Gogebic Taconite

Natalie Jablonski / WXPR News

Proponents of an iron mine in northern Wisconsin are disappointed that Gogebic Taconite has closed its Hurley office and appears to be backing away from its plan to mine the area. 

State Senator Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst blames federal EPA regulations that he says make wetland remediation cost-prohibitive. 

“Whereas at the state level, we set certainty into our bill so they knew what our costs are going to be, they’re not sure at the federal level what those costs are going to be.  So that’s certainly had a chilling effect and impacted their decision.” 

An iron mine in the Penokee Range seems less likely, now that mining company Gogebic Taconite is closing its Hurley office.

In a statement company President Bill Williams says wetland issues make further major investment too expensive.

He adds that environmental concerns could lead to U.S. EPA intervention, in light of the agency’s recent halting of the Pebble Mine project in Alaska. 

The company is leaving the door open to further exploration, saying it will continue to look into the possibility of a mine permit. 

Natalie Jablonski / WXPR News

  Iron County has agreed to extend a lease agreement with mining company Gogebic Taconite for the next three years. The Iron County board has passed the measure by one vote.

Gogebic Taconite didn't make a $10,000 payment last month and cited budget constraints. But county board chair Joe Pinardi negotiated a plan giving GTac another year to pay.

“What we did was we gave them like a skip payment. So next year by the 26th of January of 2016, they will have to pay us $30,000 instead of $20,000.”

Iron County has released a second draft of its metallic mining ordinance.

It outlines the process a mining company would need to follow for county approval, and includes a host of regulations and protections. 

Zoning Administrator Tom Bergman says the purpose of a local ordinance is to be more specific than state rules can be. For example, he says the draft includes a requirement that a mining company monitor and test nearby private wells.

The Wisconsin DNR is waiting for the next move from Gogebic Taconite, now that the company has stopped fieldwork operations for the year.

DNR hydrologist and project lead Larry Lynch says activity on the proposed mine site wrapped up last month. 

“They stopped their data collection in regard to surface monitoring, so right now there’s really nothing going on on the site.  They also stopped their road improvement work on one of the access roads.” 

Gogebic Taconite’s mine proposal isn’t the only topic the state’s Chippewa tribes plan to discuss when they meet with the EPA this week.

Sokaogon Chippewa Community Chairman Chris McGeshick  says the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is also on the agenda. 

McGeshick says the initiative hopes to focus its dollars within Great Lakes basins, but he hopes to clarify that the tribes can apply for other projects as well.

Tribal leaders are headed to Traverse City Michigan this weekend to meet with the federal Environmental Protection Agency. 

Wisconsin’s six Chippewa tribes have asked the EPA to intervene in Gogebic Taconite’s iron mining proposal.  They say Wisconsin’s iron mining  laws don’t do enough to protect crucial downstream resources like wild rice and fish…that are protected in the ceded territory by federal treaty rights. 

Lac du Flambeau chairman Tom Maulson says the tribes are in a unique position to safeguard the environment.

Gogebic Taconite can continue with exploratory drilling this summer. 

The DNR has authorized the mining company to drill six additional holes, and approved its request to renew two exploration licenses within a 4-mile area of the Penokee Range.   

The DNR has also granted a stormwater permit so the company can make improvements to an existing road used to access some of the drill sites.

The DNR originally granted the first license in May of last year, and the second one in January.  GTac has already drilled more than 20 holes in the proposed iron mine site area. 


Gogebic Taconite has filed a request with the state to renew two exploratory drilling permits for the Penokee Hills mine site.

DNR hydrologist Larry Lynch says the company has filed paperwork to renew their exploration licenses....

"....one of the renewal applications included provisions to drill six more exploration bore holes on the site. We also received a revised stormwater permit application and that application is to cover road improvement on the site....."

Natalie Jablonski / WXPR News

Governor Scott Walker says he hopes the EPA won’t intervene based on political reasons to stop an iron mine permitting process from moving forward. 

Wisconsin’s six Chippewa tribes have asked the federal agency to step in before the state DNR or the Army Corps of Engineers reviews a proposed mine in the Penokee Hills.  The tribes say water quality and fisheries protected by treaty rights are at stake.

Stopping in Rhinelander today, Governor Walker said state laws offer strong environmental protections.