Minding the Mining

Minding the Mining

Illustration by Natalie Sowl

Andrea Debauche, Opinion Editor

Gogebic Taconite: not like Taco Tuesdays, but rather an energy company planning to build a large iron ore mine in the woods of northwestern Wisconsin.  The mineral in question is taconite, a form of iron ore abundant in that area.

The mine is to be built in the Penokee Range, a vast area of elevated land in Ashland and Iron counties, along the shores of Lake Superior.  The new mine is endangering the well being of Wisconsin forests, wetlands, wildlife and communities in the area.

Planning this mine was made possible because of a recent bill passed concerning the procedures to approve building a mine.  The new mining bill, SB 1/AB 1, was proposed in January.   It fast tracks the time it takes to obtain a mining permit.  It was a resurrected version of AB426, a mining bill that was rejected last year after several public hearings where there was overwhelming disapproval.  The new SB 1/AB 1 bill gave only one opportunity for public testimony.  Gov. Scott Walker supported the bill on the grounds of creating new jobs, and it was signed March 11.

The plans have attracted a lot of interest in the state, especially among environmental groups, as well as nearby communities.  A nearby tribe, the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, and longstanding environmental group The Sierra Club are two big forces voicing their opposition to the plans.

These groups are upset with losing the environmental integrity of the area. The mining technique here uses hydraulic supports to support the roof of the mine.  However, once the miners advance, the supports advance with them and the roof collapses behind them.

Any area mined will become a big pit, as well as leaving behind huge amounts of waste rock that have been dug out.  With the proposed site being over 6,700 acres, this leaves a lot of destruction behind.

Mike Wiggins Jr., chairman for the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Council, has publicly opposed the iron mine.  In a news release, he asserted that the methods for mining this area could not be controlled for minimal damage, and would have a substantial negative impact on the area.

Wiggins pleads his tribe’s sentiments: “The Bad River watershed is a Wisconsin gem and pristine environmental resource, and the Band’s cultural identity and way of life is highly dependent upon maintaining the health and integrity of the watershed.”

Dave Blouin, Mining Committee chair member for Sierra Club, provides his organization’s health and environmental concerns.  Turning any area into a large pit will likely have a permanent negative impact on the local habitat.

Along with the distress of losing thousands of acres of what is now continuous forest canopy and functioning habitat, there are also concerns over waste from the site.  They are predicted to cover 2 square miles of land, forever, and will have to be impounded and controlled to keep from leaking toxins into the ground or water systems.

This iron mine has more health and environmental risks than it is worth in created jobs.  The proposed mining site by Gogebic Taconite is compromising the well being of local wildlife and communities, which should be considered before all else.