Controversy and emotion on display at mining hearing - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

Controversy and emotion on display at mining hearing

MADISON (WXOW) -- The first and perhaps most controversial bill of the new legislative session brought hundreds of people to testify in Madison Wednesday.

The only public hearing on a revised Republican mining bill started at 9:00 a.m. and was scheduled to run until 9:00 p.m.

Among the hundreds of people who flocked to the Capitol were 63 anti-mine advocates who rode a bus for six hours to get here from the Penokee Hills of northern Wisconsin.

That's where mining company Gogebic Taconite (G-Tac) plans to establish an open pit iron ore mine if the bill passes the legislature.

"All the issues addressed in the bill are necessary issues," said Bob Seitz, a spokesperson for Gogebic Taconite.

Environmentalists worry that the bill would allow G-Tac to fill in local waterways with contaminated waste rock from the mine.

"And we have to be aware of that.  That's the biggest, its...I'm sorry, I was born there, I know what its like to see it get polluted," said Don Roberts, who's voice started to crack from emotion as he testified against the mining bill.

But G-Tac representatives says they have a plan to make sure that doesn't happen.

"You try to avoid the wetlands if you can and eventually you find the best site based on site conditions," said Tim Myers of G-Tac.

Several northwoods residents told the Committee that they trust the DNR and the EPA to make sure the environment is unharmed.

Their concern is creating jobs in the economically depressed area.

"To sit and watch your family, neighbors, friends, your own children move away for better employment opportunities for the last 50 years is a heartbreaking experience," said Gary Pelkola, a tavern owner who supports the mining bill.

But its a third agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that could play the biggest role in this process.   An Army Corps representative told the Committee it could not guarantee a permit would be issued within the 480 day window the mining bill guarantees that the DNR would issue a permit.

"We don't have hard time frames to complete those reviews, simply because there is such variety in these proposals and more important than meeting a timeframe is to make sure we have good information," said Rebecca Graser, a USACE regulator who said their permitting process for a mine normally takes two to four years.

A mine cannot be established unless the DNR, EPA and USACE all approve permits.

That means even if the DNR green lights the project in 480 days, it won't become a reality until the feds are ready.

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