By Ros Nelson and Allie Raven*
Posted July 8, 2013, on Wisconsin Citizens Media Cooperative
Reprinted with permission
Everything that Northern Wisconsin holds dear is gravely threatened by Gogebic Taconite (GTAC) and from out-of-control legislation coming from Madison that is selling our precious natural resources, not to mention our democracy, to the highest bidder.
The Penokee Hills would be blasted and excavated into oblivion, becoming the largest open-pit taconite mine in the world, if GTAC is allowed to continue on its present destructive course. First phase: 4.5 miles long, 1 mile wide, and 800-1000 feet deep and, over time, a "war zone" nearly twice the length of Manhattan.
The Penokee Hills above and strip mined land for iron ore in Minnesota below. (Photos © Joel Austin and courtesy Wisconsin Citizens Media Cooperative)
Where are you in this fight for your water, for Lake Superior, for the health of your children? We hear many people assume that the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa will block this mine. It is not wise to rely on a single strategy or to place the entire burden on one group of people.
As you read this, GTAC is drilling into the Hills to obtain core samples. Their next assault will be "bulk sampling." Vegetation and soil are removed and after holes are bored in the rock, explosives blow sections into six-inch stone and the material is hauled off for testing -- many thousands of tons. Already vehicles have left deep ruts in the roads used to access the drill sites; and drill sites, one by one, are being cleared.
Map of the Bad River Watershed where all the wastewater from the mine would flow. (Map © The Nature Conservancy and courtesy Wisconsin Citizens Media Cooperative)
The watershed’s surface and groundwater provides drinking water for the towns of Ashland, Mellen, Highbridge, Marengo, Odanah and Upson. The vast amounts of water required to mine would cause a drawdown of the water table; and, when the rock is crushed to powder, it will release sulfuric acid, mercury, lead and arsenic into the soil and water.
The explosives required for mountain top removal create particles the size of a virus which transmit easily on the wind and are highly carcinogenic. The human system cannot block particles of this size. Miners on the Iron Range have higher rates of the rare mesothelioma, and higher rates of lung cancer and heart disease than the general Minnesota population.
Taconite mining is the second largest source of mercury emissions after coal power plants in the Lake Superior basin. Most northern Wisconsin waterways are already under fish advisories for mercury.
IRONY OF "THE PITCH"
GTAC proposes to offer us a 355-acre, man-made lake, as they turn their backs on the largest freshwater lake in the world, Superior, into which their acid drainage and other contaminants will flow.
The Tyler Forks, one of the "puddles" that could be legally filled in by mining waste. (Photo © and courtesy Rebecca Kemble)
If the Penokee Range, Copper Falls State Park and Bad River Watershed are effectively destroyed, significant tourist, farming, fishing and hunting income will also be lost. Mining does not bring lasting prosperity. Median household income in St. Louis County, with Minnesota’s largest taconite mines, was 22 percent below the state average between 2007 and 2011. Cliffs Natural Resources is laying off 625 workers at taconite mines in Michigan and Minnesota due to falling demand for taconite.
Mining creates a devastating boom/bust economic cycle, fostering an array of economic and social problems. Businesses created in mining towns typically include strip bars, pawn shops, massage parlors, and payday loan and bail bond offices.
NO MORE WILD RICE
The Kakagon and Bad River Sloughs (40 percent of the wetlands in the Lake Superior basin), at the mouth of the Bad River Watershed have been designated a Wetland of International Importance. They host a diversity of habitat, plants, and animals; are a spawning and nursery area for fish; and provide critical stopover habitat for migratory birds. The Lake Superior Chippewa have harvested wild rice in the sloughs for centuries and continue to enjoy it as a sacred food. Pyrite and other sulfide minerals, when exposed to water and air from blasting, produce sulfuric acid which would flow into the Bad River and the sloughs.
Lac Courte Oreilles and Bad River Bands of Lake Superior Chippewa sovereign flags. (Photo © and courtesy Rebecca Kemble)
A potential lease between GTAC and Iron County for toxic mine waste storage would affect over 1,000 acres of wetlands, many connected to trout streams. This mine would create an estimated 910 million tons of waste rock, likely producing sulfate pollution greater than that in the St. Louis River in Minnesota, where wild rice shows damage from sulfates up to 100 miles downstream from the Mesabi Iron Range.
Safe taconite mining is a myth. No taconite mine has ever operated, anywhere in the world, without producing enduring air and water pollution.
Help to protect the Penokee Hills and waters by sending a tax-deductible donation to: Penokee Hills Education Project, P.O. Box 834, Ashland, WI 54806 or to: Defend the Bad River, P.O. Box 39, Odanah, WI 54861. Donate online at: www.badriver-nsn.gov.
Other important action steps include reading more about this critical issue at www.penokees.org, attending public meetings and community forums, voicing your concerns to local officials, and discussing the situation with your neighbors.
Our pristine environment and life-giving aquatic resources can never be replaced, but could easily be destroyed with disastrous long-term environmental, social, and economic consequences. Is this the legacy we want to leave to the future?
* Guest authors Ros Nelson and Allie Raven live in Northern Wisconsin.
Editor's Note: Wisconsin Citizens Media Cooperative notes that Wisconsin Voices interviewed Mike Wiggins, Jr., Chairman of the Bad
River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, about various aspects of the
proposed mine. Click here and scroll down for the videos.