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Iron County Democratic Party: Mining lease provides many benefits for mining company, few for Iron County residents
4/10/2013

For more information contact: Dick Kemplin, 715-476-0041

The lease/option agreement between Iron County and Gogebic Taconite, GTac, provides many advantages for the mining company but other than small payments none to the county.

Dick Thiede of the Town of Oma, gave this analysis in a comprehensive and objective report on the status of the mining issue at a meeting Saturday of Iron County Democratic Party. Thiede was a member of the Iron County Mining Impact Committee from May, 2011, to January, 2012, and was its secretary. For the past two years he has been actively studying, speaking, writing and testifying on the mining issue from the viewpoint of a scientist, engineer and business owner.

The Iron County Board agreed to lease 3,331 acres to Gogebic Taconite with an option for another 833 acres of land anywhere in the county.

Thiede cited the advantages Gogebic Taconite has as including the rights to:

-- terminate the lease or buy the land at any time with no price specified in the document;

-- transfer the lease to any other entity, foreign or national;

-- use any adjoining property for access to the leased land for railroads, power lines, pipelines, etc.;

-- and use the leased property for any purpose it wishes, including as a mining waste disposal site.

Thiede said that Iron County will receive in return only $28 per acre with no ability to escape the lease, no guarantee of jobs, no tonnage payments, no adequate liability insurance to protect the county, no payment for valuable minerals if they are found and mined on the leased land, and no ability to specify a reclamation plan.

At this point the lease cannot be perfected until the county board approves -- by a 2/3 majority -- removal of the 3,331 acres covered in the lease from the County Forest Land program. If the county should opt not to remove the land from the forest program at some time in the future, county taxpayers could be responsible for any monies the mining company expends in preparing for the mining project unless GTac is notified immediately that the county has problems with the lease, according to Thiede.

Additionally, Thiede presented the results of his analysis of the permitting timeline as delineated in the new Wisconsin mining law. Five steps must be completed before the actual mining can begin. First, this spring Gogebic Taconite will receive an exploration permit to drill 13 core samples to verify what was found in the 200-300 US Steel core samples taken in the 1950ís and to get investors.

Next, in summer GTac will likely apply for a bulk sampling permit to further characterize the ore. Many tons of ore will be excavated for further analysis, and samples will be tested in a lab. GTac has said these first two exploration phases may take about nine months.

The third step is the pre-application notification, formerly called the notice of intent. Within a minimum of one year and no maximum time, the company must develop a complete model of the proposed mine including such things as infrastructure plans, location of archeological sites, endangered species, delineation of wetlands, and most importantly their reclamation plan. Thousands of core samples will be drilled, and an environmental impact statement must be prepared in conjunction with government agencies.

After completing the pre-application study, the company may then submit their mining permit application. The DNR then has up to 420 days with a possible extension of 60 days to review and either grant or deny the permit. The mining company must pay up to $2 million toward that review process; beyond that the cost is borne by the taxpayers. Once the permit is granted, mine construction, which GTac has said will take two years, may begin. It is also at this time that affected parties may request a contested case hearing.

Thus, from this day forward, the minimum length of time, according to Wisconsin law, before mining can begin is just under 5 years, though federal permitting times are considerably longer. For complete details on this process, search for Wisconsin Act 1, 2013.
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