Thursday, October 31, 2013

More Penokee mine thoughts

The Annual 2013 Grouse Kill is in the books.  Most of the usual suspects made an appearance and Friday nights session ended at approximately 4:45 a.m., a time that I only know about through hearsay evidence.  Four of us who were nicely vertical at the noon hour decided it would be a good time to check out the proposed GTAC mine tailing and waste rock site which is only a short drive from camp. We were armed, although grouse loads would have been no match for the M4 carbines or H&K rifles carried by the Bulletproof security gang. Thankfully, no other souls were spotted on the hike.  Three grouse were flushed but none were harmed, and it was a lovely fall day in the woods
The area we explored was the spot where the giant waste rock mountain would be located.  It was partially cut over and markings on the trees suggest that a select cut of large oak trees is in the works.  There are plenty of streams in the area, some with names, some without, that feed the Tyler Forks River which meanders through the Penokee Range and dumps spectacularly into the Bad River at Copper Falls State Park.  The area we checked out was near Bull Gus Creek, named after an eccentric logger who lived in the area.  Apparently, folks who knew Bull Gus are still around and tell interesting, mostly true stories about the fellow.  His namesake creek is a nice little brook trout stream that originates in a large beaver pond in the highlands.  The dam is active and impressive at approximately fifteen feet high, and it releases water to the creek in a number of trickles--leaks in the dam, as it were.  This insures that the creek stays cold even in summer as the snow melt and cool water from the pond flow into the creek.  Brookies love cool water and trout fishermen love brookies.

Like many things regarding the mine, the State of Wisconsin seems to be bending over backwards to make sure it gets done.  The guy with the most supple spine, a guy who can almost touch his toes bending backwards, is Sen. Tom Tiffany of the Minocqua area.  Those of us who own land in the Managed Forest Land program receive a tax break in exchange for managing our timber.  We signed a contract stating that if we decided to pull our land out of the program, we would pay the state back the tax difference since we enrolled in the program.  All of the land proposed to be mined by GTAC is enrolled in this program allowing public access as one of the conditions of the MFL program.  Having people snooping around and taking pictures of erosion from core sampling and maybe even finding asbestos- bearing rocks (!) is certainly not what GTAC wants.  So a bill was introduced by the above mentioned supple-spined Senator to allow them to take their land out of MFL with no penalty.  After all, it's only about a million bucks in lost tax revenue.

Another good example of 'it's OK for you little people but not for us job creators' is the whole wetlands thing.  If you want to create a pond, much less fill one in, an incredible amount of paperwork and inspections are part of the process .  Contrary to GTAC President Bill Williams assertion in the Ironwood Daily Globe that the DNR is holding up the permitting process, it would appear instead that the dog ate GTAC's homework in the case.  The DNR is actually waiting for them to get their feces in a group, to use the polite phrase, and submit the required documentation for stormwater run-off, location of access roadssans wetlands, etc.  We as private citizens could literally not dump a pickup load of dirt in an area that had three cattails growing but these guys can destroy the entire watershed, including the area in the images, if this Republican-and-Tiffany-led-fast-track program goes through. 

I always thought Republicans were the party of local control and decentralized government oversight.  Yet our guy Sen. Tiffany introduced a bill to turn over local control of air and water monitoring, sampling, and blasting completely to the state DNR rather than townships and counties that are being affected.  Right now in my home town area of Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls they are mining and hauling much of the sand deposited by the last glacier out to North Dakota and Texas for fracking in the oil fields.  Tiffanys fellow Republicans in those areas, what I would call traditional Republicans, have cried foul and are in favor of retaining local control.  It seems to me to be a fairly transparent scheme to centralize the activity in the DNR, appoint a pro developer as head of the DNR, and then cut funding so they don't have the resources to do the proper.......oh wait, I guess they already did that. 

Which brings up the grunerite issue.  Since you can't just back out of the MFL program immediately, and the rifle-toting, camouflaged guards from Bulletproof Security were found to be operating in Wisconsin illegally, people can still wander the land, fishing, bird hunting, and collecting things.  Like rocks.  I personally helped the FrugalFisherman collect several rocks, ignoring complaints from my back, when we were hiking on Saturday.  Apparently some of these rocks contain grunerite, an asbestos bearing rock. Noted geological experts like Senator Tiffany and Ms. Kolesar, chair of the Iron Co. "We Will Do Anything for a Mine" committee have observed that the grunerite was likely planted by mine opponents.  From the evidence so far it would seem to be a massive planting effort.  Science seems to be a four letter word in Wisconsin these days, even though it obviously has seven letters.  Geologists and other scientific experts seem to be ignored whether it about asbestos bearing rock, air quality from massive frac sand operations, or the wisdom of a wolf hunting season in the state.

The fact is that the very last thing on the minds of these giant corporations is worker safety.  It's been that way since the very start of the industrial revolution. I say that as the son and grandson of two guys who both died way too young after working at the US Rubber / Uniroyal tire plant for decades, both coincidentally from lung related ailments.  I don't think those diseases are hereditary.  It surely couldn't be the rubber dust, chemicals, and working conditions, right? However, Uniroyal brought jobs, jobs, jobs to the Chippewa Valley area, just like the frac sand operations.  Large corporations will only do what they are required to do, and they work diligently to eliminate pesky requirements that impact jobs and especially profits.  An excellent way to do that is to take away local control from those affected by the operations and put it in the hands of an underfunded state agency rather than encouraging a scientifically based collaboration between local entities and the DNR and even the Feds and the Tribe. 

One of my favorite beers is Keewenaw Brewing's Widow Maker, an excellent and very quaffable black ale brewed up in Houghton, MI,.  The beer takes its name from a drill. "The Widowmaker, a pneumatic drill that operated without benefit of water to lubricate the bit and cut the dust, was introduced to copper country mining in the late 1890's.  While greatly improving productivity, the drill became known as the "Widowmaker", killing many of the miners that used it from illnesses related to prolonged dust inhalation".  I have no information on when or what made the mine operators quit using the drill.

Lets open our collective eyes and do some strategic cost/benefit thinking on these issues.  We need some facts--scientific facts--not ideological propaganda put forth by the right or left.  It's the only way we will collectively win in the long run.


Nan said...

How can that ale possibly be drinkable when it comes in a can?

One of my acquaintances who does consulting in mining engineering thinks that mine is never going to happen. His company did some work a couple years ago on one aspect of the proposed project. Here's hoping he's right.

DaveO said...

Since small canning lines have become really cost effective lots of small breweries have adopted the motto, 'Beer in a can to pour into a glass'. Most of the Keweenaw products are excellent.
Some people suspect that GTAC is using the old play action fake or rope a dope with this mine. They think they are trying to get the laws changed, bar lowered, etc., for some even more nefarious mining scheme. I wish Chris Cline would stick to strip mining Illinois for coal and dallying with Tiger Wood's ex wife and leave us alone.