Governor touts jobs, Joint Finance adopts but senate Republicans deny vote on mining billHalf the work Superior-based Lakehead Constructors does is mining related. That reality puts the construction company’s president and chief executive officer, Brian Maki, in favor a proposal that would bring mining to northern Wisconsin.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
Half the work Superior-based Lakehead Constructors does is mining related.
That reality puts the construction company’s president and chief executive officer, Brian Maki, in favor a proposal that would bring mining to northern Wisconsin.
Monday, Maki hosted Gov. Scott Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch as the two came to Superior to talk about a mining bill currently before the legislature and the potential impact a proposal by Gogebic Taconite LLC could have on the region and state’s economy.
“The proposed G-Tac (mining) project in northern Wisconsin … the company, the state, this county and the region will see first-hand the positive, significant impact mining would have on creating jobs,” said Maki on Monday as he introduced the governor to a group of business and community leaders at Lakehead Constructors on Hill Avenue.
In fact, Gogebic Taconite LLC anticipates creating about 3,000 construction jobs in addition to 700 direct mining jobs if the company can clear environmental hurdles to obtain air, water and land permits necessary for the operation of its proposed mine and taconite facility in Ashland and Iron counties.
Wisconsin legislators are considering a mining bill to streamline the process and create certainty for the company about the result as the company contemplates investing $1.5 billion in Wisconsin, one of the largest investments in state history.
The company has leased a 22-mile portion of the ore body that extends from the Gogebic Range in Michigan to Namekagon, Wis. The first phase of the project would focus on a four- to five-mile section of the formation east of Mellen, Wis.
It would be the first iron mining operation in northern Wisconsin since the 1960s.
While Walker was traveling the state Monday to talk about the proposal, the Joint Finance Committee passed a revised version of the Assembly-approved bill.
“The so-called ‘compromise’ passed by the Joint Finance Committee [Monday] would still roll back commonsense environmental protections and limit the voice of the people in the mine permit process, changes to current law that Wisconsin residents adamantly oppose,” said Amber Meyer Smith, government relations director at Clean Wisconsin.
Senate Republicans stopped short of voting the bill down Tuesday. The bill was pulled from the senate calendar with Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, standing with Democrats in opposition to the bill.
“This is an opportunity for us to put up to 2,300 people — 2,300 families — with a work opportunity here in the state of Wisconsin,” Walker said.
In addition to 700 mining jobs, transportation and other spin-offs would create opportunities for companies like Lakehead Constructors.
Walker said the state’s history was built on mining — highlighting the miner, pick ax, shovel and badger on the state flag — to highlight its historical importance in Wisconsin.
“We’re not the badger state because we have all these animals around,” the governor said. “We’re the badger state because our heritage involves mining” and if any state can streamline the process, to return to mining, it should be Wisconsin.”
Walker, who traveled the region on his Harley Davidson motorcycle, said he understands the importance of tourism in the region, which relies on clean air, land and water.
Another bill was introduced two weeks ago. SSchultz and Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, members of the disbanded senate mining committee, modeled it after Minnesota’s mining laws.
Walker said there has been no line drawn in the sand to adopt the bill adopted by the Wisconsin Assembly. He said he believes the final bill, which he hopes will be adopted in the next week or two by the senate, will be a compromise to address concerns.
Walker declined to say whether he would call a special session if a bill doesn’t pass by the end of the session.
“We’ve been involved in mining since the 70s,” Maki said.
Mark Hubbard, a senior vice president with Lakehead, said the company was involved in mining even before that, but it remains a very important part of the company’s business.
Currently, he said the company has several hundred employees working on the furnace line at United Taconite. He said while the projects are often short term, lasting a few weeks, they require hundreds of man-hours of labor, creating hundreds of jobs for people in the community.