Plan for opportunity

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As I have spoken to locals considering hosting mines over the years, they invariably ask me what we in Ladysmith would have done differently if we had to do it over. I tell them, without hesitation, that we should have been involved in mine operation discussions from the outset. Instead, we were so focused on all the gloom and doom predictions from opponents we never got to it. Blasting noise, foundation damage, truck noise and fugitive dust — those sorts of things that mining opponents were preaching — none of which ever came to pass. What a disservice they did.

Our misfortune was that resultant mining permits required removal of costly infrastructure we will never again see the likes of. Had we been involved with operations planning, reuse of this infrastructure could have been built into the mine permits:

* Twenty five acres of lined ponds could have supported a sizeable fish farm.

* Three hundred acres just off a CN main rail line could have supported a large log marshalling yard.

* A state of the art water treatment plant could have kept Ladysmith from having to build one three years ago at a cost of $3.4 million.

* Or the water plant may have attracted the Perrier Company, which was seeking a location for a water bottling plant in central Wisconsin at the time. Flambeau Sparkling Gold was a ready-made name for the product that may have been bottled there. What an example of adaptive reuse that might have been.

Just as important, perhaps, if host communities start thinking early on about what might be possible before and after mining they might see that the remaining infrastructure has as much or more value than taxes received. Or they might determine simple changes might yield big results. Maybe an access road that would otherwise be removed and seeded over is kept and extended to provide access to a county forest lake that was otherwise deemed too costly to justify building. Maybe just a slight rerouting at the time of initial mine construction accomplishes the same thing. It may take a pairing of mine developers and locals with knowledge of the surroundings to identify and take advantage of these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. It would be a shame to miss them like Ladysmith did.

The point is, now is the time for local units of government to plan for the future. The Flambeau Mine experience shows there is plenty of opportunity that comes with mining. Thinking ahead will allow communities to maximize their opportunities.