Opposition to mining bill lacks themeI went to the big hearing at State Fair Park on the mining legislation the other day, and I noticed that all the opponents who spoke seem to have one really terrific thing in common.
By: By Mike Nichols, Superior Telegram
I went to the big hearing at State Fair Park on the mining legislation the other day, and I noticed that all the opponents who spoke seem to have one really terrific thing in common.
Christine Sinicki, a state representative who said the bill could allow “horrible harm” to the environment in northern Wisconsin, is from Milwaukee.
John Alberts, a lobbyist for the St. Croix Chippewa concerned about lessening environmental protections, is from Oconomowoc. There were opponents from the Bad River Reservation east of Ashland — where, by the way, the hearing really should have been held. There were also opponents from Madison.
No, not geography, nor any, one unifying concern.
Opponents expressed worry about everything from the process of reviewing a potential mining permit from Gogebic Taconite for the mine up in Ashland and Iron counties, to shortened timelines for review by the state Department of Natural Resources, and waste disposal to impacts on air and water and rice and human health.
It wasn’t, similarly, any fondness for economics or history or statistics that united opponents.
Historians will tell you we aren’t Badgers because little furry animals roam our fields or woods. We’re Badgers because that’s what they used to call the lead miners who burrowed into the hills of southwestern Wisconsin.
Statisticians will tell you that the median household income in Wisconsin is around $50,000 per year. In Iron and Ashland, it’s between $12,000 and $15,000 lower.
Between 2000 and 2010, Wisconsin’s population grew 6 percent. In Ashland County, it fell more than 4 percent. In Iron County, it plummeted almost 14 percent. Old folks are dying and young folks are leaving, and it’s not exactly like this is Silicon Valley.
“Someone waiting for the next Microsoft to occur in Hurley is going to have a very long wait,” said David Ward, an economist hired by the mining company. Yes, there’s tourism. Many of those jobs pays minimum wage — ’til the snow flies.
“Our only salvation is what God gave us for our natural resources,” said Wayne Nasi, a Hurley businessman. “We are not going to get a GM plant at the end of the road up by Superior.”
Not going to get a mine any time soon either.
Even if the new mining legislation passes tomorrow, it will take Gogebic Taconite two years to assemble its application for a mining permit, according to Bill Williams, the company’s president. The DNR would get a year after that to review it. Initial mine construction would take two more years beyond that. The area is five years away, even with new legislation, from seeing its first actual mining job. And that’s assuming no one sues.
We live in an age where people sue because their neighbor’s tree sheds on their lawn. Somebody will sue. And the feds will get involved as well.
And if it doesn’t pass? It won’t be years before we have iron mining. It’ll be forever.
This new legislations needs a thorough review. Wisconsin’s process for approving iron mining should be essentially the same as the one in Minnesota and Michigan, where there are plenty of iron mines. If the new legislation doesn’t accomplish that, it should. Then the state should try hard to get out of the way.
It would be unfair to call all concerns whining. This is an enormous project that needs to be studied carefully but also quickly and efficiently — and not over and over and over again in different venues.
Many of the opponents, oddly, seem to think time matters not at all. Maybe they haven’t been in Iron and Ashland counties lately. Or maybe it’s because — unlike folks who have been a little too poor for a little too long — they appeared to have one thing in common at the hearing in West Allis the other day:
They already have jobs.
Mike Nichols is a syndicated columnist who spent 18 years writing about Wisconsin for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He is now a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. This column represents only his personal opinion. Contact him at MRNichols@wi.rr.com.