Thanks to Nick Vander Puy for his analysis of the recent Penokee Hill Mining Public Information meeting held at the Northern Wisconsin Great Lakes Visitor Center, located near Ashland, Wisconsin. The moderator was Mike Miller, President of Northland College.
About half the folks who attended the meeting last week at the Martin Hanson room at the Great Lakes Visitor Center in Ashland, Wisconsin about mining the Penokees were turned away for lack of room. It was standing room only. An old guy in wool pants who stood through the first fifteen minutes of the dry presentation left the Martin Hanson room muttering, “Same-o, same-o, it’s just the same old BS.”
That’s because the mining meeting was really just an opportunity for the mining company to do some exploratory drilling into the minds of the people who will be affected by their proposal. In a tightly controlled "town hall meeting" where citizens were repeatedly reminded that their comments were not welcome, representatives from Gogebic Taconite monopolized the panel discussion with vague assurances that this mine would create hundreds of jobs (and even keep young people from leaving the area! if they happened to be metallurgical engineers, that is) and that mines in Wisconsin are held to the strictest regulatory standards, so that no one needs to worry about environmental impacts.
They failed to mention that they’ve met with and made campaign contributions to the Governor of Wisconsin who has already initiated legislation to weaken Wisconsin’s environmental laws and who has appointed a group of “business-friendly” individuals to the DNR.
The mantra at the meeting was “Even though we’ve never undertaken such a project before, don’t worry, be happy Wisconsin’s environmental laws are the strictest in the world and if we can’t meet them the regulators will shut us down So, trust us.” The mining company even claimed they could reclaim the mine site to the same quality they found it.
Someone from the floor asked a question about the Kennecott Ladysmith, Wisconsin copper and gold mine which operated between 1993-97. The Flambeau Mine produced 181,000 tons of copper, 334,000 ounces of gold and 3.3 million ounces of silver most of which left the community. What no one on the panel responded to is the Flambeau mine permitted under Wisconsin's so-called “stringent and comprehensive mining laws” the Flambeau mine today is allegedly leaking toxins ten times the state standards into the Flambeau River and is the object of a lawsuit under the federal Clean Water Act.
The mining company officials, dressed in L L Bean casual wear talked glowingly about family life and their concern for the water. But when asked whether the Penokee project is a metallic sulfide acid producing mine they denied it. After the meeting a geologist told me there are sulfide deposits near Mellen, Wisconsin which are particularly dangerous to downstream Bad River Ojibwe wild rice beds. So who do we believe?
When Anishinaabe elder and mining panel member Tony DePerry, dressed in a ribbon shirt, told stories (really the only voice on the panel to question mining) about clean water, growing up in the bush and picking berries and other cautionary tales about the importance of looking out for the Seventh generation the evening’s moderator Northland College President Mike Miller’s body language revealed boredom and said pretty clearly, “let’s get through all this Indian malarkey and get on with this project.”