The Wolf River Headwaters Protection Purchase
Wolf River Watershed
Purchase falls through
Lake Sokaogon Chippewa tribal member Frances Van Zile places tobacco tie
on the gate of the proposed Crandon mine site--"the tobacco tie that will
end the Crandon mine." 06/15/02.
Articles and Statments on proposed Crandon mine site buyout page 1, page 2
The Wolf River Headwaters Protection Purchase.
Dem. nominee Jim Doyle and the Crandon Mine issue
This open letter to Gov. McCallum was sent to him Oct. 23, 2002.
Dave Blouin, coordinator
Mining Impact Coalition of Wisconsin
PO Box 55372
Madison, WI 53705-9172
Open Letter to Governor Scott McCallum
Governor Scott McCallum
October 23, 2002
Re: State appraisals of the Crandon mine site
Dear Governor McCallum,
As you know, the alliance of organizations and tribes which attempted to work with your administration to develop the proposed public/private acquisition of the Crandon mine site is very disappointed that you halted this process in September.
We have independently reviewed the appraisals since that time and have discovered some startling information that requires your immediate attention and response - prior to the November 5th election. The appraised market values used as the basis for the decision to halt work on the sale are based on an unrealistic scenario - a 100% guarantee that the mining company would receive permits to mine. This hypothetical condition is unlikely and the appraised values given to the media, $51.2 million to $94 million, are inflated as a result. Moreover, the $94 million valuation was rejected as unrealistic by the appraiser who developed it. It was based on an extraordinary assumption of steep zinc price increases and is not a valid figure.
Our review demonstrates that the much more likely scenario of reduced odds of getting permits to mine result in drastically lower valuations for the mine site. We found that a more likely range of market value is between $10,700,000 and $20,000,000. This range of values is based on two scenarios; a mine site without the mineral rights included (a valid scenario if permits cannot be gained) and a 50/50 chance that permits will be granted in the year 2007. Given the technical and legal hurdles faced by the project, both scenarios are quite realistic.
The appraisals also show that the size of the proposed mine and its potential tax and employment benefits have been grossly exaggerated. We are astonished to find that one of the most important facts about the mine proposal, the amount of ore to be mined and the overall lifetime of the proposed mine is about half of what has been publicly touted by the mining company and its supporters. The appraised values for the mine are based on data from the mining company itself and demonstrate that only 26 million tons (vs. 55 million tons) of the ore can be mined economically. The estimated lifetime of the mine is now 17 years instead of the 31 years advertised widely by the mining companies. The importance of this disclosure cannot be overstated. At a minimum, local communities must now reconsider whether adequate financial resources will be available to mitigate socioeconomic impacts should the mine proposal ultimately move forward.
The appraisals reveal that the project has been for sale for 18 months - since at least March 2001. The appraisals are based almost solely on data from the company itself, especially information from a document prepared by the company for prospective purchasers of the mine. This information suggests that the mining company was unable to secure a buyer for more than one year before approaching the state and the alliance of organizations and tribes in May about a potential acquisition of the site.
The discovery of these facts only deepens our disappointment that your administration halted negotiations before the alliance could become directly involved in negotiations over a sale price. We were led to believe that the alliance would become a partner or at least actively involved with the state over the price and potential funding of the acquisition. It appears that we were misled.
We are baffled by public statements by your administration to media that the alliance was responsible for the conditions under which the appraisals were developed. At no time was the alliance given opportunity to discuss these terms. The state independently developed the conditions and did not disclose them to the alliance until a meeting with Dept. of Administration (DOA) staff, including Secretary Lightbourn, on August 8. As we later discovered, the state set the appraisal conditions in a June 22 letter to the appraisers, seven weeks before we met on Aug. 8.
We firmly believe that the mine site deserves permanent protection regardless of the mining issue. The site is extraordinarily rich in biological diversity with 71 State Listed Special Concern, Threatened, or Endangered species identified to date. Public acquisition would ensure that these and other natural and cultural resources at the site are protected for tourism and recreation, and treasured by generations to come.
For all these reasons, we remain deeply disappointed in your administration's decision to halt efforts to publicly acquire the site and your failure to involve the alliance in the process of considering the sale price and funding sources.
Signed by authorized representatives of:
Clean Water Action Council of Northeast Wisconsin Inc.
Any written correspondence on this issue may be sent to:
Mining Impact Coalition of Wisconsin
Fox River trustees open to Crandon plan
Settlement over PCB damages would fund purchase of land
By Peter Rebhahn
Posted Oct. 21, 2002
Two state environmental issues - the proposed Crandon mine buyout and settlement for waterways damaged by PCB pollution - could be linked in a common solution under an idea posed by a leading environmentalist.
Rebecca Katers, who directs the Green Bay-based Clean Water Action Council of Northeast Wisconsin, wants Fox River trustees to consider using money from an upcoming settlement for natural resource damages to the river and bay of Green Bay to fund all or part of the cost of buying the 5,000-acre Crandon mine site.
"Even if only $5 million or $10 million were available from the composite settlement, that would go a long way" toward a mine-site purchase, Katers said.
In September Gov. Scott McCallum rejected as too pricey a plan to use money from the state Stewardship Fund to buy the land after two appraisals put its value between $51.2 million and $94 million.
BHP Billiton, the Australia-based company that operates Nicolet Minerals in Crandon, announced a few days later it would close up shop and seek another buyer while continuing to seek permits needed to build a zinc and copper mine, which is bitterly opposed by foes who fear irreversible damage to the Wolf River from mine runoff.
The state's appraisals included mineral rights - a sore point for mine opponents who claim the public shouldn't have to pay for rights to minerals they say can never be legally mined.
The money Katers wants to tap would come from the settlement of natural resource damage claims on the Fox River and Green Bay stemming from pollution of the river with polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in the 1950s, '60s and '70s by seven area paper mills.
The six river trustees - all government agencies and Indian tribes - released a sweeping restoration plan on Sept. 20 that calls for the companies to pay a yet-to-be determined sum for natural-resource restoration projects in an area stretching from Columbia County north into Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
Colette Charbonneau is restoration coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, one of the trustees. She said that because the Wolf River headwaters and the area of the proposed mine are included in the proposed restoration area, applicable law would probably not prevent using damage assessment money to buy the site.
"If that was a proposal that came to the trustee council, we would work it through all the criteria and priorities," Charbonneau said. "If it floats to the top, and the trustees felt that was a good way to spend the funds, then yes, it could fit."
Tom Nelson is an environmental specialist for the Oneida Tribe of Indians, another river trustee. Nelson said the tribe hasn't taken a position on Katers' suggestion.
"It's possible," Nelson said. "There are a lot of worthy projects out there, and this may be one of them."
A third trustee - the state Department of Natural Resources - isn't so sure. Greg Hill, the agency's damage assessment coordinator, declined to weigh in on the suggestion before the end of a public comment period on the restoration plan. Nonetheless, he raised questions about the propriety of a mine buyout funded with damage-assessment dollars.
"We're looking at restoring or rehabilitating or acquiring resources equivalent to what was injured, and I'm not sure . . . that's going to be judged appropriate compensation for what's really the geographic focus, which should be the lower Fox River and Green Bay area," Hill said.
Todd Ambs, who directs the River Alliance of Wisconsin, said Katers' idea has merit.
"It's a worthy thing to have on the table for discussion," he said, adding that the idea is one of several creative buyout solutions that went unexplored in recent talks between the state and Nicolet Minerals.
Katers also believes state negotiators failed to explore all solutions.
"There was no opportunity to propose options," she said. "The governor did not do good-faith bargaining. He cut (mine opponents) out."
The state appraisals show that the mine property less mineral rights is worth only $10 million to $20 million, Katers noted - a price that seems doable with damage assessment money given a 2000 Fish and Wildlife estimate that set potential damage claims at $176 million to $333 million.
Katers said the state could recover some buyout costs by reselling parts of the 5,000-acre site not needed to lock up access to minerals.
"That could be sold for timber, and other property could be sold for low-impact development," she said.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Oct. 16, 2002For more information, contact:
Dave Blouin, Sierra Club - John Muir Chapter (608) 233-8455 firstname.lastname@example.org
Claire Schmidt, Wisconsin's Environmental Decade (608) 251-7020
Tom Krajewski, Forest County Potawatomi Community (608) 259-1212
Appraisals Show Mine Site Worth Less Than Governor's Claim
-- Mine Site Only Worth $10 to $20 Million
-- Company Has Been Trying to Sell since at Least March 2001, Appraisals Show
-- Jobs at Mine Would Last Only 17 Years, Not the 31 Company Has Claimed
Environmentalists say a review of appraisals of the Crandon mine site shows the pristine area is worth $10 million to $20 million - a fraction of the figures that Gov. Scott McCallum has claimed. The appraisals also show that the mine owner has been trying to unload the property for at least 19 months.
"It's unfortunate that Scott McCallum never made an offer to the mining company," said Caryl Terrell, executive director of the Sierra Club - John Muir Chapter. "If the McCallum administration had bothered to review the appraisals it asked for, it could have successfully negotiated to buy and protect this pristine natural area at the headwaters of the Wolf River.
"The appraisals and political reality show that all the negotiating power was on the side of the state. The only thing missing was a governor who puts a priority on protecting our Northwoods and our waters," Terrell said.
"Gov. McCallum said he stopped negotiations to protect mining jobs," said Harold "Gus" Frank, Chairman of the Forest County Potawatomi Community. "But the state's appraisals show that those jobs would end in only 17 years, not the 31 years the company has claimed. No responsible leader would trade a 17-year mining 'boom' in exchange for millions of tons of toxic mining waste that will threaten our water and our economy forever."
Mining company data supplied to the appraisers show that the copper ore at the mine cannot be mined economically, thus shortening the mine's projected life by 14 years. (See Gustavson appraisal at 3-13.)
When it called off talks on purchasing the mine site south of Crandon, the McCallum administration said, "Two appraisals were obtained that placed the value of the property, including mineral rights, at between $51.2 million and $94 million." In fact, the two results of the two appraisals were $51.8 million and $58.3 million, according to Dave Blouin of the Sierra Club.
"The $94 million figure was not endorsed in either appraisal," Blouin said. "It is mentioned in one appraisal as the value of the mine if an 'extraordinary assumption' is made that zinc prices will dramatically increase." (See Gustavson appraisal, page 3-29.)
But Blouin said even the $51.2 million figure released by the governor was too high. Blouin said the Sierra Club reviewed the state's appraisals with an appraiser with expertise in mining, who pointed out several flaws in the assumptions that the governor ordered the appraisers to use. The state had asked the same appraiser, Michael Cartwright, to conduct the state's appraisal earlier this year, but he had declined due to the state's short time frame.
The Sierra Club review makes it clear that the range of realistic values for the mine site is far lower than what the governor has stated. "The state's own appraisals say the low end of the range is only $10.7 million, which is the value of the land without a mining permit," Blouin said. (See Nicholson appraisal on page 28.)
"The appraisers followed the state's instructions to assume it is 100% certain that the company will get a mining permit. The governor must be the only one in the state that believes that," he said. "The value of the mineral rights must be reduced to reflect the good chance that the mine will never get a permit."
Blouin said the appraisers, on the state's instructions, also assumed that the permit would be granted in July 2004.
"The DNR says the review process will take at least 26 months after it receives the final information needed to process the mining application. They're still waiting for that information.
It's impossible to get a permit before 2005. Even then, court challenges will take a minimum of two more years, delaying the effective date of any permit to at least 2007," he said.
"We asked the appraiser to calculate the value if you assume 50/50 odds of getting a permit in 2007. He told us the value would be about $20 million," Blouin said.
Blouin said the 50/50 odds are generous to the company.
"There are so many issues that could cause the permit to be denied. Even if you gave the company 90% odds on each issue, the overall odds would still be less than 50/50.
The U.S. Supreme Court just upheld the ability of the Mole Lake Sokaogon Chippewa to enact water quality standards that affect the mine. The DNR rejected one of the model mines the company submitted as a required example of a safe mine. And the DNR just challenged the company's predictions about the spread of groundwater pollution and about the impacts of runoff," he said.
Even the 50/50 scenario does not consider the financial costs of any conditions that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources or the U.S. Corps of Engineers would put on a permit. "For example, the proposed mine is surrounded by lakes, streams, wetlands and wild rice beds that would be affected by runoff and by drawdown caused by water flowing into the mine. Groundwater would flow through the mining wastes being stored forever at the site.
The only way to prevent illegal groundwater pollution might be to pump and treat it virtually forever if the mine got a permit," Blouin said. "That obviously would increase the costs and reduce the value of any mine."
The appraisals also reveal that the mine site's owner has been trying to sell the Northwoods site since for at least 19 months. One of the appraisals repeatedly cites a March 2001 Nicolet Minerals Company document called the Information Memorandum. It says the company's document was "designed for prospective purchasers of the Crandon Deposit." (See Stagg appraisal, pages 45 and 46.)
Claire Schmidt, mining coordinator for the Wisconsin's Environmental Decade said, "NMC has been trying to unload this property since at least March 2001 without any success. There are no buyers for this property. McCallum could have negotiated to acquire this natural area and permanently ended the threat to the wetlands, groundwater and streams of the Northwoods," she said.
"Just add it all up - the mining company's poor chance of getting a mining permit, the delays in a permit, the costs of complying with a permit, low mineral prices and the inability of the company to sell the mine site. It's clear to anyone who reads the appraisals that the mine site is worth only a fraction of the numbers McCallum has used," Schmidt said. "The refusal to even begin negotiations is just one more example of the McCallum administration's failed leadership."
Schmidt noted that the news about the 17-year life of the mine would dramatically reduce any money the mine would bring to local communities. "A mine would create a need for housing, schooling and social services. How do you bond for schools or roads with only 17 years of income - maybe less? When the mine closes, you've still got debts, in addition to the needs of newly unemployed workers. The mine just doesn't make sense."
CRANDON PROJECT HISTORY
Opponents: Fight to stop Crandon mine not over yetProcess to get permit for mine will continue, company president says.
By: Joe Vandel
Despite the announcement Tuesday by BHP Billiton that it is pulling out of the project to build an underground zinc and copper mine near Crandon, opponents of the project say the fight to stop the mine is still not over.
Ken Fish of the Menominee Tribe's Treaty Rights/Mining Impacts Office, who has opposed the mine, said Tuesday that the news is exciting but he hesitates to say its over for the project.
"When you read between the lines though they are still pursuing the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) even though they are closing their local offices, and have put the land up for sale," said Fish. "With the EIS process continuing someone else could buy it and still open the mine."
"A number of companies have indicated an interest in this deposit," Dale Alberts, the President of Nicolet Minerals said, "I would expect it to be sold within the next few months."
Eight workers at Nicolet Minerals' Crandon office were notified that their jobs would end Sept. 30, he said.
Nicolet Minerals is a subsidiary of BHP Billiton, which has headquarters in London and Melbourne, Australia.
BHP Billiton decided that even if Nicolet Minerals received the necessary state and federal permits to begin mining, the financial picture of the mine "just doesn't stack up well enough against its other projects around the world," Alberts said.
Just because the Crandon mine doesn't fit into BHP Billiton's portfolio, doesn't mean the project is dead, Alberts said.
"I think this ball can be picked up and taken across the goal line," he said. "The asset is still here. The permitting process will continue and we will see what happens."
That's just Fish and other mine opponents fear could happen.
"That's really the biggest fear," said Fish. "They left the project in the 80's and returned in the 90's. Even if they leave for a short time you have to believe someone will be back again."
Since 1994, Nicolet Mineerals has sought state, local, and federal permits necessary to mine 55 million tons of ore from a mine just south of Crandon near the headwaters of the Wolf River and the Mole Lake Reservation.
Critics argue will pollute the environment. Supporters say the mining can be done safely and will create badly needed jobs.
According to Fish, he heard that Nicolet Minerals recently received two letters from the State Department of Natural Resources that stressed it would be difficult for the mine to clear water quality restrictions the Potawatomi Tribe has over the property and water quality restrictions from the Mole Lake Tribe.
"We can't wave the checkered flag yet," said Fish. "We will continue to fight this until we know it has ended."
Another mine opponent said she still is concerned about what willhappen at Crandon.
"The project has come and gone for 25 years now," said Rebecca Katers, who directs the Green Bay-based Clean Water Action Coalition of Northeast Wisconsin.
She said it would make sense for the state to seize the opportunity to buy the land.
"we would stilllike to see the final purchase of the site so we don't have to go through this roller coaster ride," she said.
Alberts said his company will not withdraw the permit application.
"This is a darn good resource," he said. "It's one of North America's best undeveloped zinc resources and should be developed, and I think it will be developed by someone."
BHP Billiton to sell U.S. zinc-copper property
Reuters Company News
September 19, 2002
By Zach Howard
NEW YORK, Sept 19 (Reuters) - Global diversified miner BHP Billiton Plc (London:BHP.L - News;
Australia:BHP.AX - News; NYSE:BHP - News) plans to sell property containing one of the biggest undeveloped zinc reserves in the United States to focus on larger projects in its portfolio, the president of a U.S. subsidiary said on Thursday.
Dale Alberts of Nicolet Minerals Co. said Melbourne, Australia-based BHP will abandon its proposal to dig for zinc and copper near Crandon in northern Wisconsin's bountiful Green Belt zone, because ore reserves of 55 million short tons are too small.
"BHP has evaluated this project in the context of its other projects, properties and opportunities around the world and has just decided to sell it," Alberts told Reuters. "So they are aggressively pursuing a sale of the property now and that process is proceeding."
BHP officials in Houston could not be reached immediately for comment.
Alberts said a few companies had expressed interest in 5,000 acres (2,000 hectares) owned by BHP at Crandon, although he declined to name the firms as talks with BHP are ongoing.
Appraisals funded by Nicolet have valued the land, including mineral rights, at $51 million to $94 million, Alberts said. The pre-production capital needed to develop the mine was seen at about $350 million.
But Nicolet has failed to obtain permission from the state Department of Natural Resources to develop the mine in eight years of trying, due in part to opposition from environmental and anti-mining groups and the local Native American leadership.
Those opposed to the project argue that the mine could pollute the headwaters of the nearby Wolf River and harm the area's streams, wetlands and wildlife.
The 1,800-acre (730-hectare) Mole Lake Chippewa Indian reservation is located two miles (3.2 km) to the east of BHP's stake. Residents are concerned about the mining's effect on ground water, and on a creek and a sacred lake on their land.
Alberts said the state of Wisconsin even proposed buying the Crandon property from BHP to stop development of the mine.
"The environmental opposition to the project always cite the risks to the Wolf River, which is within a large watershed, he added. "But the way this project has been designed, there would be zero impact on the Wolf River, either before, during, or after operations."
Nicolet should be able to meet a "no measurable impact" standard two miles (3.2 km) downstream from the mine, which is a requirement to get necessary state and federal permits, Alberts said, insuring that the Wolf River, eight miles (13 km) downstream, would remain pristine.
Meanwhile, mine supporters, including labor unions, say the project would create numerous jobs at Crandon, a community with about 2,000 residents in Forest County, one of the state's poorest.
Nicolet, which itself laid off much of its staff recently as the project waits in limbo, sees the mine creating around 400 jobs and paying hourly wages of up to $22-23.
Alberts said the company will continue to seek permission to build and operate the mine. He added that Nicolet will likely be sold with BHP's property.
Crandon holds about 30 million short tons of zinc ore, containing 10.2 percent zinc, 25 million short tons of copper mineralization with an average of less than 2 percent copper, and a nominal amount of ore containing less than 1 percent lead.
Exxon Coal and Minerals Co. located the deposit in 1975. It is the largest of three which also include Flambeau and Lynne, developed and mined by Kennecott, now a unit of Rio Tinto Plc (London:RIO.L - News), and Canadian miner Noranda Inc. (Toronto:NRD.TO - News), respectively.
Mining Shares Decline as Morgan Stanley Cuts Aluminum Outlook
By Stuart WallaceLondon
Fri, 20 Sep 2002
(Bloomberg) -- BHP Billiton Group, Rio Tinto Group and other mining shares declined after Morgan Stanley cut its rating on the industry because excess production and slowing demand may boost aluminum and copper supplies and depress prices.
The bank cut its rating on the sector to ``in-line'' from ``attractive,'' and cut its earnings estimates for next year by 6 percent and 2004 by 7 percent for BHP Billiton, the world's largest miner. It also cut its rating on Rio Tinto, the third- largest miner, to ``equal-weight'' from ``overweight.''
``We believe aluminum fundamentals are unstable and lower prices will be required to force producers to idle additional smelting capacity,'' the analysts led by Paul McTaggart said in a note to investors. ``We believe over production and slowing demand could create substantial inventories in aluminum and copper.''
Shares in BHP Billiton, the world's biggest mining company, declined as much as 4 pence, or 1.4 percent, to 290.5 pence in London and were 0.8 percent lower as of 9:47 a.m. Shares in Rio Tinto, the third-biggest miner, were 0.7 percent lower.
Morgan Stanley reiterated its ``overweight'' recommendation on BHP in part because of the company's oil revenue. Benchmark crude oil has gained 43 percent in London this year. Rio Tinto and Anglo American Plc, the world's second-biggest miner, don't have any oil assets.
The bank cut its estimated aluminum price forecast for next year by 11 percent to 62 cents a pound, from 70 cents a pound. For 2004, aluminum should average 73 cents a pound, from the 75 cents last forecast, the bank said.
Aluminum stockpiles monitored by the London Metal Exchange are close to their highest level since 1995. Copper stockpiles are 29 percent higher than a year ago. Aluminum for delivery in three months has declined 3 percent this year on the LME, while copper is little changed.
It's unlikely that mine quest is over
Green Bay Press-Gazette
Sep. 23, 2002
MADISON - As BHP Billiton seeks a buyer for a major mining project near Crandon, Northeastern Wisconsin lawmakers continue their quest to lower the chance that any future project threatens the environment.
Both efforts offer evidence that the 25-year-old "mine ride" won't end anytime soon.
BHP Billiton, an Australia-based mining giant and the latest in a list of companies that have owned the project over the past quarter-century, said last week it would no longer pursue plans to mine 55 million tons of zinc and copper ore from the site.
Environmentalists who have long fought the project cheered the decision but acknowledged the Crandon mine controversy probably wouldn't end there.
The leader of Nicolet Minerals, a subsidiary of BHP Billiton, said the company would not withdraw its state permit application for the project, and he's optimistic the project would sell, possibly within a few months.
With the prospect of another owner in mind, state Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, said he'd push for legislation that would hold the mine industry to the same groundwater quality standards and solid waste disposal rules that other industries must meet.
The legislation, which Hansen co-authored, died last legislative session.
"We need to remain vigilant in protecting what is widely regarded as one of the state's greatest natural treasures, the Wolf River," said Hansen, vice chairman of the Senate Environmental Resources Committee. "While some will take comfort in the fact that BHP Billiton has decided not to pursue the Crandon mine, there remains a concern that our laws are not strict enough to prevent some other corporation from abusing the resource and causing potentially permanent damage to the Wolf River in their attempts to open and operate the mine."
Hansen is not alone.
State Rep. Judy Krawczyk, R-Green Bay, said she and Rep. Terri McC
ormick, R-Grand Chute, would continue their push for the legislation. That assumes Krawczyk gets re-elected Nov. 5. McCormick is running unopposed.
"We can't do something that, two years down the line, we look at and say, 'Oops, we should have watched this,' " Krawczyk said. "I am not anti-business. But there's got to be a way that business and the environment can work together. Terri and I are looking 20 years down the line."
Another piece of legislation that died last session called for the ban on the use of cyanide in mining.
Cyanide is used in mining to separate metals from crushed rock in water.
Hansen said he'd continue supporting efforts to pass that ban.
Krawczyk supported the cyanide ban last session, and she thinks she'll do the same when the issue returns. But she wants to do more research first.
"There are 26 other mines that use mining techniques other than cyanide," she said. "There are gentler ways to mine that ore. That's what we want to keep in mind."
For sake of Wolf River, don't let Crandon Mine resurface
By Curt Anderson
It appears the Crandon Mine, long a festering problem for Wisconsin citizens, is dead. My advice to those who believe this is, "It only looks dead."
We must be vigilant, lest another fast-talking, campaign-donation-making mining company comes in and takes over where the others have failed.
Why should we be suspicious? BHP Billiton Mining Company, parent company of Nicolet Minerals, is still pursuing a permit to mine. Such a permit will make the property more attractive to a prospective new buyer.
In a statement that shows his loyalty to polluting industries in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott McCallum said recently his administration would not pursue the purchase of the mine site through the Stewardship Fund, but was instead "supporting mining for economic development in northern Wisconsin."
McCallum's insistence that northern Wisconsin get "economic development" from mining is a novel idea, if only in the twisted imagination of the mining industry. Others call it "horse dookey."
Perhaps McCallum is hoping for more campaign donations from mining interests.
Mining, aside from being terribly polluting, carries with it a boom-and-bust cycle for local economies. As mining operations begin, property values soar as miners move into the area. As the market price for metal drops, the mines close, laying off workers, causing massive sell-offs and dropping property values like a stone. Other businesses die on the vine as the economy fails.
Environmental groups want to put this land in trust, protecting it forever from the dire consequences of mining. The Stewardship Fund was set up specifically to set aside land for future generations and is supported by conservation, environmental, hunting and fishing groups around the state. The fund will have over $341 million available over the next 10 years.
In the last 25 years, the mining companies have not been able to show they can operate without polluting the Wolf River, one of the cleanest streams in the state, and designated as Outstanding Resource Waters. In spite of all of their promises, the mining companies were unable to demonstrate they could keep acidic leachate from contaminating the Wolf River, or protect ground water from acidic contamination, or prevent drawdown, which would likely affect every well in the area.
The ruination of the Wolf River would be the deathblow to industries that thrive there now. Mom and Pop motels, gift shops, fishing and hunting suppliers, restaurants and gas stations would suffer. Who would travel to an area polluted with the rotten-egg smell of sulfur, devoid of fish because of the acidic contamination? Millions of tourism dollars would be lost.
Dale Alberts, president of Nicolet Minerals, wants the state to stop "dragging their feet." He says no mining company wants to put up with the "hassle" from environmentalists. Coincidentally, environmentalists don't like being hassled by polluting extraction industries either. Alberts better get used to that hassle. Activists have settled in for the long haul.
Rafters, canoeists, fishers, cottage owners, environmentalists and conservationists have banded together to stop what they know will be the end of the pristine Wolf River and the established economies of the area. They are not going to be fooled by the insidious moves and empty promises of the mining industry.
They know the true wealth of the area is a clean Wolf River.
Ever more curious is the Crandon mine saga
By Mitch Bent
Green Bay News-Chronicle
Mon, 7 Oct 2002
First it was Exxon Coal and Minerals Company. Then Exxon Coal and Minerals Company and Rio Algom, Ltd., of Ontario, Canada, under the quaint folksy name of the "Crandon Mining Company." Then Nicolet Minerals Company. Then Nicolet Mineral Company as a subsidiary of BHP Billiton. And now it will be something else.
Say what you want about the proposed sulfide ore mine near the headwaters of the Wolf River in Forest County, but one thing you can't deny is that things get more and more curious with it each and every year.
The most recent episode in Wisconsin's longest running environmental soap opera was played out over a period of a couple of months this past summer. Word got out that the mining company would consider a proposal put forth by a consortium of conservation groups and tribal governments that would have the state buy the 5,000 acres of land owned by the mining company near Crandon. That would, in effect, put an end to the plans to mine the high-sulfide ore. And everyone was excited about the idea.
For a while, it seemed that things might work out. Even Acting Governor Scott McCallum, a Republican who has shown certain sensitivities to the environment that his predecessor Tommy Thompson never had, appeared to be interested in seeing the state buy the land with monies from the Stewardship Fund and put an end to the controversy once and for all.
Well, so much for peace and harmony in Wisconsin's north woods. The appraisals came in for the land and mineral rights at somewhere around $51 million, nearly four times the land's assessed value of $13 million.
McCallum did an about-face on the mine, saying that the "citizens of Crandon" had convinced him of the need for having the mine to provide good-paying jobs. He also said - correctly - that spending that much of the Stewardship Fund on buying those lands, even with financial assistance from other sources, would prevent the Fund from being available for many other land buys that would be smaller in size but vitally important.
Then the other shoe dropped when BHP Billiton said it wanted to dump its holdings in the Crandon mine off onto some other sucker - er, I mean "buyer." Yet it still would pursue the permits required for operating the mine, despite the enormous "hassles" facing mining firms in Wisconsin. Yawn.
The shell game going on with the Crandon mine borders on the ridiculous. The Theater of the Absurd hasn't seen such award-winning performances in decades. For over a quarter of a century now, the various mining firms have been plotting and scheming to get the Crandon mine permitted.
With the help of their majority Republican minions in the Legislature in 1995, they politicized the Department of Natural Resources and got rid of the office of the Public Intervenor, all to help grease the skids for getting the mine permitted. They won tax concessions from both political parties in Madison. They got more lenient rules for mine tailings sites. And they duped the locals in Forest County - hardly a difficult task - into believing that the mine would be the panacea for their supposedly troubled economy.
Despite all of this, the mine still is in limbo. The various state and federal regulatory agencies involved in the permitting of the mine have yet to be satisfied that the mine as proposed by Exxon/Crandon Mining/Nicolet Minerals/BHP Billiton/to-be-announced will not harm surface water and groundwater supplies. The mining company calls this being "hassled." And so the act continues.
As I have stated before in this column, mining in and of itself is not wrong, contrary to what some of the more strident environmentalists say. Those who say "no mining today, tomorrow or ever" should ride horses, grow food in their own gardens and hunt with wooden spears to avoid the odor of hypocrisy.
But some ore lodes happen to exist in environmentally precarious places, and such is the case with the Crandon sulfide ore lode.
Groundwater and surface waters are plentiful in that region, and protecting those water resources is important to Wisconsin. Trading those precious resources for a mine, which by its nature thrives only for a relatively short amount of time, is a poor choice.
Perhaps some day technology will exist that will allow for extracting the ore and processing it without causing harm to the aquatic resources in the Wolf River watershed. Until then, the mine should be put on hold. That ore body isn't going evaporate, you know.
Billiton may sell zinc, copper reserve US state of Wisconsin blocks project
Sept. 25, 2002
BHP Billiton said on Monday that it is considering the sale of its 55- million ton zinc and copper reserve in the US state of Wisconsin. The property, situated near the Wisconsin town of Crandon, which belongs to BHP Billiton subsidiary, Nicolet Minerals, is said to be the biggest undeveloped zinc project in North America.
Nicolet has been trying to get the necessary permission to go ahead with the mine since 1994, and is still waiting for approval for the project.
The 5000-acre site with minerals rights is worth about $50m to 94m, according to a Wisconsin state survey. The numbers were confirmed by Dale Alberts, president of Nicolet Minerals.
Paul Benson, BHP Billiton's vicepresident of business development for base metals in Houston, said on Monday that the company was looking at the possible option of selling the property.
BHP Billiton had been in discussions with the state of Wisconsin about selling the property to the state, but these talks collapsed earlier this month.
A grouping of conservation groups and representatives of local indigenous people had asked the state governor to consider buying the property.
"We had been in discussion with the governor of Wisconsin for them to purchase the property. On September 13 the governor released a press release stating they had decided to stop negotiating and at that point we decided to review all our options," said Benson.
Benson would not comment on whether the delays in getting the necessary approval for the project had led BHP Billiton to rethink its involvement.
Alberts said getting the necessary approvals was a difficult process but that it was nearly complete.
He said he hoped the operation, if it were to be sold, would still be developed by someone into a mine after all the hard work that had gone into Crandon, which he described as one of the best mining projects in the world.
Benson would not comment on why BHP Billiton was considering selling the property.
But when asked if it was the current depressed zinc price that may have led to the company re-evaluating the project, Benson said all the company's decisions were based on expectations for commodity prices going forward, not on the spot price.
Gubernatorial Candidates and Crandon mine
Dem. gub. nominee Jim Doyle on Crandon Mine issue
Cyanide in Mining
Articles and Statments on proposed Crandon mine site buyout page 1, page 2
The Wolf River Headwaters Protection Purchase
Midwest Treaty Network contant page