Penokee mine proposal questionedA standing room only crowd full of questions about the proposed Penokee iron ore mine in far northern Wisconsin turned out last night.
By: By Mike Simonson, Wisconsin Public Radio, Superior Telegram
A standing room only crowd full of questions about the proposed Penokee iron ore mine in far northern Wisconsin turned out last night. At stake is an iron ore deposit in Ashland and Iron Counties
This was the first public presentation of plans for an iron ore taconite mine along the Penokee Mountain Range several miles inland from Lake Superior. The meeting was not a pro and con debate but a chance for people to ask questions directly to mining officials. And there were lots of questions but, at this point, some without answers.
Gogebic Taconite hasn’t filed an intent to mine notice, but they are moving ahead toward that point. Wisconsin Geological Survey Senior Geologist Bruce Brown told the crowd at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center that there are strict regulations in place.
“I’ll say one thing: There’s plenty of iron,” he said. “There’s 3.7 billion tons of potentially minable iron out there. The caveats are the dip is steep which limits the amount you can get by open pit and still remain economical.
“Environmental regulations and aesthetic factors are certain to play a very large role in this,” Brown said. “Certainly the environmental regulations are much more strict than they were in the past.”
The mine would be built in the ceded territory of several bands of Ojibwe. Red Cliff Tribal Elder Tony DePerry said he’s afraid the land will be permanently damaged and the watershed, which leads into the Bad River and then into Lake Superior, will be harmed.
“We need to sit down and seriously talk about what we’re doing in life,” he said. “Yes, we can provide jobs. For how long? What kind of promises in the future are these people going to have?”
Gogebic Taconite Managing Director Matthew Fifield assured the audience that they’ll go by the requirements to get a mining permit. He said that’s a make or breaker for the proposal.
“If we can’t engineer a mine that meets or beats these requirements, we will not be able to construct the project,” Fifield said. “If, once constructed, the project cannot stay in compliance with the strict regulations, we will not be able to operate our project. This is likely to be a very expensive project and we have great incentive to engineer a project that exceeds and meets the environmental regulations of the day.”
Fifield said G-Tac, as they call themselves, will start with a four mile long, 1,000 yard wide section. The proposal would haul taconite by rail to Duluth-Superior or Escanaba, Mich. and from there to blast furnaces in the lower Great Lakes. He said similar mining operations on Minnesota’s Iron Range now employ about 600-650 people.
For now, they’re optimistic this could bring 30 to 35 years of mining jobs to the region.
“One is it’s a world class deposit and it is compatible with what is (out there) today,” Fifield says. “Second, the people that we would be competing with, those mines are very old.
“All the taconite mines in Michigan and Minnesota were developed in the late 1950s to the early 1970s. Starting with a brand new mine that uses superior technology, G-Tax should have a very, very competitive cost structure,” he said.
This coming out party of sorts for G-Tac is part of a long yellow brick road that includes several hearings for an environmental impact statement and a trial-like master hearing. Fastest case scenario is two years, more realistic is seven years.
The town hall meeting was sponsored by Northland College, the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center, the Ashland Daily Press and Wisconsin Public Radio.
The entire meeting can be heard at www.wpr.org and www.kuws.fm.