In Defense of Water


I sat down with my coffee and paper for my Sunday morning ritual this week.  Ron Seely’s piece on the front page  in the Wisconsin State Journal brought me to today’s post.

Seely writes, “Waste material from a 4 1/2-mile-long open-pit iron mine would cover up to 40 percent of a 3,300 acre site in northern Wisconsin that is now home to wetlands and trout streams”, this according to a mining company official.

How Gogebic Taconite handles the disposal of waste, and how it plans to protect the area’s “water-rich ecosystem” is at the heart of the debate over a GOP bill that would accelerate mine permits and exempt Gogebic from some environmental rules, Seely continued.

Bill SB1/AB1 passed the Joint Finance Committee today and is headed to the full Senate Wednesday and the Assembly next week.

The speed in which this piece of legislation is moving towards passage prompted a number of elected officials from Ashland and Bayfield counties to speak out against the effect the mine would have on their region this past week at Superior Days in Madison:

 “I am not against mining. I am against anything that will damage Lake Superior. AB1/SB1 is designed to pollute the water.” Bayfield Mayor Larry McDonald

“This legislation, if passed, sets a dangerous precedent. It demonstrates that an out-of-state company can come in and set the rules to maximize their profits and minimize their liabilities.” Washburn Mayor Scott Griffiths

When a reporter noted that theirs is a poor region in the state that would benefit from the jobs created by the mine the officials responded this way:

This legislation, which Gogebic had a hand in writing, would allow mining companies to destroy some waterways and wetlands near the mine site to dispose of waste as long as they restore wetlands in another location.

But research shows, as Seely writes, the practice of restoring or migrating wetlands to new locations has only been marginally successful, and doesn’t compensate for the flood and pollution control functions that wetlands perform.

Gogebic president Bill Williams said that the primary purpose of the land they have  been approved to lease, some 3,300 acres, will be for the disposal of waste piles removed from the mine.  Hundreds of acres of wetlands could be destroyed in the name of job creation.

The land in question includes wetlands and Tyler Forks, a Class II trout stream.  Smaller tributaries and the headwaters of the Bad River, which flows into Lake Superior.  These waters will be negatively affected by what will be left behind when the iron ore is removed from the mine.

Many have reported on and followed this story since it began to unfold in 2010.  A few independent thinkers have tried to keep discussion of this bill open to everyone who might be impacted by the outcome of this legislation.   Unfortunately,  redistricting in the last election and a governor intent on saying he is a job creator, has no doubt made this a done deal.  And it might be.  But if you  are concerned about the state’s waterways and the effect this legislation could have on its wetlands, let your state legislators know  how you feel about the issue.

I guess this is what is meant by Wisconsin is open for business.

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