Part Three: The Reality of a New Mine - WBAY

Target 2 On Assignment

Part Three: The Reality of a New Mine


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

If state lawmakers pass a new mining bill next session, it's just the first of many hurdles before a new mine would open.

Gogebic Taconite proposed an open-pit mine in Iron and Ashland counties just west of Hurley, which would have brought up to 700 jobs on-site alone.

A lot of questions remain, including whether the company will reconsider Wisconsin and what state lawmakers will do.

"There's not too many of us that live up here that don't have a family member that was a miner," says Chris Recla, who volunteers at the Iron County Historical Society's museum.

The mining of yesteryear, though, many say, won't be the new mining of today.

"There's no comparison to the shaft mining done 80 years ago to the open-pit mountaintop removal-type mining that we're going to see here," Pete Rasmussen, an opponent of the project, said.

While Gogebic Taconite said in March it abandoned the more than $1 billion project, the lights in the downtown Hurley office remain on.

The company's president keeps a low public profile, declining an on-camera interview for this story.

But rest assured, if company leaders don't like what lawmakers do, the lights will go off for good.

"We need to be competitive, competitive with neighboring states," Town of Carey Chairman Bob Walesewicz said. "We need to put together legislation that would attract an investor."

Just across the border in Michigan, Gogebic Taconite is testing and exploring a site there, potentially setting up a race for mining business in Michigan or Wisconsin.

"We know something's going to happen in January, one way or the other," Ashland County Board Chair Pete Russo said.

What the company wants is a faster process and assurances the DNR would review a permit.

Gogebic Taconite's own exploratory drilling and tests could take more than a year.

"If we get new legislation, that doesn't automatically get us a mine," Leslie Kolesar said, Kolesar chairs Iron County's mining impact committee. "There are many things that can go wrong, not only environmentally, but also economically."

If the DNR would approve a mining permit, it could still be hears before one were operational, not to mention the continued effort to stop it.

"I think they will try to sue from any angle they can," Kolesar said.

Rasmussen said he's looking to protect his son. "So we're going to fight to make sure we have that protection," he said.

Hundreds of miles from Madison, what they must rely on in the Northwoods is hope -- hope from a generation of potential workers.

"I think we need it," a Hurley high school student said.

"Not only is it going to bring jobs to the mine, it's going to bring more services," others said.

Hope is also relied on by those concerned who moved here specifically for its solace.

"They don't want to see the land destroyed," Russo said. "I'm telling you that."

The distinction between law and land is as divisive as it is messy.

"I mean, we're common sense people here," Mellen Mayor Joe Barabe said. "There's no frills. There's no gold mines in the sky. It's just hard-working people."

There are no assurances what will happen in one or ten years.

It's a fight in the Northwoods for survival, both for the people and the land.

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