Penokee Hills Mining Controversy
5:55 pm
Thu August 15, 2013

Mine Opponents Dominate DNR Hearing

The Department of Natural Resources held its first public hearing on the Penokee Mine project Thursday.  Hundreds of people showed up in Hurley.

Hundreds showed up at the DNR's public hearing on Gogebic Taconite's preapplication and bulk sampling plan.
Hundreds showed up at the DNR's public hearing on Gogebic Taconite's preapplication and bulk sampling plan.
Credit Natalie Jablonski / WXPR News

People came from far and wide to voice strong opinions on the proposal.  There were even a few speakers from the Navajo Nation in Arizona, and an Ashland, WI contingent actually biked the 40 miles to the hearing.  Cyclist Michael McKenna says they wanted to their voices to be heard:

“There’s a potential risk to really disturb and destroy a beautiful pristine area, and one of the biggest watersheds on the Lake Superior region.”

In each person’s allotted three minutes at the podium, dozens of mine opponents cited statistics, gave impassioned pleas, and even read poems.  Asbestos was one big concern, as was water quality.  

Michael McKenna biked with six others from Ashland for the public hearing.
Michael McKenna biked with six others from Ashland for the public hearing.
Credit Natalie Jablonski / WXPR News

  Joe Rose lives on the Bad River reservation. 

"The elevation of that [Penokee] ridge is approximately 1800 feet above sea level.  That mining discharge would run down through all of those ecosystems in the Bad River watershed."

In the first three hours of the hearing only a handful of individuals spoke in favor of the mine.  One of the few who did, Wayne Nasi says he doesn’t think that balance reflects the local community.    

“I’m on the chamber of commerce here, and I know all of our members are all for it.  I’m a businessman here, and I’ve seen how we lose all of our young people.  There aren’t the good paying jobs here, we’re down to 6000 people now in the whole county.”

The hearing specifically addressed two things: GTac’s plan for bulk sampling…which involves excavating and testing about 4000 tons of rock; and the company’s preapplication notice, that includes a conceptual plan for the mine.  As for the imbalance of opinions present at the hearing, Ann Coakley who runs the DNR mining program says strong feelings won’t be what makes or breaks the mine.

“That won’t inform our decisions, because our decisions have to be informed by the law and the data that we have.  We get a lot of comments by email, and in writing, and most of them are from people who would prefer not to see mining ever in Wisconsin.  But there’ still a lot of people – lately it’s probably a third of the people we’re hearing from are for a mine up in this area.”

Coakley notes this is very early in the mine permit process.  It could be years before all the needed environmental testing is complete.  

The public comment period is open until August 3rd.   Written comments can be submitted to DNR’s Larry Lynch by mail or email.