp 38-39, WCA Nonferrous Metallic Mining Handbook:

     4.  Another Legal Risk in Adopting Licensing Ordinances vs. Zoning Ordinances for Regulation of Nonferrous Metallic Mining: Potential Loss of WisDNR’s “Local Approval” Requirement.  Pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 293.49(1)(a)6, WisDNR must issue a mining permit if certain conditions are met in an application. One of these conditions is that the application demonstrates that “the proposed mining operation complies with all applicable zoning ordinances” (emphasis added).[3] This language is unlike Wis. Stat. § 293.41(1), which references a “zoning or land use ordinance (emphasis added).”

Wisconsin courts have not determined whether WisDNR’s permit issuance is conditioned upon an applicant securing local approvals if those approval requirements are set forth in a licensing ordinance, rather than in a zoning ordinance. Given the lack of case law for guidance, a county faces the risk of its approvals no longer being a condition of WisDNR’s approval if a county elects to use a licensing ordinance to regulate nonferrous metallic mining. In effect, a county’s use of a licensing ordinance, rather than a zoning ordinance, would excuse an applicant’s failure to obtain local approvals when obtaining the mining permit from WisDNR.       

     5.  And Another Legal Risk in Adopting Licensing Ordinances vs. Zoning Ordinances for Regulation of Nonferrous Metallic Mining:  Potential Loss of Ability to Use a Local Agreement.  Wisconsin Statute § 293.41(1) clearly allows a county to enter into a local agreement with a mine operator if that county has a zoning code.  It is less clear whether a Wisconsin court would allow a local agreement to be used in conjunction with a licensing ordinance.  This uncertainty is due to the language of Wis. Stat. § 293.41(1) stating that a local agreement may be used if an operator is required “to obtain an approval or permit under a zoning or land use ordinance.”  While a licensing ordinance seems to meet the “permit…under a land use ordinance” requirement in Wis. Stat. § 293.41(1), a court may determine that a licensing ordinance is not a land use ordinance, thereby eliminating a county’s ability to use a local agreement. In addition, a court may interpret a comprehensive licensing ordinance that meets the requirements of a “land use ordinance” as a zoning ordinance, thus requiring the necessary statutory approval process of a zoning ordinance.[4]

Bulk Sampling Moratorium Resolution

We support enactment of Ordinance Amendment #9-2018 to create a temporary moratorium on Bulk Sampling. Our understanding is that this is to allow time for the state to create administrative rules for Bulk Sampling as specified in Wis. Stats. 293.13. Bulk Sampling in metallic sulfide rock has the same potential as full mining to produce acid mine/rock drainage from the pits and waste materials and should be regulated as protectively as possible due to the short and long-term risk of contamination that is not generally an issue for non-metallic mining. For that reason, we urge the Committee to revise the Bulk Sampling section of the full Ordinance Amendment #10-2018.

It is also unclear whether or not the state will have the time or resources to draft rules for Bulk Sampling in the 18-month window established in the amendment. We want to urge the County to consider drafting additional protections to regulate Bulk Sampling in case the state fails to draft comprehensive rules.  Marathon County is ready to adopt a Bulk Sampling code that includes additional protections such as controls on lighting, blasting hours, hours of operation, dust control, fuel storage and safety, site security, county inspections, a prohibition on chemical extraction and processing and reclamation requirements. These are all examples of appropriate protections the County has authority to enact and that are not preempted by state law.

We also note that the amendment specifies the Oneida County non-metallic mining reclamation standards for Bulk Sampling. County non-metallic mining standards were not designed to handle Bulk Sampling in sulfide materials and we suggest that the Committee adopt reclamation rules that index current state law, specifically Wis. Stats 293.13(2) and WI Administrative Code NR 131.08.  These are the minimum standards the state will require of a Bulk Sampling permit – especially if new administrative rules are not written prior to the 18-month moratorium.

Additional reductions in protections in the Ordinance Amendment

In light of guidance from the Wisconsin Counties Association and comments from the mining industry front group, Natural Resources Development Association (NRDA), we looked at the draft to see whether the County has proposed regulation that supersedes current state regulation and/or potentially makes these activities too “difficult” or even impossible for the industry to meet.  Our review of the ordinance amendment didn’t find anything that oversteps the County’s authority to regulate exploration, bulk sampling or mining.  There are certainly instances where the County duplicates or references lists of state requirements but that duplication is not the same as exceeding the state’s regulatory authority. 

In fact, the amendment reduces a number of important protections that remain within the County’s authority to regulate and we encourage the committee to consider reinstating these code elements plus enacting any additional safeguards it feels are necessary to protect its interests – even if the safeguards appear to be or are actually more protective than state standards – as a statement of intent of policy on metallic mining by the County. These safeguards then help direct current and future County regulators and legislators as they consider permits for mining and for negotiation with a mining company seeking permits to mine.

Local Agreement approval rules

The Amendment proposes two changes from the current ordinance that should be rejected in favor of the current language. The first is the current requirement of a three-fourths vote of the County Board to grant a variance from the ordinance, or to make any part of it non-applicable in a Local Agreement. Making these important decisions subject to a simple majority vote by the Board, as in the amendment, only serves the applicant by making such an important local land use decision easier to gain.  The second is the change in the clause related to opening and modifying a local agreement. The current ordinance states that the agreement “shall” include such language and this is a requirement in state mining law (see: Wis. Stats. 293.41(2)(g).  The word “may” should be replaced for “shall” in the amendment, K.6.b. (line 458). 

The Amendment language for approval of a Local Agreement (lines 427-435), is inconsistent with the list of Timing Milestones and Triggering Events (lines 112-113).  We recommend clarifying K.5.a (lines 427-435) to require the Local Agreement not be signed until immediately prior to or concurrent with the state’s final decision on a permit application. The proposed language here could result in the County signing a local agreement long before all the relevant facts about a mine proposal are known and prior to the closure of the public record on the draft permit(s) and the draft EIS.  Signing Local Agreements before all the facts are disclosed has caused significant controversy and resulted in major delays in permitting efforts in past mine projects at both Flambeau and Crandon. 

The final permit decision by the state to approve or deny the mining permit is required within 90 days of the completion of the public record of public comments and the state’s responses to public comments on the draft permits and the draft Environmental Impact Statement. See Wis. Stats. 293.49. The goal for the County here is not to unnecessarily delay a decision to approve or deny a local agreement; rather it is to ensure that the County has adequate time to exercise due diligence and review the public record within the 90-day window the state has to finalize the mining permit decision and to allow the County time to address any new issues that arise as a result of the public information hearing and public comments that comprise the public record. 

An additional rationale for pushing the signing of an agreement to the very end of the process is that Act 134 reduced the hearings on the Draft and Final Environmental Impact Statements from two to one hearing and only at the end of the process where it is accompanied by draft permits. The result is a significant reduction in the amount of time available for review of the EIS and any public comments including expert testimony that will only be heard at the single hearing. This single hearing is also for information only and is not conducted as a Contested Case Master Hearing thus increasing its importance when considering whether or not a negotiated Local Agreement is protective enough of the County’s interests.

The state’s final permit decision to approve or deny the mining permit hinges on a number of factors including satisfaction that the proposed mining operation conforms with all applicable zoning ordinances.  See Wis. Stats. 293.49(1)6.  This law ensures local governments have an important tool to help them understand the full range of potential impacts to plan for protecting their interests.  

Processing and mine waste restrictions

The current ordinance includes legal protections that are eliminated from the Amendment, specifically: solution mining, smelting and refining, and disposal of mining waste from prospecting or mining sites in Oneida County from a prospecting or mining site outside of the County. The current protections should be retained and in the case of the disposal restriction, expanded to include Bulk Sampling from sites outside of the County. 

Solution mining is a significant cause and source of groundwater contamination from the use of cyanide or other reagent solutions to dissolve economic metals from ore in what are known as “heap leach piles.”  These same toxic chemicals are often spilled or accidentally released at mine sites. Smelting and refining of metals are known causes of acid rain and local and long-range air pollution of land and waters via air deposition of heavy metals that are difficult to remove from processing exhaust and venting.  The final item – restricting mine waste disposal from projects outside of the County – should be expanded to include Bulk Sampling by name and is a common-sense and legal land use control to avoid overfilling existing and potential solid waste facilities in the County.

Specified Setback Distances

The existing setback distances in Chapter 9.6 C.2. have been significantly reduced in the Amendment. We recommend maintaining the current setbacks, specifically:
The setback distance from a residence is currently 2500 feet, while the Amendment proposes to reduce this distance by two-thirds to 800 ft.  The setback distance from a commercial (non-residential) structure is currently 1500 ft., while the Amendment proposes 650 ft.  The setback from a water well is currently 1500 ft., while the Amendment proposes reducing this to 1200 ft.  And finally, the Amendment simply eliminates the current setback of 2500 ft. from any State Natural Areas or County recreational areas – places that should automatically be protected as much as possible from the effects of any mineral mining.    The original setbacks should be retained, not reduced or eliminated as in the Amendment.

Compliance History

The current mining ordinance includes an information requirement related to an applicant’s environmental compliance history (9.61 E.3.h.).  This information requirement would help inform elected officials and the public about an applicant’s compliance history and would not supersede state law provided it is not used as criteria for permit approval or disapproval.

Cited references:
[1] WCA Nonferrous Metallic Mining Handbook, Sec. VIII, 6. Timing and Vested Rights, p. 31,
[2] Ibid, p. 28
[3] Wis. Stat. § 293.49(1)(a)6.
[4] See Zwiefelhofer, 2012 WI 7 at ¶62-63; 76 Op. Att’y Gen. 60, 68 (1987).

Presented by Karl Fate, Rhinelander

Keep the County Forest Closed

The taxpayers of Oneida County are sick and tired of having our tax dollars used to weaken the protection of our Lakes and other water resources because of threats coming from sources outside of our County. We saw this with Act 55, and we are seeing it again with this process. The ultimate responsibility for creating this threatening atmosphere in our County, and across the State, lies squarely in the lap of Senator Tom Tiffany who has no problem spending public resources catering to Corporate Special Interests.

The only way for Oneida County to put an end to these threats is to keep our County Forest lands closed to metallic mining and to formally spell it out in this Ordinance. The Lynne Site is a horrible place for a mine, but it is not unique. It’s saturated with water and is surrounded by wetlands. There are many such areas on our County Forest.  The sulfide deposits are found in the bedrock. The depth to bedrock on the vast majority of our County Forest is over 100 feet and the depth to water table on our Count Forest is zero to 50 feet.  The mineral deposits are underneath all of this.  There aren’t suitable sites for a massive sulfide mine on our County Forest.  Keep it closed.

Preserve our Current Zoning

The reason we have Zoning is to protect the taxpayers, their Property, and their Resources from large changes in land use. There would be no greater change in land use in our County than a massive sulfide mine.  This reality is reflected in our current Ordinance.  The proposed Ordinance specifically changes this to promote a mine at Lynne and to weaken Local Control.  The lawyer hired by our County is quoted as saying that “you need to add land to it to be attractive to mining companies.” This is inconsistent with mining no longer being “a policy goal” in our County.

A Massive Sulfide Mine is not compatible in either 1-A Forestry or General Use. A Massive Sulfide mine would not protect the “integrity” of our Forest or preserve it in “a relatively natural State.”  Much of the mine site would no longer be a Forest at all, ever.

Many of the areas in our County zoned “General Use,” such as my own property, are some of the most undeveloped parts of our County where a Massive Sulfide mine would create the greatest of changes in land use.

 The Oneida County Landfill is within our County Forest and is appropriately zoned “Manufacturing and Industrial.”  The waste material created by a mine at Lynne would dwarf the Oneida County Landfill.  And, unlike the landfill that allows groundwater standards to be exceeded up to 150’ from the edge of the landfill, the waste disposal sites at Lynne would be allowed to exceed those standards up to 1,200’ from the edge of the sites.  The mine waste would have to be isolated from the environment for the rest of eternity.

If there were a mine at Lynne, the mine site would have to be withdrawn from the County Forest Program, and the County would have to find land to replace the site because it would be considered a “Net Loss."   

Allowing metallic mining only in areas zoned “Manufacturing and Industrial” is not a ban or Moratorium. It is an important hurdle that protects the County, the Towns, and most importantly the people that live and work here. Metallic mining should not be a permitted activity in “1-A Forestry” or “General Use.”

Local Agreements

I find the treatment of Local Agreements in this proposed Ordinance to be extremely troubling. Ever since Flambeau I, the industry objective has been to get Local units of government out of the way as quickly as possible by making all, or some portion, of a Local Ordinance non-applicable, in exchange for some financial reward given to the Local unit of government. Assistant Corporation Counsel Mike Fugle was recently quoted as saying that, "There's an old saying: Everybody has a price."  Thankfully, not everyone can be bought.

Negotiating a Local Agreement substantially favors the Mining interest over the Local unit of government because the mining interest will know what it wants, in great detail, while the Local unit of government will not.  If a Local Agreement is signed, the Local unit of government will find it extremely difficult to fix the inevitable mistakes, and impossible to get out of because it will have signed a binding contract with another party.

Rather than thoughtful consideration if a Local Agreement is appropriate, or not, at the time, this proposed Ordinance ties the hands of this and future governments by making a Local Agreement a requirement.

Most alarming are lines 458-462 of the proposed Ordinance. Our current Ordinance states that, “A local agreement shall include the right to reopen and modify the local agreement after” approval, and that “In such case, the agreement shall be modified in accordance with the approval process set forth above. The proposed Ordinance states that “A local agreement may include the right to reopen and modify the local agreement” and then requires a three-fourths vote by the County Board to reopen and modify.

Our current Ordinance protects itself by requiring a three-fourths vote of the County Board, for a local agreement to make any portion of the Ordinance “non-applicable,” or to grant a variance from the Ordinance. The proposed Ordinance lowers the bar for a local agreement to make any portion of the Ordinance “non-applicable,” or to grant a variance from the Ordinance, by requiring only a simple affirmative vote of a majority of the County Board. I cannot conceive of a more blatant effort to promote a mine at the expense of the County and the Public’s interest.

A Local Agreement may have a place if it is used to address issues not covered by the Mining Ordinance, but there should be a high bar for making any portion of the Ordinance non-applicable, requiring a three-fourths vote by the County Board, and a low bar, favoring the County, to reopen it.  A Local Agreement should never be approved of until after the County has been able to review the Final Environmental Impact Statement so that it can make an educated decision.

Oneida County has no obligation to facilitate a Mining District in our County

Our current Ordinance has prohibitions meant to preclude a Mining District in, or involving our County.

Specifically, our current Ordinance prohibits “The process of solution mining, smelting or refining,” and “Disposal of mining wastes at a prospecting or mining site in this county from a prospecting or mining site outside of this county.” These prohibitions should be retained in the proposed Ordinance.

Our current Ordinance contains “Bad Actor” provisions, Article 6-17, 6, Environmental Compliance Standards. These provisions should be retained in the proposed Ordinance.

Presented by Eileen Lonsdorf, Lake Tomahawk

Oneida County Planning and Development Committee: Thank you for allowing me to address my concerns to you this evening.

Sulfide Mining in Oneida County wetlands is a dangerous and thoughtless use of our beautiful Northwoods forests, wetlands, lakes, and rivers. Sulfide mining is the most toxic industry in the United States. * Sulfide mining has never been proven to not pollute the environment, especially the water ecosystems.** Sulfide mining puts rivers, lakes, wildlife, and public health at risk by creating acid mine drainage, a highly toxic process that renders water poisonous and ecosystems severely damaged for hundreds of years.

Oneida county has the highest percentage of wetlands in the state of Wisconsin. It also has the highest percentage of County lands mapped as wetland.*** There are 428 named lakes in Oneida County, Wisconsin, along with 701 with no names. Together they make up 68,447 acres of surface area. Willow Flowage, at 6,306 acres, is the largest. Oneida County is the county with the second largest number of lakes in Wisconsin, after neighboring Vilas County.

As our elected representatives, you should not be inviting or encouraging any sulfide mining to contaminate our Oneida County’s water ecosystem for hundreds of years. You should not be taking it upon yourselves to open up our county forest lands to this sort of misuse. The planning and development committee is using the ordinance to change the permitted use language in section 9.20 that currently prohibits metallic mining in all Forestry zones. That change will allow mining in other parts of the county zoned 1A Forestry, both public and private land.

Our Northwoods economy does not need Sulfide Mining. We are a water-based recreational area. Our tourism economy is based on fishing, camping, resorts, summer camps, and hundreds of miles of forested trails. Visitors to Oneida County spent $221.8 million in 2016. That’s an increase of 2.74 percent over 2015, according the Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce. We do not NEED Sulfide Mining.  And if, as representatives of the people of Oneida County, you lack the courage to stand up to Senator Tiffany and his out-of-State mining interests, then you will endanger the health of our citizens, as well as our natural resources....for many, many generations. As our County Board, you gentlemen need to represent the people of Oneida County! We are counting on you!

Metallic Mining is site-specific. Sulfide Mining does not belong in the wetlands of Wisconsin Think twice about this, please. You’ll NEVER be able to undo the damage to our Oneida County water ecosystem. You’ll never be able to undo the damage to our economy, health and safety of all that live up here.

In closing, I want you all to consider the real reason you are sitting before all of us today. You all have to remind yourself that you were not voted in by anyone other than your constituents. You were not put in place by Senator Tiffany, Governor Walker, or Aquila mining company up in Canada. It is your job to do the will of the people that voted you in. You owe it to everyone (all of us in this room, as well as those who aren’t). You owe it to our vacationers. To yourselves and your families. And you owe it to those “downstream”...to do what is right. You may be making decisions that most likely will affect your children and grandchildren. And you will have that as your legacy.

Cited References:

Presented by Rick Plonsky, Harshaw

Gentlemen, I have read through the P&D committee's  proposed ordinance and am disturbed by it in many ways. However, in the interest of brevity I will address what I think is the most significant shortcoming of  your amendment to 9.61: Land use and zoning.

Unfortunately, Senator Tiffany's Bill, Act 134, strips away  most local control  from counties and municipalities  to regulate  non ferrous metallic mining.  But, it does not strip away the county's ability to regulate land use through zoning, nor does it compel the county to allow sulfide  mining on Oneida County Forest land, land owned by the citizens of Oneida county.

To date, the only significant ore deposit of  value to mining companies  is located on a piece of Oneida County Public Forest. The sulfide ore lies under fifty feet of water, and within one half mile of the Willow river.  The Willow  Flowage is designated by the State of Wisconsin as an “Outstanding Water Resource.”  “Of Wisconsin’s 15,000 lakes and impoundments, 103 are designated as an Outstanding Water Resource—fewer than 1% .”  1

According to the WI DNR,   Outstanding Water  Resources  “warrant additional protection from the effects of pollution. “   Also, according to the DNR, “The Willow Flowage Scenic Waters Area is isolated from roads and development. This remoteness, along with its natural shoreline, draws visitors from around the state and region.”2

The Willow Flowage is a rare jewel that should be protected at all costs, not exploited and put at grave risk for limited short term economic gain.  Regardless of assurances to the contrary, sulfide mining cannot be accomplished without damaging surface water. If it could, Senator Tiffany would not have authored Act 134 to eliminate the “Prove it First, “ Moratorium on sulfide mining. Mining companies would simply have used  scientific evidence to allow the permitting process to take place. That evidence does not exist. 

“Fisheries have been impaired world-wide by releases of Acid Mine Drainage from mining areas. The mining industry has spent large amounts of money to prevent, mitigate, control and otherwise stop the release of Acid Mine Drainage using the best available technologies, yet Acid Mine Drainage remains as one of  the greatest environmental liabilities associated with mining, especially in pristine environments with economically and ecologically valuable natural resources.” 3

The P&D committee, and the  Board can  protect the Willow, by simply  prohibiting mining on County Forest Lands.  The County Forest  belongs to the citizens of Oneida county, and the  water of the Willow Flowage belongs to the citizens of Wisconsin. You have the power to protect both.  Just say NO!  To do otherwise is simply reckless, and puts our water, our fishery and our $229M per year tourism economy at great risk.

Additionally, the P&D Committee's current revision  of  9.61 N. (2)  changes permitted use in land zoned  1-A Forestry and  General Use. Currently, no metallic mining is permitted in either zone, only  land  zoned Manufacturing and Industrial can be utilized for mining.  This change is a mistake,  common sense should relegate mining to land zoned  Manufacturing and Industrial  since it is an industrial use, just like our landfill.   This protects other landowners, our water resources, and our environment from inappropriate siting of  mines. The P&D committee should revise 9.61 N (2)  accordingly.

Cited references:
1.  https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/SurfaceWater/orwerw.html
2. https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/Lands/WillowFlow/
3. http://www.pebblescience.org/pdfs/Final_Lit_Review_AMD

Presented by Al Gedicks, Executive Secretary, Wisconsin Resources Protection Council

Methylmercury (MeHg)

Oneida County has the highest percentage of wetlands in the state of Wisconsin. It also has the highest percentage of County lands mapped as wetland. The proposed Lynne mine site is nearly all wetlands. This poses a significant risk for both aquatic resources and human health from mercury methylation, the most dangerous form of mercury. The discharge of sulfate from extraction and processing of sulfide minerals can stimulate the conversion of mercury in wetlands to methyl mercury. Bacteria that are common in wetlands and lakes transforms the heavy metal deposited by air into something that can be transported up the food chain — from micro-organisms to fish to pregnant women. The methyl mercury that bioconcentrates through the food chain increases impacts on both aquatic resources and human health.

The sulfate discharges into the water, the sulfur compounds into the air, and mercury into both air and water, plus flooding and destruction of wetlands, creates the perfect storm to produce huge increases in the amount of methyl mercury in fish as a result of bioaccumulation, from the very smallest organisms in the water up to the largest fish, that can result in an increasing concentration of a million times. Methylmercury can be absorbed much more easily than mercury into the bodies of insects and other small organisms. When these small organisms are eaten by bigger living organisms such as fish, the heavy metals enter the fish. Those metals can remain in the fish for extended periods. As the fish eats more of the smaller organisms the amount of heavy metals increases.

And we, as human beings, as well as wildlife — we're at the top of the food chain. And the fetus is at least five times more sensitive to the effects of mercury as an adult. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that can affect the brain and nervous system development in fetuses, infants and children. In Minnesota's Lake Superior region, already one out of 10 newborns are born with levels of mercury in their blood that exceed safe levels — levels of mercury that are high enough to show in scientific literature a correlation with decreased IQ.

 Methylmercury contamination will have a disproportionate impact upon the Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe

The Willow Rapids are immediately downstream of the proposed Lynne mine and is an important walleye spawning ground. DNR staff surveyed the Willow Flowage and noted "excellent population level/ standing stock; outstanding size structure of stocks and/or trophy fishing; endangered, threatened or watch list aquatic species or unique strains." The survey supported the Willow's classification as Outstanding Resource Water (ORW), which gives  the Willow Flowage non-degradation status.

Mine waste discharges upstream would degrade water quality in the spawning area and the flowage. Methylmercury contamination of walleye and other fish species would have a disproportionate health impact upon the Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe, who have a greater reliance on fish consumption than the non-Indian population. This is the textbook definition of environmental racism where minority populations suffer a disproportionate health impact from toxic waste discharges.

The Lac du Flambeau Tribe, in a letter dated April 11, 2018, to Oneida County Board Chairman Dave Hintz, expressed the Tribe's concerns related to mining activities and invited the Oneida County Board to meet with the Lac du Flambeau Tribal Council. The Tribe never received a response, nor has there been notice of consultation with the Tribe, by either state of federal officials related to this issue.

A May 14, 2018, Tribal Resolution stated that "the Tribal Council is extremely concerned how proposed commercial mining activities within Oneida County, which is located within the 1836 and 18421 Ceded Territory, could negatively impact treaty protected hunting, fishing, and gathering by Tribal members."

The resolution resolved "that the Tribal Council hereby states that it will seek any and all legal avenues to challenge any mining activity in the Town of Lynne and/or the County of Oneida that would negatively impact the Tribe's hunting, fishing, and gathering rights; disturb any historical sites and/or negatively impact the environment within the 1836 and 1842 Ceded Territory.

Mining projects lacking a "social license to operate" can result in local resistance to environmentally destructive activities and encourage a militarized response where mining companies hire private security firms to repress democratic expressions of resistance.

The reason why Oneida County is contemplating overturning the previous policy of excluding metallic sulfide mining from county forest lands is the legislation promoted by Sen. Tom Tiffany and the mining industry lobby which repealed Wisconsin's Prove it First Mining Moratorium. Public opinion polling prior to the repeal of Prove it First found that 72 percent of Wisconsin residents wanted to keep Prove it First protections from mining pollution. After just two weeks of circulating a petition of public opinion, over 300 property owners in Oneida County indicated they were against mining in lake/wetland rich Oneida County. There were no votes for mining, even when a possible economic boom was pointed out.

If resort owners, property owners, environmental groups and the Lac du Flambeau Tribe are united in opposition to any metallic sulfide mining in Oneida County, this is clearly an entire community saying no to mining — there is no "social license to operate" here.  Yet Sen. Tiffany was quoted saying that "You have to get that social license to mine. It's the price of doing business these days for a mining company."

The last time Sen. Tiffany changed the law to promote mining was the ill-considered Gogebic Taconite iron mine in the Penokee Hills. When it became clear that there was widespread opposition to an open pit mine next to Lake Superior, Gogebic Taconite hired a private security firm that placed armed guards with automatic rifles and camouflage uniforms in county forest land around the proposed mine site. If Oneida County lands are opened for mining in the face of widespread local opposition, how long will it be before we see armed guards protecting mining operations from democratic dissent?

Respect the will of the people, Reject sulfide mining in Oneida County.

* * *

Wisconsin Communities have a right to protect
clean water from metallic sulfide mining

By Al Gedicks, Executive Secretary,
Wisconsin Resources Protection Council
May 30, 2018

Wisconsin counties urged to adopt mining regulations by July 1, 2018

With the repeal of Wisconsin’s Prove It First Mining Moratorium Law, the state of Wisconsin now claims that it has the authority to assert that counties have until July 1, 2018 to enact mining regulations, mining ordinances or zoning ordinances to regulate metallic sulfide mining. We would assert that state preemption of counties passing mining bans is not justified or legally valid when such preemptive actions violate county elected officials’ duty (and oath of office) to protect “the health, safety and welfare” of their communities. Nor is a state imposed deadline on such passage valid for the same reason. Even the bill’s chief author, State Sen. Tom Tiffany told a reporter that “You have to get that social license [community acceptance] in order to mine.” He said he didn’t include any language in the bill pre-empting local governments inherent right to protect their citizens.

Marinette County says metallic sulfide mining is a “prohibited use”

On May 29, 2018 the Marinette County Board adopted an ordinance listing “nonferrous metallic mining” as “a prohibited use and shall not be considered a part of the specified uses except as allowed by a local agreement.”

Can metallic sulfide mining be regulated?

A recent literature review for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concludes that permitting large scale surface mining in sulfide-hosted rock with the expectation that no degradation of surface water will result due to acid generation imparts a substantial and unquantifiable risk to water quality and fisheries.

Community Rights Ordinances Can Prevent, Rather than Regulate Destructive Mining Activity

Since the early 2000s, about 200 communities and counties in nine states have passed legally groundbreaking and locally enforceable Community Rights ordinances that ban harmful corporate activities and protect the community’s rights to govern itself.

In November 2014 residents of Mendocino County, California passed the Community Bill of Rights Ordinance by 67% of the county vote. The Ordinance bans fracking, dumping of frack waste and protects their water from being used for fracking anywhere in the state. Mendocino County became the first California community to adopt a Community Bill of Rights, placing their interests above corporate interests. Residents see the enactment of this ordinance as the first step in asserting their right to local self-government, and a rejection of the idea that their community will be a sacrifice zone for corporate profits.

Here is what Paul Cienfuegos, the founding director of Community Rights US had to say about the July 1st deadline for enacting zoning and mining ordinances after the repeal of Prove It First:

“This state-imposed deadline is also one that municipalities and counties have every right to refuse to abide by. Local elected officials need to start acting as if they understand that they are the duly elected representatives of The People of that community or county. They’re not there to salute every time the state takes some of their local power and authority away. Some day the local elected officials will start to understand this, and act upon that understanding, as hundreds of elected officials from those 200 communities and counties already do, where Community Rights ordinances have already been passed.”

“Dark money” behind the repeal of Prove It First Mining Moratorium

The effort to repeal Wisconsin’s landmark Prove It First Mining Moratorium Law was a profound assault on the democratic process initiated at the grassroots level that led to bipartisan support for the legislation in 1998. The repeal campaign, led by Sen. Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) had the support of the most powerful corporate interests in and out of the state, including Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business group, Aquila Resources, a Canadian mining company, and Americans for Prosperity, a dark money electioneering group created by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.

The Community Rights movement is a reminder that government is required to serve us. The Wisconsin Constitution is clear on this point. Article 1, Declaration of Rights states:”governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Contrary to the dire predictions of attorneys for local governments, the vast majority (95%) of Community Rights Ordinances have never been challenged in court. Faced with the prospect of permanently contaminated drinking water supplies or a possible court challenge to local self-government, which is the riskier possibility? 200 communities and counties in nine states have decided they’d rather face the possible lawsuit.

(This article is an edited excerpt from the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council newsletter. Used with permission.)

* * *

Open Letter to the Oneida County Board of Supervisors

By Eileen Lonsdorf
Lake Tomahawk, WI

May 23, 2018--The subject of the June 6th Public Hearing is “Mineral extraction in Oneida County.”  Really?? Come on guys! (Note that per the recent election, you are all guys on the Oneida County Board.) You make it sound like you’re digging up copper nuggets with a spade! Let’s not sugar-coat reality here. Call it what it is: “Sulfide Mining in Oneida County Wetlands.”

Sulfide mining puts rivers, lakes, wildlife, and public health at risk by creating acid mine drainage, a permanent toxic process that renders water poisonous and ecosystems lifeless.

Oneida County has the highest percentage of wetlands in the state of Wisconsin. It also has the highest percentage of publicly-owned county lands mapped as wetland. There are 428 named lakes in Oneida County, along with 701 with no names. Together they make up 68,447 acres of surface area. Willow Flowage, at 6,306 acres, is the largest. Oneida County is the county with the second largest number of lakes in Wisconsin, after neighboring Vilas County.

So why would you invite a Canadian mining company in to ruin Oneida County’s water ecosystem forever? Certainly not because it will “boost our economy.” We don’t need our water-based tourist economy “boosted” with sulfide mining, thanks anyway. Visitors to Oneida County spent $221.8 million in 2016. That’s an increase of 2.74 percent over 2015, according the Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce.  We do not need sulfide mining.  And if our County Board members lack the courage to stand up to Sen. Tiffany and buckle under to his threats, they will will endanger Wisconsin families and its natural resources for generations. Our County Board should represent the people of Oneida County, not outside mining interests.

Sulfide mining in the desert of Morenci, Arizona, is a whole different ballgame than sulfide mining in the wetlands of Wisconsin. Think twice about this, please. You’ll never be able to undo the damage to our Oneida County water ecosystem. You’ll never be able to undo the damage to our economy, health and safety of all that live up here.

* * *
The men behind the push to bring sulfide mining to Oneida County
and how they are going about it

By Karl Fate

May 19, 2018--On Aug. 21 ,2012, the Oneida County Board voted to end a proposed plan to lease the County Forest for metallic mining. The Lakeland Times reported that Corporation Counsel Brian Desmond declared, “Since the resolution failed to receive a majority vote, mining “will no longer proceed as a policy goal for Oneida County. “The mining issue will be stricken from agendas [of the Forestry Committee].”

This outcome did not sit well with some supervisors, so one month later, mining was back on the agenda, this time in the P&D Committee. The committee members present that day were Scott Holewinski, Jack Sorenson, Dave Hintz, and Gary Baier.

Some of the supervisors were visibly angry, one directing his ire specifically at the Town of Lynne; another proclaimed that nothing was more important than a mine. Lynne had taken a position that they would veto any attempt to rezone the Lynne site to allow a mine there, so the committee was seeking to retaliate by allowing mining in areas zoned Forestry 1-A, so that a rezone would not be required at Lynne.

The committee kept pushing this for some time, until it was finally dropped in 2014 because of substantial public opposition.

This month the committee has found a new opportunity to resurrect this ploy designed to facilitate a mine at Lynne.

Because of State Sen. Tom Tiffany’s law (2017 Wisconsin Act 134) that repeals the Mining Moratorium Law, the state’s counties were given six months to develop a mining ordinance, supposedly to “protect themselves.” Oneida County already has a Metallic Mining Ordinance. Early on, County Board Chair Dave Hintz said, “We have a good ordinance, we are in a good place.” As it turns out, rather than being a process to protect the counties, the Ordinance is being constructed under threat.

In Oneida County, we still don’t know who or what the source of the threat is, but apparently, the threat is that, if the counties create a “too restrictive” ordinance, they will be stripped of local control.

This seems to have become of an opportunity than a threat to some of the supervisors. Three of the supervisors on the committee that wanted to allow mining in areas zoned Forestry 1-A back in 2012, are also on the P&D Committee that is rewriting our ordinance: Scott Holewinski, Jack Sorenson, and Dave Hintz.  Although Hintz was recently, but not currently, a committee member, it is reported that he still attends meetings and is actively involved in the meeting discussions.

The current process is being used, to try again, to allow sulfide metallic mining in areas Zoned Forestry 1-A, to “grease the skids” for a mine at Lynne. 

 Here is what Forestry 1-A is supposed to be about, according to 9.20 of the current Oneida County Ordinance: “The purpose of the District 1-A Forestry is to protect the integrity of the county's forested lands by preserving such land in a relatively natural state.”

Let’s be crystal clear. A massive sulfide mine at Lynne does not “protect the integrity of the county’s forested lands by preserving such land in a relatively natural state.”

The committee wants us to believe that a sulfide mine is really like any non-destructive use of our forest lands.  It isn’t. There is no greater change in land use anywhere in our county than a massive sulfide mine. Our ordinance needs to reflect this, but what is being proposed ignores this reality. This must be corrected.

When the glaciers receded thousands of years ago, they left behind vast beds of gravel, saturated with water, that cover the bedrock where the mineral deposits lie. These saturated beds of gravel are over 100 feet deep on much of our county forest lands, and they cradle our lakes, streams, and wetlands. The vast column of water held in these beds of gravel is intimately connected to our surface waters.

More than 20 years ago, Noranda proposed to remove 6.7 million tons of overburden and another two million tons of waste rock before removing any ore. It was never clear how Noranda would handle the large amount of water in those 6.7 million tons of overburden and the vast watery areas around it.

* * *

P&D Committee finishes up rewrite on metallic mining ordinance
Next step: the public hearing

By Sarah Juon

May 13, 2018—After months of laboring over an extensive revision of the Oneida County’s metallic mining ordinance (9.61), the county board’s five-member Planning and Development Committee signed off this week on its final draft and began preparing for presenting it to the public. The required public hearing will be held June 6, 6 pm, in the Rhinelander High School auditorium.

The revision was necessary after the passage into law of State Sen. Tom Tiffany’s “Mining for America” bill in December, known as the 2017 Wisconsin Act 134. The Act, which goes into effect July 1, lifted the state’s moratorium on metallic mining, in effect for the past 20 years. The moratorium had required that applicants for approval of a sulfide mine demonstrate to the DNR that a sulfide mining operation in the U.S. or Canada had operated for at least 10 years without polluting surface water or groundwater and that such mine had been closed for 10 years after mining without polluting surface water or groundwater.

The Oneida County P&D Committee was charged with re-writing the county’s ordinance to conform with Act 134, which left little leeway for the stronger environmental protections that are in the original mining ordinance. Mike Fugel, one of the P&D’s lawyers specializing in mining, told the committee many times, “The overarching theme of this [re-write] is, you can’t require more than the State requires. You have to be backtracking along with the State requirements.”

So, what is being changed? What do citizens need to know, going into the public hearing?

1. First, it’s important to understand that while the neither the current ordinance nor the new one refer to “sulfide mining,” sulfide is the major component of mining in the three major deposits found in Oneida County. The mining would be for copper ore, zinc, nickel and precious metals; the hard rock these metals are found in is sulfide-bearing rock. Sulfuric acid is created when sulfides are released through the mining process and exposed to air and water.

2. The current ordinance says that non-ferrous metallic mining is prohibited in all zoning districts other than the #08 Manufacturing/Industrial zoning district. The new ordinance opens up mining exploration in the following zoning districts: District 1-A Forestry (167,000 acres of publicly-owned land); District #8 Manufacturing and Industrial; and District 10 General Use.

3. Instead of requiring a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for mining operations, a one-time permit into which restrictions can be applied, the new ordinance requires simply a permit, subject to review by the P&D. The timeline of 60 days for reviewing the scope of the county baseline study in the current ordinance has been dropped, as has the 120-day review period of the application, and the 90-day period before recommendation or denial of the CUP. There is no mention of a second hearing by the County Board.

4. The permitting process follows a new procedure, triggered by a mining company’s expressed intent in applying for a permit. A committee will be formed, known as the Local Impact Committee for Nonferrous Metallic mining, or Mining oversight/Local Impact Committee (MOLIC). This committee will be composed of a group of individuals who will play a significant role. Lawyer Mike Fugel told the committee: "Ultimately, the local agreement is going to be the lynch pin in terms of someone having a mining operation." The new ordinance doesn’t spell out who chooses who is to be on this committee, or its make-up. Will the affected town’s interests be adequately represented? Is there a danger of loading up the committee with either pro- or anti-mining? The committee is given the power to negotiate the Local Agreement with the town where the mine would be. The Local Agreement receives a public hearing, and a vote of a simple majority by the County Board, after which the mining company can be permitted.

5. The current ordinance prohibits the process of solution mining, smelting or refining, and disposal of mining wastes at a mining site in the county. This has been dropped from the re-write.

6. Financial responsibility for the applicant has been watered down. The current ordinance states a certificate of insurance certifying the applicant as an active liability insurance policy deemed adequate to cover all mining activities, for no less than $25 million, and must remain in effect for 40 years following the permanent closing of the mine. The re-write shortens the time required for the insurance provisions to remain in force—only through the reclamation operations—and specifies that impairment liability coverage be “not less than $10 million per claim, and $10 million in aggregate.” Sen. Tiffany attended the P&D Committee on Wednesday to reassure it that the changes to the financial assurance requirements in 2017 Wisconsin Act 134 were sufficient to cover damages at a mining waste site, for up to 250 years after closure. The new financial assurance requirements need to be studied carefully to see if, as claimed, they are sufficient.

7. Bulk sampling, part of the process for determining the quality of a deposit, is defined under the new re-write (9.62) as excavating “less than 10,000 tons of material, including overburden [covering rock] and any other material removed from any portion of the excavation site.” There is no language provided for monitoring or regulating this process, and the duration of the moratorium "shall be in effect for 18 months up to and including January 1, 2020."

8. Through the passage of 2017 Wisconsin Act 134, the state has opened its doors to mining. Environmental standards have been lowered. For instance, Act 134 states that “groundwater contamination enforcement standards do not apply below the depth in the Precambrian bedrock below which the groundwater is not reasonably capable of being used for human consumption.” Current law states that “groundwater standards generally apply from the land surface down through all saturated geological formations.” Act 134 “eliminates special administrative code provisions applicable to impacts to wetlands caused by a nonferrous [sulfide] mining operation.” Under the current law, generally applicable wetlands requirements apply to a mining site. The area cited for mining in the Town of Lynne is a vast wetland.

9. Can the Town of Lynne just say No to mining? According to lawyer Mike Fugle at the committee meeting on Wednesday, "A town could say no to mining, we’re never going to agree to a mine; but that would likely open a town up to litigation." Committee Chair Scott Holewinski added, "MOLIC would be the town’s level of participation. It would be veto power for town. Like the county can’t just say no to mining, nor can the town. They have to have good reason to say no."

The state’s 72 counties will be dealing with increased pressure from mining companies to issue permits. Oneida County in particular will be targeted. Citizens will need to inform themselves about the new law, and think hard on how mining would affect the county’s forests, wetlands and water bodies—the life breath of its $221 million/year tourist industry.

* * *

Oneida County Planning & Development Committee revises mining ordinance
to allow mining in county forest lands

By Sarah Juon

May 5, 2018--At Friday's P&D Committee meeting, three out of five members were present, enough for a quorum, and they used it to make important changes to their current draft of the Oneida County Zoning and Shoreland Protection Ordinance, Article 6, Section 9.61, which addresses regulation of metallic mineral exploration, bulk sampling and mining in the county.

The current Ordinance states "Special Conditional Use Permit Required. Mining and prospecting operations and mining site whether conducted or located in whole or in part within this county may be allowed under a special conditional use permit in accordance with the provisions of this section, but only in the #08 Manufacturing/Industrial zoning district."

The most significant change requested was to ask the committee's lawyer, Bill Scott, to adjust the draft to rezone county-owned forest lands (1-A) for permitted use of metallic mining, as well as the General Use zone. This would be in addition to the current Ordinance's #08 Manufacturing/Industrial zoning district. They also voted to eliminate the need for a CUP, and go only with the permitting process, with "General Standards" applying. Committee members voting were County Supervisors Jack Sorenson, Scott Holewinski and Ted Cushing. Billy Fried and Mike Timmons were absent.

Bill Scott told the committee that the mining district "has to include more land, you need to add land to it to be attractive to mining companies." With more land use open to mining, "you can do away with Conditional Use Permitting (CUPs), and just go with Permitted Use, and General Standards would apply." Scott noted that the Committee would likely run into incompatible standards for mining in some districts, but he felt that forestry would not be incompatible for mining. "You can reclaim forest lands. The mine is a temporary thing. You can restore forestry use [when the mine is closed]...The 1-A zone looks considerable in size, and may be sufficient."

Other proposed changes to the mining ordinance reflect the Committee's desire to receive proposals from mining companies. The Committee is intent on establishing a Joint Local Mining Impact Committee for reviewing applications as soon as they are filed with the County. The composition of the Committee has to be worked out, but may include committee chairs, town chairs and others.

If the Committee gets its way, the Northwoods as we know it will change. Wherever there is a mineral deposit, even in county forest lands, the land could be destroyed for a mine and subject to sulfide runoff. Mining companies, along with their promoters among the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate, will make a case for how good the technology has gotten and how responsible mining companies are for cleaning up their waste sites. But their claims are undermined by the government's lifting of the Moratorium Law last year, which stated that no company would be given a permit without proving it had a record of restoration lasting 10 years. Here is a short video taken yesterday  by Eileen Lonsdorf of a piece of Oneida County-owned forest land in Woodruff. The spring peepers are joyous with the warm weather. This area could be subject to mining.

* * *

The watery wetlands in Lynne are eyed
by Oneida County officials for sulfide mining

By Karl Fate

May 2, 2018—Because of the repeal of the Mining Moratorium Law last year, the mining issue is once again being discussed in our Oneida County courthouse.

Our county-owned forest lands in the western part of Oneida are where the Lynne sulfide deposit is located. Currently, the county forest is closed to metallic mining. We want to keep it that way.

Consequently, it is once again critical to make the problems with a mine located at Lynne crystal clear. I am holding ongoing tours at the Lynne site to publicize the wetland and water issues at the site and doing a photographic chronicle of those water and wetland issues at Lynne. Stream 16-4, about ½-mile downstream of the deposit, was out of its banks this spring. There are large wetland areas associated with this stream and some of those wetlands lie above the western portion of the Lynne deposit.

* * *

Oneida County citizens want and deserve transparency

Analysis by Karl Fate

April 11, 2018–Now that I have my taxes done, here is my report on the Oneida County Planning and Development Committee meeting last Wednesday.

If I could sum it up in a few words, it would be “The natives are getting restless.”
Both myself and Jeff Brown of the Town of Lynne  expressed our displeasure with how this was being done.

The people are being blocked from being effectively involved in this process.  We need to see the details of what Attorney William Scott is communicating to the committee.

County Supervisor Jack Sorenson offered a resolution so that the committee can decide to release documents marked “Confidential” rather than need approval of the full County Board to do so. Only committee member Billy Fried voted no.

The million dollar question is why did the county hire a lawyer that wants to communicate with the committee with ‘Confidential” letters regarding what should be a very open process?

 The most alarming moment of the meeting was when Supervisor Dave Hintz suggested that one of the options was to not have an Ordnance but a Local Agreement with a specific mining Company. Of course, that would contradict the county policy  that “Mining is no longer a policy goal.”

I thought that the committee favored one of the three options offered by Attorney Scott, but I find the three options  in written form, to be different from what was actually discussed.

We are also hearing rumors that the county is being threatened with having Local Control taken away if it has a too “restrictive” Ordinance. Is this coming from State Senator Tom Tiffany? No one will tell us, and it is adding to the aura of secrecy around this issue, and is creating an atmosphere of distrust.

I told the committee that I sensed that a “Covert Government” was operating in the building.

We need to make it very clear to all of the county supervisors  that this ordinance  is all about protecting the county, protecting the county’s towns, and protecting our water resources, and not at all about facilitating a mine. 

And, we need to be clear that we want our count forest to remain closed to metallic mining.

Did I forget anything?

* * *

Oneida County’s P&D Committee veers into the bizarre
over resurrecting sulfide mining

A report by Karl Fate

March 30, 2018—Wednesday we sat through another bizarre Planning & Development Committee meeting, so I would like to assess where we are in Oneida County regarding the review of our mining ordinance.

There are two problems afflicting the P&D Committee’s review of the Ordinance.

1. A lack of transparency

At a previous committee meeting several weeks ago, County Board Supervisor David Hintz suggested to the committee that he could talk to Attorney William Scott about reviewing the mining ordinance with the committee’s permission. He did talk, but there was not a motion nor a vote made by the committee to give him permission to do so.

Hintz talked to Scott alone, rather than with the whole committee.  Scott was the only attorney Hintz talked to because he was the only candidate that was given any consideration. Hintz is refusing to divulge everything he talked to Scott about, stating attorney client privilege. For background, note that it was Scott who collaborated with Hintz and Tom Evans on the plan to lease the Lynne Site for “exploration” several years ago.

At the meeting Wednesday the first substantive agenda item was to go into closed session regarding the mining ordinance, “with respect to litigation in which it is or is likely to become involved.” Supervisor Jack Sorenson vehemently opposed going into closed session.

The closed session seemed to revolve around a “confidential” letter that the committee had received, which the committee seems to find threatening. We have no idea what this letter says or who sent it.

2. A lack of focus

The committee is spending much, if not most, of its time talking about Local Agreements rather than the mining ordinance. The law has not been changed regarding Local Agreements because it delivers what the mining industry wants. Since there has been no change in the law, there is no need to change our ordinance in this regard, unless we want to improve it. There is no immediate, substantive reason to be talking about Local Agreements unless there is a mine actively being proposed and it is what the local units of government want.

It is painful listening to the county’s Corporate Counsel Brian Desmond ramble on about Local Agreements while nervously twirling his pen and cautioning the committee that he really doesn’t understand them very well. It was bizarre to hear him say that he wondered how many suitcases of money the county might get.

Unless the committee fixes these problems soon, it is in danger of losing whatever confidence we may have had in this process.

The committee did receive its first analysis from Scott but was unable to discuss it much because it had just received it. I will want to read it myself before commenting on it.

Both Jeff Brown and Lisa Zunker of the Town of Lynne made very strong statements against a mine at Lynne. Zunker, who has been Lynne’s county supervisor for the past four years, has chosen not to run for a third term.

I told the committee that it would save everyone a lot of grief if they kept the County Forest lands closed to metallic mining, and that since the Lynne deposit was the only deposit in the county of any real significance, it was unlikely there would be a mining proposal as long as the County Forest remained closed.

* * *

Sulfide Mining Will Not Keep Our Northwoods Waters Clean

An editorial by Eileen Lonsdorf
Lake Tomahawk, WI

Feb. 26, 2018--The critical issue with mining in the Northwoods is our dependence on clean water.
Clean water is not a partisan issue here. We are really not as hopelessly divided as our politicians would like us to believe. The folks of Northern Wisconsin actually have much in common when it comes to our environment. And as difficult as it seems in these times of violently differing political ideals, it is important to remember what we have in common, so that we in the Northwoods can unite and protect what is near and dear to us.

We must turn a deaf ear to politicians who tell us about “all the jobs that mining will bring to our community.” We must tell them that the Northwoods doesn’t want or need our $20-billion tourist industry ruined by the guaranteed water pollution that accompanies an open pit sulfide mine constructed within the Willow River watershed. This should be of special concern to those who live downstream, as well, since the pollution will flow right into the Wisconsin River.
We must remember that the mining companies chomping at the bit to blast open our northern Wisconsin landscape aren’t even Wisconsin owned. Aquila Resources is Canadian, as is Noranda Mining, while others are based in Western and Southern states and even in South America.

We do not need to replace our pristine, clear lake water with yellow acid water containing heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, copper sulfate, and manganese, that will destroy fish and plants, poison ground water (our drinking water) and turn our lakes and rivers into dead zones for perpetuity. We do not need to risk our health and put our children and grandchildren at risk of developing autism caused by heavy metal ingestion.
Clean water is essential to our Northwoods economy, and to the safety and health of all who live and vacation up here in the land of lakes. Unfortunately, once acid drainage enters a water source, it’s there forever.

Our Northwoods region has thousands of lakes, and is believed to be the third highest concentration of lakes in the world. Many of the state’s major rivers, such as the Flambeau, Wisconsin, Wolf, Peshtigo, and Brule-Menominee rivers, originate in the Northwoods region. Our exceptional water quality needs to be protected by a united effort of the people of Northern Wisconsin. It doesn’t matter whether we are Republican or Democrat. We will all be affected in the exact same way.
Recently, the Wisconsin state legislature quietly lifted the State's regulatory protections that had been in place to protect Wisconsin lakes and rivers from sulfide acid mining. We (all of us!) now have a few short months, until July 1, to put in our own county protections to prevent mining companies from polluting our non-partisan water and destroying our non-partisan environment. 

Tell your county board representatives not to remove our local protections, and to strengthen our current protections. Tell them to represent you, and not the interests of mining companies.

* * *

The five-man P&D Committee once again has its eyes on
sulfide mining deposits in Oneida County

A report by Karl Fate on the Jan. 31 meeting

Feb. 2, 2018—The Planning and Development Committee did a lot of dithering over what steps Oneida County should take next, in light of the recent Act 134 passed by the Wisconsin Legislature and signed by Gov. Scott Walker to remove the 20-year moratorium on sulfide mining. Suggestions from citizens attending the meeting addressed what improvements could be made to the county’s Mining Ordinance currently in effect.
However, the committee, chaired by Supervisor Scott Holewinski and comprised of Supervisors Billy Fried, Dave Hintz, Jack Sorensen and Michael Timmons, spent most of the time talking about mining leases and local agreements. Corporate Counsel Brian Desmond was taken to task for letting this discussion go over the line, with little being accomplished.
Oneida County has three mineral deposits that I am aware of: the Lynne Deposit, the Pelican River Deposit, and the Wolf River Deposit.  Only Lynne could be considered a stand-alone deposit. Lynne would be considered economically viable if not for two things. It is a massive sulfide deposit that resides under 50 feet of saturated overburden, with a lake bed just to the north, a stream just south, and another stream just east, plus vast areas of wetland extending in nearly every direction from the area over the deposit.

It is extremely remote that we will see a mining lease in the County anytime soon that triggers the Ordinance, unrelated to property that the County does not control. I don’t believe any law has been passed that alters the Local Agreement law, so our Ordinance should be entirely intact regarding Local Agreements. When the Ordinance was being worked on, I argued that it should be entirely insulated from a Local Agreement, instead we ended up with a compromise. Currently, Oneida County forest lands are not currently open to metallic mining. Even if they were, the county is not compelled to lease the deposit.
The Ordinance states: “The Local Agreement may not declare any portions of this ordinance non-applicable to a prospecting or mining operation or include variances from this ordinance except upon an affirmative vote of three-fourths of the members of the County Board and upon the affirmative vote of the Town Board of each Town in which the proposed mining site is located. In addition, any exceptions, variances or rezoning from state mandated zoning requirements must comply with the standards prescribed by state law.” This is not perfect, but it is serviceable.
Hintz acknowledged that he had chosen a lawyer and then communicated with the lawyer by himself, with no transparency. This is especially concerning since several years ago Hintz felt that he could make decisions about the leasing of the County Forest in a three-way teleconference with the lawyer Bill Scott and Tom Evans of the Wisconsin Geological Survey.

After the meeting I did some research and reviewing the Dec. 20, 2017, P&D committee draft minutes. In the minutes there is no indication that there was a vote to permit Hintz to contact Attorney Scott.  I also picked up an audio CD from P&D of the Dec. 20 P&D meeting and have listened to the agenda item multiple times, and concluded, to the best of my ability, that here is what happened and what did not: The issue of hiring an attorney came up and it was strongly suggested that this would have to go through the Administration Committee.

Hintz stated that our mining ordinance was Bill Scott’s work. This is not true. Scott was hired to develop a mining lease bid package for the county. Hintz mentioned Scott on several occasions and, eventually said, “with this committee’s approval, I(Mr. Hintz) could call Mr. Scott” about the issue. There may have been a mumbled approval by a supervisor, or a wink and a nod, but clearly there was no vote taken on the matter. It also seems reasonable to expect that there should have been an explicit agenda item for an upcoming meeting, and that the entire committee, not just Hintz, should have talked to Bill Scott and other candidates.
Following are some notes from Dave Blouin (Mining Committee Chair for the Sierra Club, John Muir Chapter) that help us understand why we need to enact a stronger County Mining Ordinance, and quickly:

“According to Larry Konopacki with the WI Legislative Council, WI Act 134 did nothing to preempt local control or the local agreement law. Konapacki was clear in his presentation at the WCA/WTA seminar that the intent of the new law was clearly meant to honor local control and that the new law did nothing to affect existing police powers and/or zoning by the local governments or any new controls enacted before July 1 and/or before an application to mine is submitted. See his presentation starting at the 1 hour mark and especially around the 1:25 mark:  http://www.wiseye.org/Video-Archive/Event-Detail/evhdid/12137

"It is uncertain whether a Notice of Intent to apply for permits would freeze current local control and that uncertainty is definitely driving Marathon County’s work to build a solid ordinance ASAP, given they have none on the books so far and Aquila is interested in the Reef prospect in the town of Easton there. We’re researching this but it defies logic that the law would allow a NOI to suffice to freeze existing local regulation in place. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that the new law reduced a lot of protections that local units should think about when drafting any new legislation."

* * *

County Board peers over the abyss and walks backwards,
afraid to rattle the chains of Madison

Jan. 17, 2018—After 11 months and seven public hearings, yesterday the Oneida County Planning and Development Committee offered its resolution (#5-2018) of amendments to the county’s Shoreland Protection Ordinance. The County Board chambers were packed — standing room only. More than 18 people registered to make public comments, all of which were asking the Board Supervisors to say No to the resolution. No one spoke out in favor of the resolution, which commits the county’s Zoning Department to follow the general, lowered standards of shoreland protection set forth by Wisconsin’s Act 55 of 2015, authored by Sen. Tom Tiffany of District 12.

Former supervisor Bob Martini pointed out that the weakened state law, as applied to the lake-rich district of Oneida, will allow 100-ft. lot sizes on small lakes. He urged the Board to step back and take another look at the amendments, with the aim of using whatever opportunities there are, even under the current law, to strengthen protections — a step the current Planning and Development Committee has been timid about taking. Former supervisor Tom Rudolph reminded the Board that they had two passed resolutions “still on the books” from 2015 in which the Board, along with many other counties, petitioned the State Legislature to repeal Act 55.

Jane Banning of Crescent voiced the concerns of several speakers when she shared her story: “We moved here six years ago, not primarily, but in part because it is the antithesis and repudiation of Lakes Mendota and Monona, which have killed shoreline and water quality due to over-development. Have you been swimming in those lakes on a hot August day? You can't. Eaten fish out of those lakes? You shouldn't. Seen eagles soaring overhead? You won’t. Please protect our pristine lakes.”

Dave Hart of Schoepke echoed the thoughts of many when he said, “Our natural resources are our best asset. It’s why I came here, for the natural beauty of our area. We need to preserve or better, improve on it.”

Scott Eshelman of Newbold said that this, being an election year, would be a good time for local county boards to lean on state legislators, and let them know that we want our local control back. “The only way to get Madison’s attention is to draw the line — no more taking control. We could get sued, but it hasn’t happened too much, and if it did, it would garner some attention. Peace, quiet, natural beauty, these are the top reasons people want to live here.”

Several speakers from Sugar Camp lobbied the Board to preserve Zoning D-2 for single residence density on Sugar Camp and Indian lakes. Corporate Counsel Brian Desmond said he was waiting for the state’s attorney general to respond “yes” or “no” to whether Sugar Camp’s request for keeping its current zoning, which would not be in compliance with the State’s regulations, would be acceptable. “I’ve been waiting for nine months for a response,” he said. Supervisor Scott Holewinski, representing the Sugar Camp area, claimed that Sen. Tiffany had told him that he would petition for preserving zoning for Sugar Camp, so “I say we should take the risk.”

Several supervisors spoke out against the resolution. Supervisor Bob Mott advocated for resisting Act 55. "We need to throw out the state regulations that counties can’t zone more restrictively, which I prefer to call ‘protectively’”. He pointed out that Act 55 allows for lowering the standards for shoreland mitigation, buffer zones, lighting, building heights, corridor widths, inspection of construction upgrades such as septic, and the size of impervious surfaces. “The key is, the State has made Oneida County like any other county, no matter that we have a $220 million tourist industry to protect. We need to uphold the Public Trust Doctrine.”

Supervisors who spoke out in favor of the resolution cited concerns over the State suing, fining or otherwise punishing the county for non-compliance. Alan VanRaalte expressed the worry that litigation would arise from anyone denied a building permit that did not meet the standards of the county's ordinance. "I don't want to put the taxpayer in jeopardy."

In the end, six courageous supervisors voted No: Carol Pederson, Lisa Zunker, Bob Mott, Jim Winkler, Bill Freudenberg, and Bob Metropulos. The yea-sayers were: Alan VanRaalte, Billy Fried, Dave Hintz, Scott Holewinski, Robb Jensen, Tom Kelly, Lance Krolczyk, Greg Oettinger, Sonny Paszak, Greg Pence, Jack Sorenson, and Alex Young. Absent were: Ted Cushing, Mitchell Ives, and Michael Timmons.

Remarks made by Karl Fate of Rhinelander,
during the public comment period:

We have finally had hearings on the loss of local control in our beloved State of Wisconsin. Unfortunately, there are fundamental problems relating to these recent hearings that addressed amendments to the Oneida County Shoreland Ordinance to put it in compliance with the Wisconsin Act 55 of 2015, authored by Sen. Tom Tiffany. Act 55 prohibits a county zoning ordinance from regulating a matter more restrictively than the standards promulgated by the DNR. Act 55 was tucked into a budget bill at the last minute, not given any public hearings, to make it law, Act 55 should have been put forth as a proposal to hold hearings around our state, especially in the northern counties, where the consequences of the proposed changes are so dire.

I have testified on these changes at recent hearings on at least five occasions and have consistently stressed that Oneida County should never willingly agree to changes it knows are harmful to the long-term health of our lakes. However, because these lower standards in shoreland protection are now already law, and, especially given the perceived threat that Oneida County will be punished by the state and/or some special interest should it resist, comments such as mine have been rendered irrelevant. This is not an accident.
These changes to the regulations that protect our waters were tucked into the bi-annual budget bill to stifle legitimate public opposition. What makes this especially troubling is that the people who are being stifled are the owners of the waters that will be negatively impacted by these changes, and worse, that our state legislators are supposed to be representing the public’s interest in the waters our state, but clearly are not.

The changes made in this resolution are harmful to the long-term health of our lakes and this is ultimately harmful to our county. Anyone who knows our lakes understands this; most everyone in this room understands this; the DNR understands this. Even the state legislature surely must understand this, but they clearly don’t care, because the state legislature consciously decided to blow up the critical relationship between the State and County governments, a relationship vital to the protection of our lakes. I don’t know, specifically, what special interest the state legislature is representing, but it’s clear they are not representing the public’s interest in our lakes, even though it’s their constitutional obligation to do so, as laid out in Wisconsin’s Public Trust Doctrine more than 150 years ago.        

I understand that the Board is under intense pressure today to approve this resolution (#5-2018), given the perceived threat that it will be punished if it does not. But imagine that: a county punished by the state, or some special interest, for trying to protect its own lakes. Is this how corrupt our state legislature has become?

If you send a signal to the legislature today that you are okay with this, our county will be spending time and resources every year making yet more changes that are harmful to our county and our Lakes, and then you will be expected to just say “okay.”

I urge the Board to reject or indefinitely table this resolution and then make it clear to the legislature that this is not okay by drafting a formal, detailed, Letter of Protest, coordinating with other counties across the North, and then sending the letter to every elected politician in our state government. 

This mess was created by our state legislature. Now, they are the ones who need to fix it.

* * *

We must fight to protect our legacy
Wisconsin's wetlands keep our waters clean and stable

By Karl Fate
Rhinelander, WI

Jan. 12, 2018--Several thousand years ago, the glaciers that covered this part of Wisconsin receded, leaving behind a vast bed of gravel that was saturated with water. This is the very nature of where we live.  It’s why we have so many wonderful lakes and why we have so many wetlands. Our wetlands are the support system for our lakes, our streams, and our groundwater, often in interconnected, directly and indirectly, ways. Wetlands store water and filter it, keeping our waters clean and stable. They are also critical for protecting a wide array of wildlife.

Our surface waters, as well as our wetlands, are being increasingly threatened by development. It is a time when they need more protection, not less. Unfortunately, the state legislature these days is representing special interests instead the public’s interest. They are proposing new laws that would allow the destruction of some of our wetlands without a permit. Our wetlands serve a site-specific purpose. “Mitigating” wetland destruction by “creating” a wetland somewhere else does not replace the purpose of the wetland being destroyed.

Wisconsin should be honoring its wetlands instead plotting their destruction. Anyone who understands the nature of our watery world should be opposing these proposed laws.

* * *

Another assault on local control
Legislature proposes to remove restrictions

on developing Wisconsin’s wetlands

By Karen Kitze
Crescent, WI

Jan. 11, 2018--Currently, the state legislature is discussing two bills, AB457 and SB600, both of which would remove restrictions on wetland protection in Wisconsin. These bills would exempt non-federal wetlands from permitting requirements. The bills exempt all wetlands that are not under federal jurisdiction (those that are connected to navigable waters) from DNR permitting requirements.

These bills, again, remove local control from citizens and raise the possibility of outright destruction of wetland habitats. According to Wisconsin Green Fire, a state association of retired scientists, researchers, conservationists and DNR employees, "If enacted into law, AB547/SB600 would result in degradation or outright conversion of wetland habitats, reducing Wisconsin's rich diversity of wetland habitats and the ecosystems they support. It removes protection for wetlands that provide many ecological services, including feeding downstream waters, supporting groundwater connections, trapping floodwaters, removing pollution, and providing fish and wildlife habitat. These wetland services support agriculture, recreation, and are key drivers of Wisconsin's tourism economy." Read Green Fire's full analysis of the harm these bills would do to Wisconsin's wetlands.

Bob Martini, a board member of Wisconsin Green Fire, recently proposed to the Oneida County Board that the zoning and planning commission put all wetlands under general zoning so that all wetlands currently on the DNR wetland map be protected by general zoning. I urge readers to support Martini's proposal and encourage the Oneida County Board to enact it. You can help by writing to your state legislators in opposition to these bills and by contacting your county board supervisor to support Bob Martini's proposal.

* * *

Northwoods communities must act quickly
Deadline looms for creating local ordinances to protect groundwater
and soil from sulfide mining pollution

By Eileen Lonsdorf
Lake Tomahawk, WI

Jan. 10, 2018—In December our state legislators repealed the moratorium on industrial acid mining by passing Senate Bill 395 and Assembly Bill 499. The communities that are targeted for mining now have a very short time, until July 1, 2018, to put local ordinances in place to protect our groundwater and soil. If we do not meet that deadline, we will have no recourse but to accept the consequences of tailing ponds, acid mine drainage, and miles of decimated streams and rivers.

There was no reason to repeal the moratorium, since Wisconsin law had already stated that this type of mining was allowable. The catch was that mining companies first had prove they could use industrial acid mining techniques without harming the environment. And that...they could not do. To date, there are zero mines — none — that have used this process and successfully prevented environmental damage.

Sen. Tom Tiffany, the bill’s author in the State Senate, argues that mining techniques have “advanced.” He points to the Flambeau mine is evidence of a “successful mine.” However, the Flambeau mine, closed now, is responsible for Flambeau River tributaries currently being classified as “impaired and toxic,” according to the Wisconsin DNR.
John Torinus, a business leader in West Bend, wrote an insightful piece on economics and our environment. “Somehow,” he noted, “GOP legislators have bought the erroneous theory that the environment and economy are an either-or proposition. Nothing could be more wrong. Advances for the economy and the environment are complementary, not competing.”

Wisconsin’s Northwoods depends on a $20 billion tourism industry, not on open-pit mining. Tourism depends on the health of natural resources: on clean water and clean lakes. This recurring revenue is a major, sustainable economic engine. Fishing guides can’t sustain a business when their clients can’t catch fish. Resorts can’t entice visitors to canoe, kayak, swim, or water ski in polluted water.

Sen. Tiffany and Gov. Scott Walker have the backing of significant industry resources who stand to gain without concern for those who choose to live and vacation in the Wisconsin Northwoods long after the mine gives up all its treasure.

As citizens of Oneida, Marathon, and other affected Wisconsin counties, it is our responsibility to preserve and protect the earth, the air, and the water we all need to survive. Therefore, I urge you who care about balancing economic development with environmental protections to call or email your local county legislators and implore them to get local ordinances in place now.

Local involvement is vital

The Town of Lynne, in Oneida County, is one of several proposed sulfide mine locations. (See references below). The county supervisor position in that District (19), is up for re-election. There are two people running to replace Lisa Zunker, who has announced she is not running again. They are Jeff Vollmer and Robert Almekinder. You, as a citizen of Northern Wisconsin, have a choice.You can vote to back the mining industry and disregard any environmental ordinances by voting for Robert Almekinder. Or you can vote to strengthen our local ordinances to prevent environmental pollution by voting for Jeff Vollmer. For more information, contact Vollmer directly.

If you aren’t a resident in  District 19, you can help by spreading the word to people you know in Minocqua, Lynne, and areas affected by the mine who do have a vote. Attend the Oneida Planning and Development meetings. Attend the county supervisor board meetings. Get involved, learn, and speak out about what’s important to you.

This is an issue that will affect all of us. Going “up North” means “going fishing, going up to the cabin, going to the lake, and swimming, water skiing, canoeing and kayaking in water “where you can see the bottom.” This concept does not include an open-pit sulfide mine that will eventually change forever what you now know as “Up North.”

To read more about the effects of sulfide acid mining:

Things gone wrong:
Sulfide mining explained:
Map of proposed mines:

* * *

State legislature weakens water protection laws
to lure mining industry to Wisconsin

Analysis by Karl Fate, Rhinelander, WI

Jan. 4, 2018--Back in the early 1980s, when Exxon was proposing a mine southwest of Crandon near Mole Lake, there was a huge promotional campaign to make the argument that this would be a modern mine, using new technologies to assure the water resource would be protected.

At present the only proposed sulfide mine in the region is across the border in Michigan, and several Wisconsin counties across the river are actively opposing it. Yet once again we are hearing the same argument: that technology will assure that a mine today in Wisconsin will protect our water resources. This argument is an even less meaningful than it was 35 years ago. Here’s why:
Our state legislature, led by Sen. Tom Tiffany, has been working hard to weaken Wisconsin’s mining laws, as well as other laws that protect our water and wetlands. If the argument that today’s technology will protect our water is true, then it would mean that the industry would have an easier time complying with existing law. Why then have the laws been weakened?

It is important to understand that the even if a technology exists, it may not be employed because it is cost-prohibitive, or because the mining interest may choose not to employ it to cut costs and increase profitability. Consider the Crandon Mining Company, which was a partnership between Exxon and Rio Algom. It determined it could save millions of dollars by employing less technology to minimally clean up their wastewater by piping the wastewater through a 38-mile-long pipeline to be discharged into the Wisconsin River below Hat Rapids. This ended up being a strategic nightmare for the company, a huge controversy for the DNR, and it brought out the worst and the best of Oneida County’s governing entities.

There are two related reasons why the state legislature has been weakening the mining, water, and wetland laws. The first reason is to cut industry costs. The Iron Mining Law, passed in 2015 (see Archives, 2015 Report), which will go down as one of the most corrupt chapters in Wisconsin history, was designed by Tiffany to create a low-cost producer of iron ore. This was done by weakening the protection of our waters, limiting opportunities for public involvement, and disregarding local control. The law went so far as to reverse legislative intent, presuming that damage to the state’s natural resources was a necessity. This is a clear violation of our state constitution because the legislature abandoned its obligation to represent the public’s interest in our navigable waters.

The laws were weakened also to accommodate the faulty argument that this would make previously failed mining projects happen.
The proposal for an iron mine in the Penokee Hills ended because the mining interest did not want to pay the cost of mitigating the enormous amount of wetland destruction that would have been caused by the project. In this way it is like the failed Lynne project in Oneida County. In both cases, the mining interests were literally scratching the surface of the problems that they would have encountered when they pulled the plug. It happened at Penokee Hills even though the law was drastically weakened to accommodate the mining interest.

We live in a very watery part of the world that is of great importance to the people who live here. The sulfide deposits found here were buried under our waters when the glaciers receded. This is an exceedingly difficult environment for constructing a sulfide mine. Costs are higher in such complex and difficult locations. The industry understands the immense issues that confront them, were they to propose a mine in such a difficult location, and they know that the recent repeal of the Sulfide Mine Moratorium Law doesn’t change these realities. Lowering the bar may not make these mines more possible, but it will increase public opposition.

* * *

2017 Reports

* * *
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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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?

* * *

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.  

* * *
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.

* * *
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. 

* * *

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.

* * *

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.