Metallic mine raises questions for northwestern Wisconsin

Wisconsin State Roundup

Published April 1, 1995  | April 1995 issue

A proposed metallic mine near Crandon in northwestern Wisconsin has raised concerns about its possible impact on the local environment.

Crandon Mining Co., a partnership between Exxon Corp. and Rio Algom of Canada, is expected to file its environmental impact report with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) this April. The report will provide information about the condition of the existing physical, biological and socioeconomic environment of the area surrounding the proposed mine site.

Tom Evans, Wisconsin Geological Survey, says that Crandon Mining might have problems with water quality requirements. "In Wisconsin it is against the law to adversely affect a public body of water," he says. While there are no lake beds on the Crandon site, changes in groundwater levels at the mine could affect stream and lake water levels in the surrounding areas, Evans says.

The mine site is near the Wolf River, which has been designated as both an Outstanding Resource Water and as a Wild and Scenic River, thereby enjoying strict environmental protection. "Surface water discharge must be as clean or cleaner than existing water quality," says Bill Tans, project manager for the WDNR.

The Sokaogon Chippewa Community, located about a mile from the mine site, has been vocal in its opposition. The band is looking for economic development opportunities but does not see metallic mining as compatible with their culture. Of prime concern to the tribe is the effect of mining on wild rice harvests. Dave Anderson, water quality manager for the Community, reports that wild rice is sensitive to fluctuations in water levels and to changes in ph (acidity). Air quality, rail and traffic noise are also of concern. The tribe has formed a mining impact committee that is working with other tribes, environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club, and individuals who oppose the mine.

Wiley Bragg, public affairs adviser for Crandon Mining Co., says his company's mine review process will take about four more years and acknowledges that the "process is difficult because mining basically is a non-entity in Wisconsin." Bragg estimates that, if approved, the mine will be under construction for three years and should produce for 28 years. A reclamation period would follow.

Evans says that the approval process is difficult because the "Wisconsin regulatory framework is considered among the toughest."

While metallic mining may never be a major industry in Wisconsin, its supporters list the jobs and taxes that can benefit the state and communities. Metallic mines must pay a net proceeds tax in addition to normal business taxes. Ladysmith's Flambeau Mine, the state's only active metallic mine, smaller than Crandon would be, estimates it will pay between $1 million and $5 million in net proceeds tax for 1995, and local agreements have meant additional funds for the Ladysmith area. No local agreements have been finalized for the Crandon project; however, earlier estimates of net proceeds taxes ranged from about $58 million to more than $186 million over the life of the project.

Kristeen Bullwinkle