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GTAC president may face water pollution charges in Spain

The president of the company that wants to open a $1.5 billion iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin faces charges for contaminating an emergency water supply at a mine in Spain.

Antonio Ramos is the mining investigator for the Spanish environmental coalition “Ecologists in Action”. For 13 years, he’s been monitoring a string of copper mines near the city of Seville. He says the mines have had trouble with pollution, including the Cobre Las Cruces copper mine. Through an interpreter in a telephone interview from Spain, Ramos says that mining company allowed arsenic and other heavy metals to get into a water aquifer for this city of 700,000 people.

“The water is reserved for the city of Seville in case of an emergency,” said Nixon Bustos, a Columbia native and music instructor at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, interpreting for Ramos. He said so far, no one has been injured.

The aquifer was to be used in case of a drought or other emergencies. Now, the Seville Ministry of Justice is moving forward with two charges against former Cobre Las Cruces general manager, Gogebic Taconite’s President Bill Williams.

Two other company executives not associated with GTAC have also been charged.

The first charge carries up to three years in prison and the second charge two to five years.

In another media interview, Williams downplayed the charges because they originated from environmental groups against mining.

Ramos doesn’t see it that way.

“He says that’s a very offensive statement from Williams.” Ramos said through an interpreter. “He’s fine with the mine as long as they follow the rules.”

GTAC spokesman Bob Seitz says Williams doesn’t want to talk about the charges in case it does go to trial, but he says this shouldn’t affect the proposed Penokee Range open pit mine in Ashland and Iron Counties.

“The process going on in Spain is a different company, a different process, a different kind of mining. What we’re doing is investigating and gathering data to come up with a plan for a mining operation that would come under Wisconsin and United States law. The EPA and DNR have a lot of regulations in place to protect ground water and surface water.”

But in a home video from two years ago posted on an anti-mining website, Williams is telling a group at the Ashland Deep Water Grille that he supports the technology used in the Cobre Las Cruces mine. You’ll also hear him deny there was any contamination from that mine.

Even though Williams left Cobre Las Cruces three years ago, Ramos says he’s culpable because he designed the system as a way to save mining costs that caused the alleged pollution.

 “He knew what happened when they was opening Las Cruces,” Ramos said in English. He said he hopes northern Wisconsin won’t have to go through the same battle or contamination.

“He is only asking that we don’t do the same here as to what he did there. Don’t allow him,” the interpreter said on behalf of Ramos.

Ecology in Action legal director Isidoro Nunez says no trial date has been set and that so far, all appeals have been rejected. He says it is very unlikely the charges will be dropped.