The Assembly Jobs Committee held a public hearing at State Fair Park in West Allis on Wednesday for a bill to relax mining restrictions in Wisconsin. The bill is designed to assist the development of a Gogebic Taconite iron ore mine proposed in Iron and Ashland counties.
Gogebic wants to build a 4.5 mile open pit iron mine near Mellen but put the plans on “hold” in June citing concerns over Wisconsin environmental laws and a lengthy permitting process. The bill would ease water protection standards and reduce restrictions on waste rock disposal. It would require the DNR to approve or deny an iron mine application within 360 days, eliminate challenges to DNR decisions during the permitting process and limit suits against permit violations.
Supporters say the mine will be an economic boon to the area. The company says the mine will create 3,000 construction jobs, 700 long-term jobs and generate more than $600 million in economic benefit per year. They contend current mining laws are uncertain and dissuade mining companies from looking at Wisconsin.
Environmentalists, two Native American tribes and other opponents say it would allow damage to wetlands, drinking water sources, trout streams and clean air and water and make it difficult to challenge a DNR permit.
Besides their environmental concerns, opponents to the mine also questioned why the hearing on the bill for a mine in extreme northern Wisconsin was being held in Milwaukee? Committee chair Mary Williams said the location was because heavy equipment manufacturers in the Milwaukee area will benefit from the mine.