12.03.13 Side-stepping asbestos worries, mine company scales back sampling plan

Read the article on line.

 STEVEN VERBURG | Wisconsin State Journal | sverburg@madison.com | 608-252-6118(12) Comments

A company looking to dig a huge iron mine in far northwest Wisconsin has scaled back its plan for sampling rock in the area to avoid rock containing hazardous asbestos-like fibers.

The state Department of Natural Resources on Monday released Gogebic Taconite’s revised plan for removing tons of rock from the proposed mine site.

After the company submitted its first bulk sampling plan, the DNR asked for more detail. Since then, the agency disclosed the discovery of grunerite rocks in a form that can release fibers like the ones known to cause deadly lung cancer.

Now Gogebic Taconite says it will take two previously proposed sampling sites out of its plan. Questions about how much asbestos-like material is present would wait to be settled when the company files for a permit to begin mining.

“The grunerite issue has been the subject of a media debate and the removal of these areas leaves the debate to be resolved by the systematic and scientific study of the issue that will be required within the permit application,” the revised plan states. “Our position remains that asbestiform material is unlikely to be present in the reserve, but will defer to a proven and methodical approach to address the potential of asbestiform materials in the future mining permit application.”

The plan promises visual inspections at sampling sites to detect grunerite, and also sulphide, which can cause problems of acid drainage from mine sites.

Company spokesman Bob Seitz didn’t return a phone message Monday. DNR officials in charge of the mining project also were unavailable.

The mine project has been divisive, with environmentalists warning that the asbestiform material is dangerous and that mining could release acids that would ruin waterways and wetlands.

The Legislature this year amended state law to limit the extent to which the DNR can review the project, saying that mining jobs were badly needed.

The company originally wanted to remove 4,000 tons of rock from five sites in the Penokee Hills. The company planned to use excavation equipment or explosives. The DNR wanted more details, though.

The new plan calls for removing samples from three sites instead of five using excavation equipment. The company would turn to blasting if it can’t obtain enough materials.

The DNR plans to review the plan and let the company know what permits will be necessary.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report