Mining meetings wrap upMADISON – A senate mining committee sought and got input Thursday from northern Wisconsin officials who want more study money and participation in new mining regulations.
By: By Kevin Murphy/For the Telegram, Superior Telegram
MADISON – A senate mining committee sought and got input Thursday from northern Wisconsin officials who want more study money and participation in new mining regulations.
“The bill (AB426 last spring) upset some people with the lack of local input and the ability of the people to be part of the process. The mine will be in their backyard, in some cases it’s in their front yard,” said Ashland County Administrator Jeff Beirl.
Two townships in Ashland and Iron counties, that straddle the iron ore deposit a Florida-based mining company sought to develop earlier this year, have spent a combined $20,000 to prepare ordinances and gather background data on current water quality.
The $12,000 the Iron County town of Anderson has spent equals half of their property tax levy, said Richard Stadelman, executive director of the Wisconsin Towns Association. These small, rural governments need more help from the state in order to give them the best chance of preparing to live next to the biggest mine ever in Wisconsin, he said.
Current law requires a company to pay $50,000 to the state toward impact study costs when they file notice of intent to seek a mining permit. That’s inadequate to understand and monitor the impact of the 22,000-acre mine proposed last spring by Gogebic Taconite, said Beirl.
While it is “tough to put a number,” on the amount now, Beirl said $50,000 should be the starting figure with a similar amount paid annually as needed to develop plans and responses local governments will need to have in place for large-scale mining operations.
The amount of study money made available should be closer to the $200,000 GTAC spent in six months preparing to restart iron mining in the state, said State Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar.
Local officials will need state funding upfront to hire experts to review the legal and environmental complexities in addition to the state’s review, as they will be most impacted by mining activity, Beirl said.
Jauch also asked Beirl if he favored an alternative to funding mining regulation through the existing net proceeds tax on mining activity.
Local governments may have to wait five to seven years for funds generated by a net proceeds tax, said Jauch as mining companies can apply their huge start-up costs against profits that would be subject to the tax.
In the meantime, local governments have costs from the impacts on roads, schools, housing and law enforcement to contend with as a mine becomes operational, he said.
With Gov. Scott Walker advocating a mining bill passed in time to meet the next construction season, Jauch asked Stadelman if he knew anyone “as delusional” as Walker about the timing for a new mining bill?
“You’ll get better public acceptance (to mining) with better access to information,” said Stadelman who also advocated including local official input in the mining approval process.
As important as local government input is, Native American tribal government input “is twice as important,” said Beirl as their legal authority can have serious consequences for any project.
“Whatever the state thinks it can dictate about the process, the tribes have other avenues to explore regarding allowing a mine to go forward or not. Tribes are a major player. Talk to the tribes, they have water quality standards that can be enforced and soon they’ll have air quality standards, too,” he said.
Tribal representatives did address the committee this fall.
Thursday’s hearing was the final session for the Democrat-controlled committee, as the Republican majority will be restored to the Senate in January.
After listing to Beirl’s testimony, State Sen. Glen Grothman, R-West Bend, asked Beirl if he thought mining would benefit Ashland County and northern Wisconsin.
“Where I come from economic development is a good thing,” Grothman said.
Mining can be, Beirl replied, “If it’s done right.”
Most of the people he knows want the best of both worlds in which mining can be a prosperous activity and the natural resources are protected, said Beirl.
“You can create 700 mining jobs but it is deteriorates the natural resources so it kills an equal amount of jobs in tourism and agriculture you have a net zero job gain,” he said.
Committee Chairman State Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, said the committee’s four listening sessions dating to September produced a lot of information and a bill that will be an alternative to one to be proposed by Republicans next year.