Penokee Mine

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.” 

A group of people are planning a snowshoe hike through the Penokee Range this weekend that crosses land closed to the public because of mining-related activity. 

The hike meets Sunday at the site of the Harvest Camp, or HELP Village on Moorepark Road in the town of Anderson in Iron County. 

Village spokesperson Paul DeMain says the area should be open to the public despite a company’s plans for an iron mine there. 

Wisconsin’s six Chippewa tribes are organizing a conference on economic alternatives to mining January 7-9.  

Red Cliff Mining Resources Specialist Sandy Gokee says the tribes are inviting specialists to talk about the impacts of iron mining, as well as explore the potential of other economic drivers. 

“We wanted them to share their knowledge about the effects of mining.  Viable alternatives to extraction, cultural knowledge; because we wanted to kind of bring it all together with our native world view.” 

Iron county officials are encouraging public comment in the coming weeks on a draft metallic mining ordinance. 

An Iron County Citizen’s forum last week hosted Zoning Administrator Tom Bergman and special counsel Chris Jaekels answering questions about the document. 

Forum spokesperson Terry Daulton says their message is that public comment is welcome prior to a public hearing on a final draft. 

Native American Activist Winona LaDuke is speaking out against a proposal for an iron mine in the Penokee Range.

LaDuke holds degrees in economic development from Harvard and Antioch Universities.  She says she doesn’t buy the argument that the mine is needed to create jobs. 

“It’s absolutely not true.  The fact is that it’s a short-term economic gain for a few people and a corporation with the rest of us paying all of the externality expenses.  So what I’m saying that their math is bad.” 

At least one tribal leader is optimistic after the recent meetings between Midwest tribes and the EPA this week.

Lac du Flambeau Spokesperson Brandon Thoms says according to tribal President Maulson, the discussions were positive. 

“It showed that there’s definitely a willingness between the EPA to work with the tribes, and President Maulson indicated that the tribes are understood that they have a vested interest.” 

Two presentations this week will focus on the wetlands around the Penokee Hills. 

Tracy Hames, Executive Director of Wisconsin Wetlands Association, will be giving a talk in Mercer on Thursday, and Hazelhurst on Friday.

Hames says his group has been researching the hydrology of the Penokee Hills, in hopes of understanding the possible impacts of an iron mine proposed for the area. 

Natalie Jablonski / WXPR News

A film about a proposed mine in the Penokee Range is screening around the state and in northern Wisconsin. 

Milwaukee-based 371 Productions produced the film for Al Jazeera America’s investigative series Fault Lines.

The half-hour documentary looks at how Gogebic Taconite’s iron mine would impact the environment and the livelihoods of people in northern Wisconsin, and raises questions about the democratic process and the passage of the state’s new ferrous mining bill. 

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.

Natalie Jablonski / WXPR News

Controversy over a proposed iron mine in northern Wisconsin will get some national attention this weekend, when a documentary on the topic airs on Al Jazeera America’s investigative program Fault Lines.

Milwaukee-based 371 Productions filmed and edited the piece over the past nine months. 

Producers made a series of trips to northern Wisconsin to look at the impact an iron mine could have on tourism and natural resources. 

Almost 400 people attended a forum hosted by Science on Tap on the proposed Penokee Mine project.

A panel of six speakers discussed the facts and context of an iron mine that Gogebic Taconite wants to build in the Penokee Range.


Panelists included Northland College Geology Professor Tom Fitz who detailed the different rock formations in the region. Other experts spoke about the economics and job creation associated with mining, the technologies of mine waste management, and the characteristics of the Bad River watershed.


The popular science conversation series Science on Tap takes a different approach this week in tackling a controversial topic.  Instead of hosting one speaker at a brewpub, it’s assembled a panel at a large venue to discuss the proposed iron mine in the Penokee Hills. 

Organizer Tim Kratz says since the program began, people have been asking for a program about the Penokee Mine. 

Natalie Jablonski / WXPR News

Gogebic Taconite has indicated it plans to drill more holes in the Penokee Range this summer, though the DNR says the company hasn’t yet applied for the needed permission.

DNR hydrologist and mining project lead Larry Lynch says the DNR must first grant a license for any exploratory drilling. 

“So in order to get that they have to give us the locations of the holes, what their target depths might be, how they intend to maintain the site, handle stormwater…basically give us a good description of what they intend to do.” 

Monie Shackleford / WXPR News

The Lac Courte Oreilles Harvest Camp celebrated its one-year anniversary this weekend.  

On Saturday, April 26th, a group of about thirty people gathered in Iron County to feast on pancakes and locally produced maple syrup they call “Penokee Gold.”   

Paula Mohan came from Madison for the event.

“I wanted to come for the pancakes and the Penokee Gold and all the other food and the fact that it is the one year anniversary," Mohan said. "I was last here in February and it’s kind of nice to be here because it is not twenty below and there are no bugs yet."

Natalie Jablonski / WXPR News

The Iron County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to close the Lac Courte Oreilles Harvest Camp Thursday night, saying residents are violating a 14-day camping limit on county forest land. 

About 30 people attended the meeting, most speaking in support of what’s officially called the Harvest Education Learning Project, or HELP Village.  An hour of public comment was followed by an hour in closed session, where county supervisors consulted with legal counsel.  A motion to close the camp passed 13 votes to 0, with two members absent.