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GTAC challenges DNR over questions agency asked about proposed mine

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Mike Simonson, Wisconsin Public Radio

Gogebic Taconite, the company exploring the Penokee Hills for a possible open pit iron ore mine, is pushing back against some requests made by the Department of Natural Resources.

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A six-page letter from Gogebic Taconite chief engineer Tim Myers says the DNR is not authorized to ask many of the questions it posed in a letter to the company last month. GTAC spokesperson Bob Seitz says the company response is a way to keep the DNR within bounds as they move ahead with rock sampling paperwork.

“The Wisconsin DNR is well-known as a regulatory agency that sets very high standards and asks for a great deal,” says Seitz. “And so, you can call it pushback, but it’s just kind of outlining what the process is. As long as we all understand what the process is, then I think everyone’s going to get along well.”

Seitz says this exchange doesn’t mean they’ll be butting heads for the rest of the regulatory process. “We are not being antagonistic. We are spending tens of thousands of dollars to satisfy curiosity in some cases, rather than to satisfy any environmental need or requirement. Even in this case, we’re answering the questions.”

DNR mining director Ann Coakley says the company did not answer all their questions, including the presence of sulfide and asbestosform minerals. She says the DNR requests are fair.

“I definitely do not feel like my permitting team has been antagonistic regarding metallic mining in recent years,” says Coakley. “I think we’ve been helpful and absolutely willing to listen and provide advice and work through things together.”

Even so, Coakley says they won’t push the point or even reply to GTAC’s letter: “My guess is with a very complex, controversial project there’s going to be bumps in the road.”

Before they can go ahead with sampling 2,400 tons of rock in Iron and Ashland County, GTAC must get a storm water permit and a waiver for an air emissions permit. 

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