Thursday, October 18, 2012
By Rick Olivo Staff Writer
Members of the Ashland County Board Thursday voted unanimously to create a Mining Impact Committee designed to deal with the potential fiscal impacts of an iron mine in Ashland County.
According to board member Maxine Kleinsteiber, the committee would be different than the former ad hoc mining committee which the board set up to determine was “responsible mining” was. She said that committee had completed a draft report and was now inactive.
Board member Frank Kempf said the new committee would also be different than that composed of Land and Zoning Committee members who are in the process of seeking information from members of other committees to determine the issues created by mining with an eye towards establishing a zoning ordinance for mining activities.
Kempf said the new committee would not address environmental matters, saying that was the province of the committee dealing with the zoning matters.
Kempf said the impact committee was the method the state uses to return royalties paid by a mining company to communities affected by mining.
“The state will not deal with individual municipalities, County Administrator Jeff Beirl noted.
It was noted that the Iron County Town of Anderson and the Ashland County Town of Morse have already joined with Iron County in forming a regional impact committee
“We need to get involved with that, Kempf said. “We need to be involved with the other entities to determine where the money from the royalties goes.”
Kempf said that money could be used to help cover infrastructure costs created by mining and also to help fund schools and other local government needs.
“We have to get our marbles in the game.”
Board member Jerry Teague counseled patience, noting that the board wasn’t yet ready to determine the makeup of such a committee.
Board member Helen Croteau suggested that the board vote to establish the committee but not decide its membership yet.
It was noted that under existing state law, a variety of people could be named to the impact committee, including representatives from schools, law enforcement, business, and other stakeholders with an interest in mining.
Supervisor Pete Russo noted if the board did not do something, the county could potentially “be left out in the cold.”
“These people are moving ahead without us, in order to have a voice, we need to authorize our committee,” he said.
In the end, the board voted unanimously to authorize a Mining Impact Committee, but deferred discussions about the makeup of the committee until at least the November meeting.
In another mining-related matter, the board heard a presentation from Madeline Island resident Barbara With, of La Pointe, who warned the board that mining was “a very divisive issue.
“My heart goes out to you, it is one of your greatest challenges,” she said.
With claimed that the Gogebic Taconite Mining Company had misled citizens of the county “from the beginning,” asserting that they only wanted revisions in the mining code while in fact writing the proposed mining law
“They wrote a bill that protected their interests and put us at great risk,” she said. With said the mining company had misrepresented the risks of mining, asserting that up to 20 percent of the minerals at the mining site were sulfur-laden iron pyrite, which could lead to sulfuric acid drainage, not to mention potential problems with leaching of selenium, arsenic and mercury.
“We are not all for mining,” she said. “The overwhelming majority of people are against mining,” she said.
With also questioned the ability of the Department of Natural Resources to regulate mining.
“We cannot count on them,” she said. “Think of the environmental risks of a mine. It’s not worth the risk.”
In other matters, the board:
• Adopted a change in the board of supervisor’s handbook making the Land and Conservation Committee a “standalone committee and no longer a part of the Agriculture and Extension Committee.”
• Authorized the transfer of a number of small county-owned parcels of land within the City of Ashland to the city. Most of the properties were described as of no worth to the county, which has sought to but failed to sell them off in the past.
• Voted in support of legislation that would require online-only retailers to collect and remit Wisconsin sales tax.
• Approved a memorandum of understanding with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to participate in the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Land Acquisition Grant Program.
Rick Olivo can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.