Mine opening challenges northern Wisconsin

Wisconsin State Roundup

Published July 1, 1991  | July 1991 issue

Wisconsin's first operating mine since 1983 began open-pit copper mining near Ladysmith in July, stirring renewed interest in mining.

Flambeau Mining Co., which opened the mine in response to higher copper prices, expects to mine 1.9 million tons of ore over six years. In addition to copper, smaller amounts of gold and silver will be mined.

For Rusk County where the unemployment rate at the end of 1990 was 8.4 percent, nearly double the state average, 45 new jobs are expected. And the county will share about $4 million in tax revenue with Ladysmith and nearby Grant. According to an agreement between the town of Ladysmith and Flambeau, the local tax revenue must be used for mining-related purposes, such as additional community services arising because of the mine.

With generally higher prices for metals, exploration continues, and two other mining projects have been under serious consideration in the area in the past two years. One project is near the town of Lynne in Oneida County, which expects to yield 8 million tons of ore containing lead, zinc and silver. George Albright of the state Department of Natural Resources expects Noranda Exploration Inc. to begin seeking a permit late this summer.

A second mine, in Taylor County near Perkinstown, has been delayed indefinitely by the mining company over financial backing. It was to be an underground gold and copper mine expected to produce 3 million tons of ore.

However, some in the region oppose the mine on environmental grounds and fear that Ladysmith is the tip of the mining iceberg, with more mines on the way, while others welcome the jobs and income a mine can bring.

Concern over the mining issue has led to the introduction into the Wisconsin Legislature of two mining bills. One would prohibit most mining on state land under the jurisdiction of the Department of Natural Resources. This bill passed the Assembly and is expected to pass the Senate.

Another bill, expected to be voted on this summer, requires an economic as well as an environmental impact statement, bans uranium mining and extends liability to the parent of the mining company. This bill places a two-year moratorium on permit approvals so that mining laws can be reviewed.

Nettie Pignatello