DNR panel learns about mining provisionsMADISON — The major changes made to Wisconsin’s mining law make modifying administrative rules a comparatively minor task, the Department of Natural Resources Board was told Wednesday.
By: By Kevin Murphy/For the Superior Telegram, Superior Telegram
MADISON — The major changes made to Wisconsin’s mining law make modifying administrative rules a comparatively minor task, the Department of Natural Resources Board was told Wednesday.
The mining law, 2013 Act 1, went into effect Monday and states the DNR will not write rules that would put the law into practice. Instead, existing rules that apply to metallic mining will be amended to have them not apply to ferrous or iron mining.
“We won’t be writing rules to go with ferrous mining,” said Ann Coakley, DNR’s director of Waste and Materials Management.
Asked if that was an uncommon to write legislation, Coakley said the DNR wrote rules to go with the metallic mining law but for the new ferrous mining law, the bill’s authors took existing administrative rules and put them right in the statute.
“I think they’re (legislators) are just doing it a different way. I don’t know how uncommon that is,” she said.
Coakley was before the DNR Board to explain how the agency will implement the new ferrous mining law.
She said staff assigned to ferrous mining will increase from one to 12 to 15 by the time a mining application is filed. A steering team of Coakley, Russ Rasmussen and David Siebert will guide and inform staff working on permitting issues.
“We’ll put our very best staff on the permitting operation because it’s the biggest economic development project in the state,” Coakley said.
Coakley expects Gogebic Taconite of Hurley to file an exploratory permit next month that allows them to take up to a 10,000-ton sample under the new law’s bulk sampling provision. The former law required an environmental impact statement be conducted during the exploratory or bulk sampling period. It also had no quantity associated with bulk sampling.
The new law doesn’t require an EIS and set the bulk-sampling limit below the level that previously triggered an EIS.
Mining companies take a bulk sample and run it through a processing mill in a pilot test to see how long processing takes, the quality of the ore and will mining be profitable or not, she said.
A mining company isn’t required to make public data derived from core sample analysis during bulk sampling until it files a mining permit. That requirement is later in the process than under previous law. Although a company may share that information with the DNR as it is designing waste storage facilities during the pre-application stage.
The new law requires a company to file a pre-application permit a year before it wants to file a mining permit.
The new law acknowledges that mining will result in unavoidable loss of wetlands, said Coakley. A mining company must initially avoid filling in wetlands but then needs only to minimize filling them with mine waste. While the old law allowed mitigating wetlands off site, the new law permits on-site mitigation.
“The new law says you don’t have to look off-site, you can look on-site but you must avoid then minimize filling in wetlands,” she said.
A provision in the new law allow a lake of less than two acres to be filled during mining activity, said Coakley.
The new law prohibits off-site acid mine drainage which can occur when sulfides leach out of waste rock piled at a mining site, Coakley said.
Expect lots of oversight activity when a mining permit is filed, said DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp.
“Along with us, there will be the Corps (of Engineers) and others so they will be lots of regulatory eyes during the permitting process,” she said.
Coakley expected to return to the board in May with proposed modifications in administrative rules. A public hearing on the modifications could occur in September, and the amended rules back before the board in February 2014 for final approval.
Mining activity can occur regardless of the rules’ status because the new law is in place, and the DNR is ready to enforce it, Coakley said.
She expects exploration to occur this year with GTAC filing for an exploration permit next month and bulk sampling permit later this year.