March 28, 2015
On March 27, 2015, Gogebic Taconite (GTac) sent a letter to the Wisconsin DNR withdrawing their pre-application for a mining permit. Earlier, they had announced that the Penokee Hills of northern Wisconsin were “unmineable” due to wetlands, and said they would be closing their Hurley, WI offices and abandoning the idea of investing in an open-pit mountaintop removal mine here.
This victory for northern Wisconsin and concerned citizens everywhere was due to a combination of circumstances that ultimately proved once and for all that the boom and bust of the mining industry is too great a risk to the economy, environment and democracy of the region. Some of the factors for GTac’s failure to mine include:
The manner in which GTac conducted business
GTAC armed security forces in northern Wisconsin. Photo: Rob Ganson
Besides the $700,000 pay off to Scott Walker, the use of an unlicensed private paramilitary company to guard the mine site, the smear campaigns against scientists conducted by extreme pro-mining propaganda organizations, the death threats against concerned citizens, and being allowed to author the new mining legislation created great risk for the region.
Many never believed GTac was a real mining company. Organized as an LLC in only 2010 and having no previous iron ore experience, GTac did not behave like a mining company. Authentic taconite mining companies don’t:
· Hire an official wanted for crimes against the environment in Spain;
· Claim to know the deposit with only a few hundred core holes, when thousands are necessary;
· Hire a public relations person who only makes people angry and appears totally ignorant of mining issues and technology;
· Bulk sample using loose rock in an old hole with no knowledge of its origin;
· Put forth a mine plan which shows a pit diagram which misses much of the deposit;
· Tell blatant lies in public legislative sessions—lies which contradict their own previous statements;
· Deny the existence of minerals in the deposit that have been documented to be there for over 100 years;
· Have only a handful of employees on a project which would require hundreds;
· Use an economic study based on laws and conditions in a different state and that shows only half the picture;
· Put forth a mine plan which does not show any water storage pond/facility, when tens of millions of gallons are needed every day;
· Say they plan to dry stack their tailings, when this method has never been used in a wet climate, and propose a pile hundreds of feet high when 35 feet is pretty much a limit;
· Say they will dry stack, which is the most expensive method of tailings disposal, and at the same time say that they will be cost efficient.
· Not publish their test results (Aguila, Copperwood, Highland Copper, Eagle Mines—all published their core test results either online or in the local papers);
· Not know the extent of wetlands before performing expensive core drilling and bulk sampling;
· Contradict their own consultants while in meetings with the ACOE, DNR and EPA, resulting in those regulators telling them to come back when they get serious;
· Drill only a handful of water monitoring holes, when hundreds would be required, and never bother to install instrumentation in those that they did drill;
· Propose to convey and handle wet materials (tailings) 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in a climate in which the temperature goes below -35F;
· Say they are pulling out of Ashland County, leaving almost 1/3 of the ore in the ground, because the local county board chair is “mean”;
· Get caught bribing the governor to the tune of $700,000;
· Suggest that they are going to file a permit soon, when years of investigation are still required;
· Promise 700 jobs but not be able to produce a single job description …*
This list could go on and on, but this is more than enough to know now that they were never serious about mining iron ore.
Residents of the Lake Superior basin gather in Winter 2014 to spell out “SOS Protect Our Water” with their bodies on the ice. Photo: David Doering
The power of the people
Lake Superior has always been special to those who live near her. The Lake Superior Chippewa Bands have for generations cared for the resources, particularly water and air. Natives and non-native alike living in the basin joined together to stand united in defense of the water. The new mining law, ignoring the voice of the people and putting all resources at risk, could not usurp the power of so many individuals working together on so many levels to protect the water.
All across the state, people became educated about the Penokee Hills and GTac. Frank Koehn from Save the Waters Edge and the Penokee Hills Education Project (PHEP) traveled the state with others giving presentations to local communities. Bad River potlucks became meeting grounds for action planning. The Harvest Education Learning Project (HELP) opened in the hills near the mine site and hosted thousands of visitors from all over the world.
Downstate, Madison Action for Mining Alternatives (MAMA) was formed to unite the north and the south in efforts to protect the water, not just from iron ore but sand frac mining overtaking central and southern Wisconsin. Educational events were held in Milwaukee, Madison, Wausau, Eau Claire and all across the state to raise awareness and unite concerned citizens.
As we reached out to our friends and neighbors about the vital issues of Lake Superior and Bad River water, we also increased awareness about the growing global water shortage.
Falling world iron ore prices and divestment of fossil fuel
International iron ore prices continue to fall. When the Wisconsin legislature first introduced GTac’s mining bill, prices were considerably higher. In 2014, they dropped by 49%.
According to scientists familiar with the iron ore in the Penokees, it is a low-quality formation and would have taken much more effort and expense to extract the ore from the ore body. Add to that the cost of mitigating the abundant wetlands, and it does not make a profitable investment.
The Work Continues
We must continue to stand strong together united in defense of the water. Mining won’t go away, and there are new threats to the water by way of tar sands pipelines, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO), sand frac mining. According to NASA, California has about one year of fresh water left. This global crisis will reach everyone at some point. So be inspired to do something to help your local community to protect the water. Attend county board meetings, educate your neighbors, become involved with a local citizen group and continue to stay apprised of what is needed to stand united in defense of the water.
* written by Richard Theide, Iron County.