Controversy continues to simmer over a proposed iron mine in northern Wisconsin’s Penokee Range. Gogebic Taconite is currently waiting for approval to do bulk sampling of more than 4000 tons of rock. And the company hasn’t even begun what would likely be a multi-year permitting process to open a mine. But one retired mining engineer is wondering if there’s enough ore to mine profitably in the first place.
One thing is clear: Jack Parker’s career in the mining industry has given him a hefty resume in the business.
“I’ve been in mining and geology for 60 some years. I’ve worked here and abroad, in something like 500 different mines. So I sort of know my way around quite well.”
83-year-old Parker started out as a coal miner, and went on to study mining engineering at Michigan Tech. He then got his Masters in geology. And ended up working as a consultant, helping fix structural problems on mines of all types.
“It came to a point where you could walk into a mine office like that, and see a map on the wall, and know what its problem is right away. You could tell by the map. And have an answer, because you’ve seen that problem before.”
So it would be hard to describe Parker as anti-mine, since he’s worked on hundreds. But he says what he’s seen of the Penokee Mine proposal raises red flags.
“I looked at it and had to raise my eyebrows cause it didn’t sound right.”
He says Gogebic Taconite made assertions early on about the amount of iron ore it could extract from the Penokee Hills. But Parker doesn’t think the company has the evidence to support what it claims. This summer GTac drilled eight holes to take rock samples of the proposed site. Parker says that isn’t enough.
“Of course this is a real problem. This is a sample two inches in diameter, 3 square inches – is according to them representative of thousands of feet. And that’s just not the case.”
Company Spokesman Bob Seitz disagrees. He thinks it is enough.
“I think there’s enough information to make it worthwhile for the investment to be made in this process. So they’re investing in this process to look at better numbers on those things, but also find out the environmental information and the cost of mining in an environmentally responsible manner.”
Parker admits that it’s possible there’s enough iron ore to mine profitably in part of the Penokee Range. Geologists estimate the entire range contains 3.7 billion tons of iron. But Parker says, more information about the specifics needs to be out in the open for the public to scrutinize.