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Metallic mining regulations head to County Board

Douglas County is moving ahead with plans to regulate metallic sulfide mining after the state lifted a decades-long moratorium on the operations.

Douglas County's Zoning Committee held its second public hearing on the matter Wednesday before approving a recommendation to the full County Board for adoption.

The ordinance guides requirements and options for permitting a metallic sulfide mining operation in Douglas County. While the county has long regulated non-metallic mines excavated for sand, gravel and other nonmetallic materials, no ordinance was ever adopted to regulate metallic mines because the state was under a moratorium for two decades.

"Douglas County does have a few small deposits of copper that was mined many years ago," said Keith Wiley, zoning coordinator. "In order to be prepared, instead of reactive to the potential for someone to come into the county and potentially start mining, it would be good for the county to have an ordinance."

Non-metallic mines are regulated through conditional-use permits, but changes in the burden of proof for denying a conditional-use permit adopted by the state Legislature are prompting more options for metallic mining regulation. While companies were once responsible to demonstrate their operations wouldn't be detrimental, it is now the responsibility of the county to demonstrate it will when a conditional-use permit is denied.

Douglas County's ordinance includes two options to permit non-ferrous mining. They could issue a conditional-use permit, or they could require an operation to reach a local agreement that would govern the operation.

The ordinance the board considers next week is based on a model ordinance developed by the Wisconsin Counties Association.

"They were very adamant about adopting this ordinance in some form," County Board Chairman Mark Liebaert said of discussions last week during a gathering of Wisconsin Counties Association board chairpersons. "Any county north of Highway 8 is at risk for this ... and there is some interest to see who is passing and who is not passing this."

The County Board considers adopting the ordinance when it meets Thursday, Aug. 16, at 6 p.m. in Room 201 of the Government Center.