Part Two: The Mining Debate - What They're Fighting For - WBAY

Target 2 On Assignment

Part Two: The Mining Debate - What They're Fighting For


A Three-part Target 2 On Assignment Series
Tuesday: Life in Iron County
Wednesday: What All Sides Are Fighting For
Thursday: The Reality of a New Mine

The bill Republican lawmakers plan to introduce could revive an industry in Wisconsin's Northwoods, bringing with it up to 700 jobs on-site alone.

Gogebic Taconite says if the state's regulatory process can be streamlined, the company would reconsider its plans for an open-pit iron ore mine in Iron and Ashland counties.

"We have opportunity up here," said Pete Rasmussen, an opponent of the mining project. "We don't have to explode our hills to create opportunity."

But taking a tour through the mine site, Leslie Kolesar sees something different.

"What they're after up here is magnetite, and this is a piece of magnetite." Kolesar shows us how a magnet attaches to the rock.

Processing the magnetite to taconite, a low-grade iron ore, Kolesar says, is the area's new era.

The process itself is what has environmentalists concerned.

"The other thing, they ignored the tribe," Ashland County Board Chair Pete Russo said. "People can say what they want, the tribe has a say in this. The tribe has the water quality rights of the Bad River Water Shed, which is right down here."

The Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa has publicly opposed the plan.

Last year, federal regulators approved the tribe's request to regulate water quality on its own land.

"They have set their own water quality standards," said Kolesar, who chairs Iron County's Mining Impact Committee. "I think if the mining company can meet those standards, I don't see why there should be an issue."

As divisive as the line is for and against mining, what's formed in the Northwoods can now divide along Ashland and Iron county lines, too.

"We're a hard working group," Mellen Mayor Joe Barabe said, "but we can't afford to pay for a mine."

What worries the long-time small-town mayor is what happens if the machines and people come.

Municipalities want some initial protections and money; leaders in Ashland County say those weren't part of the first legislative bill.

"The mine isn't going to pay anything in because they're not producing anything," Russo said. "So what's going to happen to the road beds?

"What's going to happen to all the things up here that impact us? The schools, the hospital. Because people are going to be working. We're going to have an influx of people."

Across the border in Iron County, Town of Carey Chairman Bob Walesewicz says people in Iron County are as concerned about the operation of a mine as people in Ashland County.

"But at the same time, we've had some experience," Walesewicz said. "If we are serious about re-entering the industry and we can put together a bill that will attract an investor, there will be ample time to sit down and figure out the details.

"The fact of the matter is, there are many things throughout this process we know, and there are many more things we simply don't know."

Look around the Northwoods, and for perspective on their views just ask what they see.

"Show me you can mine that ore without destroying the environment," Russo said. "That's what I want to see."

Both counties have created mining impact committees for some sense of local control.

Russo said the Ashland County committee will have its first meeting once new legislation is introduced; Iron County's committee has already met.

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