Friday, January 6, 2012

Proposed GTAC mine

Mines have been in the news lately. Just yesterday Interior Secretary Salazar announced a 20 year ban on mining uranium next to the Grand Canyon. Settlements should be announced today in the mine disaster that killed 29 miners in the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia in 2010. In Wisconsin, unless they live under a rock, people are aware that GTAC has proposed a massive iron mining operation in Iron and Ashland Counties in the northeastern part of the state. In both instances the usual suspects have mobilized, the issue has been defined in black and white (mostly along ideological lines), and swords are being sharpened and the name calling has begun. For one side, it's jobs for a perennially under employed part of the state and acceptable environmental destruction; for the other it's a northwoods utopia with old growth forests and sustainable environmental tourism jobs for all. The sad fact is that neither side is prepared to admit is that there actually can be a middle ground.

Goegebic Taconite, GTAC, is affiliated with the Cline Group in Florida and is registered as a LLC on the Toronto stock exchange. They want to mine iron ore in the area mentioned above but have determined that Wisconsin's iron mine permitting laws are far too restrictive and if they aren't changed they will take their dynamite and giant dump trucks and go home. To assist with this problem, they helped the Republicans in the Wisconsin Assembly write a law that would make it far easier to get a permit, cut the permitting time in half from what our neighboring mining states of Michigan and Minnesota require, and limit damages from any unfortunate environmental accidents that may occur. (Before I go on, I want to say that I could load up this post with links to dozens of media outlets but you, dear blog reader, are going to have to use the Google on your own. I will say my old high school classmate, Lee Bergquist, has been covering the story quite nicely for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.) There is a hearing on the bill in Hurley tomorrow. An overflow crowed is expected and the rhetoric will be heated.

My one link in this post.......OK, there will be one more......has a quote from the Executive Director of the Ashland Area Development Corporation, Dale Kupcyck. "You’ve got this 10 percent who want it no matter what it costs, probably 10 percent who don’t want it no matter what. But you’ve got 80 percent who are willing to work with the state and say yes, if we can do it cleanly, let’s do it.”. That is exactly the point I'd like to make. This is not a zero sum game like most of the people on the far end of both viewpoints would have you believe. It's a cost benefit analysis that needs to be done using data and information that is gathered and published with peer review by independent scientists, not shills and hacks employed by either the mine developers or the environmental groups. GTAC is interested in maximizing profit as are all mining companies and that's it. Recall the asbestos laden taconite tailings that were being dumped into my favorite lake by Reserve Mining from about 1955 to 1970. Was is a voluntary cessation of the practice, once altruistic company officials from Reserve realized that Duluth residents were buying bottled water due to drinking water contamination? Hell no, we all know that it took a lengthy court case and holding then holding Reserves feet to the fire. Conversely, there are environmentalists that would love to see the end of all mining and logging on planet earth. Maybe when the bamboo and plastic....oop, sorry, petroleum based product..... bamboo and acetate buses and light rail trains are invented and we return to wiping our hind ends with sustainable corn cobs that might be possible. Nope folks, there is a middle ground here and I hold very little hope that our elected officials will attempt to find it through negotiation and analysis of independently collected data. The mining companies will continue to attempt to purchase Manhattan for $24 worth of trinkets and the tree huggers will continue to predict the end of civilization as we know it if one scoop of Penokee Range earth is mined.

It's a complicated issue, with governments from the township level through the Feds, and citizens and business interests all being major stakeholders in the outcome. this would include the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians, who have came out in opposition to the mine. I gotta think that Manhattan for twenty four bucks thing might be on their minds, as well as the water quality issues. I will disclose here that I have a horse in this race as well. Twenty plus years ago a group of close friends bought a decrepit old resort that was in tax arrears, a property that would be about a short dynamite blast away from the proposed mine site. They have turned the property through sweat equity, with some of the sweat being mine, into a quality retreat. The above image is from the property. How will the blasting, which will be very clearly heard, affect the property? Will the giant 900' deep pit affect the lake level? How will a giant mountain of' overburden' impact the watershed and drainage? Will diversion of the creek that feeds and flows out of the lake turn it from a natural lake into a lovely wetland? Will dust and air pollution make sitting next to the lake intolerable? And what are all those possible scenarios worth, from a cost/benefit standpoint, in the overall scheme of things? I go up there a lot and want answers to those questions as does the group that owns the place and surrounding landowners and communities. One organization is attempting to disseminate information, ask questions, and offer a usable resource on the issue without too much finger pointing: The Bad River Watershed Association. That's that second link I promised. I would urge people concerned about the watershed, which drains into Lake Superior, to become informed on the issues. The big deal with the uranium mining ban in the Grand Canyon was the impact on the Colorado River watershed. That water provides drinking water and irrigation for a number of states, including Southern California where a large proportion of the nations vegetables are grown. Do we want to risk that water supply or the health of Lake Superior without independent scientific data? Should the Wisconsin Assembly pass a bill that states if the DNR can't gather and verify the data in one year that the mining permit is automatically granted? I sure as hell don't think so. If we are gonna sell em Manhattan, lets get fair market value for it this time AND make sure the cost doesn't come back and bite us in the ass twenty years down the road. This issue needs to be examined with hard data, eyes wide open, and looking toward the future. This ideological political bullshit we've heard so far just does not cut it. I plan to work towards the goal of cooler heads prevailing.

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