State is sitting on a gold mine and a copper mine and ...

Wisconsin State Roundup

Published April 1, 1993  | April 1993 issue

When the Flambeau Mining Co. began stripping ore from its mine in Ladysmith earlier this year, it was the first new metallic mine to open in Wisconsin since 1968, and was heralded by some as the beginning of a resurgence of mining in the state.

But low metals prices combined with a maze of environmental hurdles have stymied plans for any other new mines. "The ore bodies are there," says Gordon Renke, coordinator of mine reclamation for Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources, but they may sit idle for a long time. Renke identified the three most promising sites:

  • Zinc, lead and silver have been discovered at a site near the town of Linne in Oneida County. Noranda Exploration Inc. continues to express some interest in the site, but the project is currently on hold.
  • Mining of an underground gold and copper deposit on land in the Chequamegon National Forest in Taylor County is not only dependent on a turnaround in gold prices but also on the approval of environmentalists concerned about effects on forest lands and ground water.
  • Exxon Minerals' proposed mine five miles south of Crandon in Forest County may be the first to get off the ground in the future. The 70 million ton-ore body, reportedly the largest in northern Wisconsin, contains copper and zinc. Exxon, which discovered the deposit in 1976, has been actively looking for partners. "In most states [the Crandon deposit] would be gone already," Renke says.

"I'm told that in terms of certain metals and within the 48 contiguous states, some of the most promising geology is located in northern Wisconsin," says Ed Wilusz, director of environmental policy for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce in Madison. "And northern Wisconsin needs the employment," he adds.

For now, new mining operations in Wisconsin will likely be confined to the Ladysmith project. Currently in full production, that mine employs about 60 to 80 people in job-poor Rusk County and is expected to operate for about six years.

Kathy Cobb