To the Telegram:
Let’s be rational about the Penokee Hills Iron Mine.
Rightly so, the proposed mine has raised interest and concern from many people and activist groups. That sort of response is now normal and can be expected for just about any sort of project. Unfortunately, with the slanted information that comes from these biased groups — pro and con — it becomes difficult and is an obstacle for open-minded people who are just trying to better understand the issues and make informed judgments.
Most of us enjoy a decent quality of life that depends on the use of our earth’s resources. With our population increase and even greater increases among many more less fortunate of earths’ inhabitants, who also wants and needs a better life, there will be continued and increasing need to develop the world’s natural resources. So, it is important to understand as much as possible for yourself about a project and its impacts —positive and negative — before you make a judgment.
A project such as the Penokee Hills Iron Mine, from what I’ve so far learned, would take many years of study and analysis to have a reasonable understanding of the impact the mine and facilities would create. There would be much more study to determine how the negative impacts could be mitigated or eliminated. This long process requires thorough investigation and definition (characterization) of baseline conditions, mining and facilities planning, study and analysis with numerical (computer) modeling to determine impacts, and much iterative study to alter and optimize mining and facilities plans to minimize negative impacts. Reclamation planning and waste disposal planning and much more is all part of the permitting process. Nothing about that has changed with the new Iron mine permitting regulation. I have no definite idea how Gogebic Taconite (GTAC) would proceed through this process if the project became a reality. However, the most practical and efficient way is to work with the WDNR and inform the public of plans and interim results throughout the process. Finding out later that an important feature was not initially characterized is not productive or efficient. All of that project work is not included in the 360-day timeframe, which seems to be a major concern about the new regulation; that 360 day period starts after the formal submittal of that mine-permit-application-required-information. At that time, the WDNR checks that all necessary information has been submitted and declares whether or not the submittal is administratively complete; if it is, the 360-day period starts; if not the applicant takes more time to make the application fully complete. In reality though, throughout all the work activities, if the process has proceeded efficiently, the WDNR essentially knows as much about the project and its impacts as the applicant does. At that point in time, the beginning of the 360-day period, the main responsibility of the WDNR is to reaffirm information and to develop its own version of the impacts and present them in an environmental impact statement.
Unfortunately, in the meetings I’ve attended most of the speakers and commenter’s present their view of expected impacts with no defensible support. The best that can be offered is that this sort of impact happened before at another mine; at the worst it could be a complete fabrication as I saw in Hurley when a commenter presented a mason jar full of a brown liquid concocted in her kitchen and she represented it as being indicative of the drainage expected from the iron mine. Folks making presentations like that soon lose all their credibility.
I’ve started by trying to better understand the Penokee Hills environment from what I could find with an internet Google (‘Penokee Hills Geology’). Setting aside special interest / activist websites / links there is some, but not a lot left. One interesting source is a US Geological Survey report (from 1929 no less) by Aldrich, Henry R. (Henry Ray), b. 1891. “The geology of the Gogebic iron range of Wisconsin”, Bulletin No. 71, Economic Series No. 24,The State, 1929. The URL for this work: http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/EcoNatRes.WGB71Econ24. It is a good start to understanding the area and is a very interesting report to read.
If the project does move forward it will be many years before any defensible impacts could be determined, which, depending upon what they are, would lead to a decision by the WDNR on the permit application.
Carlton Schroeder, PE
Eagle River, Wis.