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UWS poll: Gogebic Taconite project has little local support

A proposal to develop Wisconsin's first major taconite mine and processing center in southern Ashland and Iron counties is opposed by nearly two-thirds of the people surveyed by a team of University of Wisconsin-Superior economists.

About 44.1 percent of respondents to a random poll "absolutely oppose" the proposed Gogebic Taconite mine, while another 17.7 percent "generally oppose it."

In a second, self-reporting poll, in which people went online to answer questions, 73 percent of respondents oppose the mine.

The poll results, released Thursday by UWS, also found that most people are fairly knowledgeable about the mine proposal, scoring more than 7 out of 10 when asked how much knowledge they had of the project that's now seeking permits from the state.

The survey was designed and carried out by an independent team of researchers including Dr. Zamira Simkins, an assistant professor of economics, and Aleksei Bogdanov, an undergraduate student.

According to the random sample results, most respondents believe that the mine will have a "mostly negative" impact on the region's transportation infrastructure and "only negative" effects on the environment in general and more specifically on outdoor recreation, air quality, soil quality, surface and underground water quality, forestry and wetlands and fish and wildlife.

According to the random sample results, most respondents believe that the mine will have a "somewhat positive" impact on the local economy, businesses and employment opportunities.

When asked if they would be interested in working at the mine, 66.34 percent of the random sample respondents reported that they are "absolutely not" interested in working there. The survey also suggests there are very few trained mining workers in the region. "This poses a question of whether the local labor supply can meet the mine's potential demand for labor, or whether workers would need to be hired from outside the region," the authors noted.

The pollsters advertised their online poll in local newspapers in the region. Between July 16 and Aug. 19, 893 online surveys were filled out, out of which 862 contained responses to all mandatory questions. In the random sample, 200 households were contacted over the phone and 102 provided responses.

All of the random poll respondents were from Ashland and Iron counties, Simkins said. About 35 percent of the online respondents were from Ashland, Iron and Bayfield counties, while another 38 percent were from elsewhere in Wisconsin. The other 27 percent were from outside of Wisconsin.

Gogebic Taconite is now conducting test drills, working toward construction of Wisconsin's first modern taconite mining operations, including an open-pit iron ore mine and processing plant. The project was pushed by Wisconsin Republicans as a way to create jobs in the region but is opposed by several Ojibwe and environmental groups and activists who say the project will dam­age the environment.