Update on Wisconsin's Iron Mining

By KBJR News 1

October 3, 2011 Updated Oct 3, 2011 at 6:48 PM CDT

NW Wisconsin, (Northlands Newscenter) - Today marks the first day of our week long Community Spotlight on Bayfield, Wisconsin.

A proposed open pit iron ore mine in the Penokee Hills south of Bayfield has many in Northwestern Wisconsin asking for more information.

Bayfield and surrounding areas could benefit from an increase in jobs, but those who oppose the mine say they're concerned for its impact on the environment.

"The waterways are our way of life; hunting, fishing and gathering."

Many members of the Bad River Tribe in Northwestern Wisconsin feel their way of life is threatened by the proposed iron ore mine. And while they and others opposed, understand the economic benefits to the region, they're concerned about long-term damage to the environment.

Tribal leaders recently met with Governor Scott Walker in Madison.

"We had a good initial meeting and I think part of it was we left the door open for having follow ups in terms of what other details they would want to make sure there are clean and effective mines if there was an additional mine in the future."

Bad River Tribal Chair Mike Wiggins said the meeting with the governor gave them the first opportunity to take their message to a larger audience.

"It was just a wonderful opportunity for the tribe in its scarce and limited resources to have a platform to try and assert a voice. A voice that essentially spoke for clean air and clean water."

But other voices are speaking for the economy. They say the region is depressed and unemployment is high. They say a mine could make a huge economic difference to the entire region.

"It could be an economic game changer, at least for a short period of time, in Iron and Ashland Counties. Huge benefits to the creation of jobs and to restaurants and supportive industries."

But the tribe wants to be sure that economic growth doesn't come at the expense of the environment. During their meeting with Governor Walker they presented ten principles they'd like to guide future development.

"We're going to spend more time, getting more details, and trying to figure out if there's a way to do that, not only for the Bad River, but for other tribal governments all throughout the state who have concerns."

The governor promised that a recently formed bipartisan committee will attempt to meet those principles. But that new Senate Mining Committee doesn't include tribal representation.

"The notion that a bipartisan committee is complete as a one side and a two side come together, I would assert that there's a third side and that is the tribes of Wisconsin."

We should point out its not just the tribes who have concerns about the impact of the proposed mine on the environment. Several other groups have formed as well including "Save the Waters Edge" which held a protest gathering this past weekend in the Penokee Hills.

The week old mining committee will need to meet to discuss current laws. The chair of the Committee, Senator Neal Kedzie, hasn't set up anything yet and is working to organize all seven members.

Jordan Weinand
jweinand@northlandsnewscenter.com

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