Political leaders near proposed Gogebic iron project say mining bill still possible this yearDespite Gogebic Taconite’s announcement Tuesday that it would give up on its plans for mining in Wisconsin after the state Senate failed to pass a mining reform bill, local leaders say they’re not convinced the quest for an acceptable bill is over.
By: Mike Simonson, Wisconsin Public Radio
Despite Gogebic Taconite’s announcement Tuesday that it would give up on its plans for mining in Wisconsin after the state Senate failed to pass a mining reform bill, local leaders say they’re not convinced the quest for an acceptable bill is over.
Senate leaders hoped Tuesday to pass the mining reform bill crafted in the state Assembly but sent the bill back to committee when it became clear they didn’t have the necessary votes. Mellen Mayor Joe Barabe said Wednesday he still hopes a compromise bill proposed by Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, and Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, can be passed to bring mining jobs to his town.
He said he couldn’t stomach the Republican-backed Assembly bill.
“We understand the land’s going to be raped, and that’s called mining. But we didn’t know we’d get raped, too. And that’s called the Assembly bill,” Barabe said. “I’m pro-mine but I’m not this pro-mine.”
Jauch and Schultz, a moderate Republican, said the Assembly bill would make it too difficult to challenge permitting decisions and would jeopardize the environment. But with no bill to speed up the permitting timetable, Gogebic Taconite said it would stop its efforts. Company officials did not answer interview requests Wednesday, although their office in Hurley remained open.
Jauch said this isn’t the first time Gogebic Taconite has threatened to leave Wisconsin.
“It’s a tactic that is unfortunate because it further inflames an already very difficult issue,” he said.
Jauch said he doesn’t know if his compromise bill will be resurrected before the Senate adjourns next week. But he said a mining reform bill is needed for another company and another day.
He said he was “puzzled” by Gogebic Taconite President Bill Williams’ statement that the company was leaving the state because the Senate sent a “clear message that Wisconsin will not welcome iron mining. We get the message.”
“Mr. Williams’ remarks are inconsistent with a conversation I had with him the night before, where he never indicated that G-Tac’s bottom line was passage of the Assembly Bill,” Jauch said in a written statement. “He also never mentioned any specific concerns or offered any suggestions on how to improve the bipartisan plan put forth by Sen. Schultz and me.”
Jauch said he would continue to work on mining reform that “protects the public voice, helps create jobs and preserves our environment.” He said his plan is modeled after mining laws in Minnesota, where more iron is mined than any other state.
Bad River Tribal Chairman Mike Wiggins said stopping what he called a bill that would have destroyed their Lake Superior watershed was a credit to grass-roots activism. But he said he’s not celebrating.
“This was a wake-up call,” Wiggins said. “If G-Tac has gone away, the fact is the ore is still in the ground and Bad River is going to continue to build its war chest to defend itself.”