From the Ashland Daily Press
By an 18-1 vote, members of the Ashland County Board decisively approved a pair of mining-related ordinances that County Board Chairman Pete Russo said would help serve to protect Ashland County taxpayers from infrastructure costs related to iron mining activities in the county related to the development of a Gogebic Taconite (GTAC) iron mine in Ashland and Iron counties.
Under the zoning ordinance, GTAC would be required to make an initial payment of $100,000 to the county and maintain a minimum balance of $50,000 to reimburse the county for expenses associated with the mining project.
Russo, who represents the City of Mellen on the county board, noted that community was the most likely to be impacted by the mine.
“There are a lot of people with concerns about impacts on property values,” Russo said. “They want guarantees on the water. The Legislature took away almost everything — the impact fund has $250,000 and they are just sitting on it. We need that $100,000. Nobody else will take care of us.”
The only vote against both of the ordinances was Frank Kempf, who questioned the payment required of the mining company and asked how the ordinances were developed.
Board member Michael Starck said the ordinances grew out of six months of intensive meetings with materials drawn from a number of sources, including ordinances in effect in Michigan, Taylor County and Menominee County. He said that the fees were set to cover the costs of the applications and the costs of experts the county would have to hire to evaluate mining applications.
County Administrator Jeff Beirl said the intent of the second ordinance was the protection of Ashland’s roads, bridges and wells, and was done as a general ordinance rather than as part of the zoning ordinance on the advice of the county counsel.
Kempf said he appreciated the amount of work that went into the ordinance but said he considered the fee “a little inappropriate.”
“This document says that Ashland County opposes mining; it does signal that we are not interested in it,” he said. “They are a little too restrictive. It will move iron mining into Iron County and will put Ashland County in the dark for the next 60 years.”
Board member Clarence Campbell said that to put matters into perspective, that $100,000 represents about 5 percent of the $2 million the firm has already committed to the project.
“It is 67 one-hundredths of the investment of $1.5 billion they plan there,” Campbell said.
Board member Donna Williamson noted that the ordinances already had the support of both Bayfield County and the City of Ashland.
Board member Jim Oakley said the ordinances had been “very carefully crafted.”
“The folks who came up with it have made the most balanced ordinance possible,” Oakley said, adding that he hoped for a vote showing that it reflected the interests of the entire county.
In the end, the vote in favor of the ordinance was 18-1 on both measures, with Kempf in opposition, and board member Maxine Kleinsteiber listed as an excused absence.
GTAC President Bill Williams and GTAC Manager of External Affairs Bob Seitz attended the meeting.
After the meeting, Seitz said he understood that there were many questions about the mine.
“It’s unfortunate that we don’t have the time to answer all the questions,” Seitz said after the meeting. “We are doing environmental studies right now, going through the entire process. While I understand the concerns, most all of these issues are covered by the process we are going to be going through. We hope that we don’t get into a situation where we are duplicating regulations and wasting taxpayer money.
Seitz said GTAC would have to examine the ordinance to see if it conflicted with state law.
“We are geared toward — as are the DNR and the Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA — to the state law and the federal regulations we have to go through,” Seitz said. “To layer in additional regulations on the same issue might be very inefficient.”
Seitz said GTAC would continue to try to work with the county and other local governments.
“We are also going to try to put out information as we get it,” he said. “Most of what has been out there is speculation and the reason we are environmentally testing right now is to get the facts. When we get those facts, we will bring them out. Those facts will be available for opponents and supporters alike to make their cases.”
For his part, Russo remained unconvinced.
“You know what? I say this: If you say this mine is safe and you want to work with the counties and all these other things they say, why is it when we do something like this, you could tell by their attitude and how they look, they don’t want it,” Russo said.
Russo said the ordinance has some environmental checks and will require GTAC to reimburse the county for mining impacts on taxpayers. In fact, it requires a $100,000 deposit.
“Now if they want anything done on this mine, if they want a permit, they’ve got to come to Ashland County and they’ve got to come to the table,” he said.
Ashland County isn’t the only local government with mining regulation on the front burner. On July 2, Iron County could vote on establishing its own mining regulations, requiring a $50,000 application fee and $100,000 impact fund. Iron County Zoning Administrator Tom Bergren says it’s based on similar ordinances in Oneida, Rusk, Taylor and Ashland counties.
Ashland County's mining ordinances passed to "Protect Ashland County Taxpayers" Glidden's Frank Kempf the only no vote!.
From the Ashland Daily Press