Although I live in Duluth, rather than northern Wisconsin, I would like to give you my experiences growing up on the Iron Range of Minnesota. I grew up in Virginia, Minn., and lived there until 1995. I spent my youth living four city blocks from the edge of an open pit iron mine. I still visit frequently, and walk on the roads and swim in the lakes created in the abandoned pits.
In my view there is no major environmental disaster waiting to happen in the Penokee Hills, if iron ore is mined there. Every abandoned mine pit I have visited in northern Minnesota, had clear clean unpolluted waters. If fact, trout have been planted in many pits, and they demand clean unpolluted water. I have caught quite a few.
The hard rock abandoned mining roads and waste rock piles that dot the landscape are being populated by trees, brush, vegetation, deer and other wildlife. I frequently grouse hunt up there. There are no dead stream draining polluted waters that I have found, anywhere. In fact, the city of Virginia got its drinking water for a nearby pit for 60 years, and was only forced to quit only because the mining companies wanted to let the mines fill up and the pump station was at the bottom of the pit. No health concerns were ever found from this water supply, and if there had been any, they would have shown up long ago. Same goes for the other mining towns on the Iron Range. If you don’t believe me come up to visit and see for yourself.
The environmental damage I have found in the areas I frequented as a youth, come mostly from logging. Every time acreage is cut for logging, another inch or so of top soil is washed away, never to return. Every time a maple or pine area is cut down only poplar and balsam grow back because they are “weed trees” in my opinion, and grow so much faster than what they replaced.
All types of mining are not the same, your existence on this earth is dependent on mineral extraction industries somewhere else. Wisconsin has an area of 65,500 square miles surely you can spare 10 square miles for a mine that will financially contribute so much to public and private coffers.