New Crandon mine owners
Crandon mine owner flip flops again
Minimum qualifications for mine applicants needed
September 9, 2003
The new owner of the proposed Crandon mine has reversed himself again, asking the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to continue its review of its mining permit application.
"Gordon R. Connor's flip-flops and chaotic actions underscore the need for DNR rules that establish minimum qualifications for mining permit applicants. Fortunately, the department is about to start that rulemaking process," said Dave Blouin of the Sierra Club. "The lack of a qualified applicant for this major environmental threat is appalling and a major step backwards for the Wolf River and Wisconsin's environment."
On May 29, 2003, Nicolet Minerals Company (NMC) requested a "stay" in the permitting process and asked that staff and contractors for the DNR and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers halt work on the application for the proposed Crandon mine. The agencies, however, showed no signs of stopping their reviews. Now, NMC Project Manager Gordon R. Conner has told the DNR to continue working.
A letter dated August 26, 2003 from NMC to the DNR withdrawing its request to "stay" the mine permitting process was released by the Sierra Club and Clean Wisconsin today (attached).
The Sierra Club, Clean Wisconsin and other organizations had opposed granting of a "stay" or pause in the permitting process, citing the likely loss of consultants and the economic hardship to other parties involved in analyzing NMC's mine permit applications, including state and federal regulators.
"It's clear that state and federal regulators did not agree to NMC's request," said Dave Blouin, Sierra Club. "The only realistic way to pause a permitting process would be for the regulators to consider the permit applications 'withdrawn' by the mining company and to halt work entirely. To allow a mining company to stop and start the permitting process at will would have thrown the process, and staff and consultants into chaos and would have set a terrible precedent for other businesses." "If the company is trying to move this flawed mine proposal forward, they should realize that we will work harder than ever for legislation that will protect our clean water and special places from unsafe mining. Banning cyanide, making mining companies follow the same waste rules as other industries and creating rules for mining operator qualifications will go a long way to protect our natural resources." said Claire Schmidt, Clean Wisconsin. "This schizophrenic indecision undermines the company's business credibility. Is this company reliable enough to be a steward of our clean water?"
The DNR published a notice of intent to begin rulemaking on minimum qualifications for metallic mining and prospecting permit applicants and operators in the August 15, 2003 Administrative Register. The proposed rule will have direct application to the proposed Crandon mine project and will require that the state Metallic Mining Council be re-formed. Mining rules must be developed in consultation with the Council, a nine-member advisory body whose members are appointed by the DNR Secretary.-end- (Note that this is a scanned version of the original letter from Gordon R. Connor to DNR. Any errors are unintentional. A pdf of the original letter is available)
Nicolet Minerals Company letterhead
This letter is to make clear that Nicolet Minerals Company ("NMC") requests continued processing of its Mining permit Application that is on file with the Department. In this regard, the Department should continue processing all pending applications and approvals for the Crandon Mine Project. DNR should also continue working on the limited remaining items necessary to prepare the Draft Environmental Impact Statement ("DEIS").
As you are aware, NMC requested a stay of the approval process in a letter dated May 29, 2003. However, despite that request the DNR and the United States Army Corps of Engineers ("USACE") continued with the permitting process.
Likewise, NMC also continued actively working on the application since May 29th. For example, NMC continued talking with the DNR and its consultant, Fred Frackebusch, concerning technical issues associated with the application. On July 28, 2003, NMC filed a response to the DNR's May 21, 2003 letter on paste backfill matters. NMC also continued working on questions concerning the December 1998 Wisconsin Stats. � 293.50 Compliance Demonstration and anticipates filing a supplement in the near future.
Given recent discussions with the DNR addressing the issues that initially triggered our request for a stay, we are now withdrawing our request, notwithstanding and recognizing the fact that both the DNR and the Corps continued with the permitting process. We look forward to working with the WDNR and USACE on this matter. Please give me a call if you have any questions.
July 18, 2003
DNR to set qualifications for mining in Wisconsin
BY ROBERT IMRIE
Duluth News Tribune
State mining regulators have told opponents of a proposed zinc and copper mine in northern Wisconsin there is a need to set explicit qualifications for companies trying to obtain mining permits. The Department of Natural Resources commented in response to an antimining coalition's threatened lawsuit against the agency over its enforcement of state mining laws.
In a letter to coalition attorney Glenn Stoddard released Thursday, Elizabeth Kluesner, executive assistant to DNR Secretary Scott Hassett, said the agency will write new regulations spelling out minimum qualifications to mine in Wisconsin.
"The recent purchase of Nicolet Minerals Co. by Northern Wisconsin Resource Group LLC does suggest that there is a need to establish more explicit qualifications for mining permit applicants," Kluesner wrote.
Until now, applicants have always been large companies with significant expertise in mining, she said. Northern Wisconsin Resource Group, a subsidiary of Nicolet Hardwood Corp., of Laona, bought Nicolet Minerals and its rights to 4,850 acres, including the mine site, from BHP Billiton of Melbourne, Australia, in April.
The Connor family, which owns Nicolet Hardwood Corp., has been involved in the logging and lumber business in northern Wisconsin for decades but has never owned a hard-rock mine.
The DNR's decision was good news, Stoddard said Thursday. "The DNR is obviously worried if the new owners of the proposed Crandon project are qualified to operate the mine," he said.
Nicolet Minerals project manager Gordon Connor Jr. was gone from his office in Crandon late Thursday and did not return a telephone message left by The Associated Press for comment.
Nicolet Minerals has been seeking the needed state, federal and local permits to mine 55 million tons of ore from a site just south of Crandon since 1994.
In late May, its new owners asked the DNR to put its application for mining permits on hold while it completes its own review of the project.
Connor has said his company was seeking a mining company to join the project.
Stoddard said Thursday that even minimum qualifications regarding mining experience and management would likely disqualify the new owners from getting a mining permit.
Over the years, major mining companies have tried to develop the mine and all have "bailed out," Stoddard said. "We have a new owner way over its head and cannot possibly develop and operate a project of this nature in a responsible manner based on their experience," he said.
The coalition filed a 30-day notice with the DNR earlier this month as the first step toward filing a civil lawsuit. Among the environmental groups listed as plaintiffs in the complaint against the DNR were the Mining Impact Coalition of Wisconsin, Protect Our Wolf River, Sierra Club-John Muir Chapter and the Green Bay and Wolf River chapters of Trout Unlimited.
NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for research and educational purposes.
July 10, 2003
Editorial: Crandon Mine still problematic
The site of the proposed Crandon Mine in northeastern Wisconsin has new owners, but apparently the old environmental questions that have made opening a mine there problematic are still unanswered.
The Northern Wisconsin Resource Group, a subsidiary of Nicolet Hardwood Corp. of Laona, is the fourth company since 1994 to own the site and to propose mining 55 million tons of zinc and copper ore. And like the old owners, the Northern Resource Group, it faces the challenge of demonstrating to the state Department of Natural Resources that it can conduct the mining without harm to the environment.
Specifically, the mine proposals have called for creating the state's largest waste dump composed of potentially toxic sulfide mine tailings near the headwaters of the pristine Wolf River, inland lakes and the wild rice beds of the Mole Lake Chippewa tribe. Adding to the concern is the fact that most, if not all, sulfide mines elsewhere in the world have polluted nearby water resources in the past.
Now the new owner is upset with the DNR for not releasing a draft of its final recommendations on the mine.
But by doing so the DNR would be shirking its responsibilities. The new owners in late May asked the DNR to put its application for a mining permit on hold. That stymied the regulatory process. To determine the safety of the mine, the department needs to know the full details of any mining proposal and test any new technologies.
Still at issue is whether backfilling the mine would adequately protect nearby groundwater from acid leakage following the mine's closure after about 25 years of operation.
To ensure the safety of the mine, the state Legislature passed a mining moratorium requiring the mine owners to show examples of metallic-sulfide mines that had been operated elsewhere without polluting nearby waters during mining or after closure of the mines.
Many environmentalists believe the past owners never found adequate examples.
The new owners may believe they can operate the mine and still protect the environment, but until they show actual examples of how this has worked elsewhere, we do not believe a mining permit should be under consideration.
The headwaters of the Wolf River, a prime recreation and water resource, is not a good place to experiment with new, unproven mining technologies.
July 8, 2003
Owners of Crandon mine rip DNR pace:
July 2, 2003
Town claims mining firm violated deal;
June 30, 2003
Crandon mine site owners offer Spirit Hill to tribes
Gannett Wisconsin Newspapers/Green Bay Press Gazette
Crandon-- The owners of the site of a proposed zinc and copper mine have offered to sell a small but important piece of the property to two Indian tribes bitterly opposed to the project.
Gordon R. Connor said he has contacted both the Mole Lake Chippewa and Forest County Potawatomi tribes about his intention to sell Spirit Hill.
The hill is the grave of more than 500 Chippewa and Sioux warriors who died in an 1806 battle for control of the wild rice beds on nearby Rice Lake.
"We want to be sensitive to their spiritual needs," said Connor, mine project manager for the Connor family of Laona, the new owner of the Crandon mine property. "We'll give them right of first refusal, but we're in the active process of selling Spirit Hill, and when it's done it's no longer our concern."
The proposed mine has drawn fierce opposition from the tribes and environmentalists who, among other things, claim that acidic mine runoff and cyanide used in ore extraction would jeopardize the pristine Wolf River.
The mine permit request now under review by the state Department of Natural Resources includes no plans to mine the hill, Connor said.
Connor declined to discuss asking price or how much of the 5,000-acre mine property he intended to sell but said that Spirit Hill occupies 320 acres and that he views sale terms as a "very flexible" thing.
"It's certainly not going to go for less than market value," Connor said. "We paid quite a bit for Spirit Hill, and we'd like to recoup that cost."
A conversation with attorneys for the Potawatomis and phone messages left for Chippewa leaders several weeks ago drew no response, Connor said.
Spirit Hill borders the southeastern tip of the Chippewa's reservation. A message left for Tribal Chairwoman Sandra Rachal was returned by Glenn Reynolds, attorney for the tribe. Reynolds said he wasn't aware of the proposed sale and declined to comment.
Potawatomi spokesman Bill McClenahan declined to comment on the offer but said the tribe's leaders are interested in discussing the idea. "We don't have any concrete proposal in front of us," McClenahan said.
Connor is disappointed his overtures had drawn no response, adding that Spirit Hill will be sold regardless of the tribes' participation.
"We're going to sell it regardless because it"s not in the mining zone," he said.
June 6, 2003
Editorial: A mine without a future
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
June 6, 2003
State Rep. Spencer Black (D-Madison) may have hit the nail on the head when he suggested the other day that Nicolet Minerals' proposal for a mine in Crandon is in trouble and that "there will not be a mine at the headwaters of the Wolf River any time soon." Of course, he might have been just whistling Dixie, too. But the company's request that the state halt its review of the proposed mine certainly doesn't seem to bode well for the mine's future.
Which would be a good thing. As we've said, the proposed zinc and copper mine probably would do more harm than good for the residents of northern Wisconsin. While the mine would provide some jobs, it also could do irreparable harm to the environment and the state's tourism industry. And our guess is that tourism is a better economic bet for northern Wisconsin than is mining.
So Monday's announcement by Gordon Connor, a North Woods businessman who bought the mine property in April, should be welcome news for most state residents. Connor expressed frustration with the state's process for issuing permits and said the company will have to do a "review of where we are."
Connor may have a point when he complains that the state's process takes too long. Other businesspeople have made similar complaints, as a recent study by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce reported. But, as Black asked, if the state review were going well - and if the company had the financing necessary to develop the mine - would Connor be asking the state to stop the review?
In any case, Connor shouldn't feel too bad. He's in the same situation as all the previous owners of the site, going back to when the mine was proposed in the 1980s.
And maybe that's because the mine has been a bad idea from Day 1.
Potawatomi Reaction to the New Crandon Mine Owner�s Request
To Put Government Permit Reviews on Hold
Owner halts Crandon mine review: Oft-debated project will go on eventually, he says
By Lee Bergquist
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
June 3, 2003
The owner of the proposed Crandon mine in northern Wisconsin wants to put a government review of the controversial project on hold.
Gordon P. Connor, a North Woods businessman who bought the mine property in April, expressed frustration Monday with how the state Department of Natural Resources was handling his application for an underground zinc and copper mine.
"We thought that we had a plan and an approach," Connor said. "They (the DNR) have complicated it, so we are going to have to do a review of where we are."
But Connor emphasized that he has no plans to back away from the project, and he noted that a mine near Ladysmith also was delayed for a time before work began.
"This is a very important deposit, and it will be developed," Connor said. "Someday this will happen. But we are not under any time constraints to get it going."
First proposed in 1994, the Crandon mine in Forest County has been a lighting rod for environmentalists, who say that plans to extract 55 million tons of ore near the headwaters of the Wolf River will damage the environment and harm water quality downstream.
But supporters say it would supply badly needed jobs in northern Wisconsin. After buying the mine property, Connor said it would employ 200 people and provide mineral, income and forestry property tax revenue of more than $5 million annually.
Connor formed Northern Wisconsin Resource Group to buy the proposed mine from a unit of BHP Billiton of Melbourne, Australia. Connor's company is continuing to look for other investors as partners.
BHP Billiton has retained no equity stake or mineral royalties to the property.
DNR raises questions
During an interview Monday, Connor said he asked the DNR and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to stop their work on an environmental impact statement after he received a letter May 21 in which the DNR expressed safety concerns about how the company would re-fill cavities after extracting the ore.
Connor's company, which goes by the name of the former owners, Nicolet Minerals, plans to use a combination of cement and waste rock to re-fill the underground mine as work progresses.
"Should the backfill not have adequate compressive strength, there could be structural stability problems affecting mine operation and safety," the DNR wrote.
The letter, and request for other detailed information, "came out of the blue," Connor said. "The regulatory process seems out of whack.
"When you have a process that has been going on for nine years, and they want to chase things that are probably irrelevant, why spend the money?" he asked.
He estimated that his newly formed company is spending $100,000 a month for bills from consultants and the DNR. As part of the environmental review process, the DNR's work is billed to the applicant.
DNR is surprised
The DNR said Monday that Connor's request to put the project on hold was unexpected.
"This was a surprise to me," said Elizabeth Kluesner, executive assistant to DNR Secretary Scott Hassett. "Until then, we had received a clear indication that they wanted to continue with the regulatory process."
Kluesner said about 30 consultants are working on the project. She said the agency was trying to determine how to put all of the work on hold.
Environmentalists were pleased by the delay.
Rep. Spencer Black (D-Madison) - an opponent of the mine - said the decision to halt regulatory work would be a major blow for the mine.
"This is something that you cannot start and stop on a dime," Black said. "There will not be a mine at the headwaters of the Wolf River anytime soon.
"The Connors might try to put a good face on this. But if the review process was going well for them, they wouldn't have asked for a halt."
Pull the Plug on the Crandon mine proposal Regulators Should Refuse Request to "Pause" Permitting Work
News from the Sierra Club
The Sierra Club believes that State and Federal regulators should reject Northern Wisconsin Resource Group's (NWRG) outrageous request to "pause" the proposed Crandon mine permitting activities while the mining company performs an internal review of the project. The Sierra Club strongly urges State and federal regulators and decision-makers to reject this unprecedented request, and permanently halt processing of the current incomplete mine application.
"NWRG cannot simply turn off a permitting effort and then restart it at its convenience because it failed to do its homework before buying the mining company," said Dave Blouin, Sierra Club spokesperson. "State and federal regulators have no obligation to bend over backward to accommodate this company's incomplete and failed mining application, and should reject this request."
Since purchasing the mining company less than two months ago, NWRG has repeatedly demonstrated that it is unqualified to operate a mine in Wisconsin. Examples include:
? NWRG stated it will not respond at this time to outstanding requests for information raised on the mining application. WDNR has requested information such as the regulatory compliance history of the applicant and data on the applicant and parent company's financial ability to conduct mining in a responsible manner. WDNR should not continue work on an incomplete mine permit application. (see attached text of NWRG's 5/29/03 letter to WDNR and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)
? NWRG stated it will not respond at this time to regulator's requests for additional technical information about the mine proposal needed to complete Draft Environmental Impact Statements.
? At a May 28 meeting with the Forest County Board of Supervisors Mining Committee, a representative of NWRG acknowledged that the company had not yet found a mining company partner for the mine. NWRG's owner has publicly acknowledged that he is unqualified to operate a mine and needs a partner. The Forest County Mining Committee was told that the NWRG had a partner but was "spooked" by recent events and withdrew. NWRG's inability to attract any mining company as a partner demonstrates that it should not be allowed to move forward with the application.
? At the same meeting, NWRG told the Forest County Board of Supervisors Mining Committee that county land under a purchase contract with the mining company would be returned to the county. If so, Forest County would be required to repay up to $600,000 to the mining company.
? NWRG's unprecedented request throws the jobs of dozens of regulatory agency employees, contractors and vendors into limbo. At least 30 people contractors and state staff are employed in Wisconsin's permit review alone and the number involved in the Corps of Engineers' review is likely much higher.
? Without explanation, NWRG has stated it would employ 200 people if permitted to mine. This is a reduction of more than 50% of the number of jobs proposed by previous owners and requires scrutiny by regulators.
"The evidence is clear that this 'request' is the desperate act of a company that does not have the resources or the expertise to operate a mine. Regulators should reject this request - especially from an applicant which refuses to give regulators information required of permit applications," said Blouin. "Now is the time to end this controversy and permanently protect the natural and cultural resources of the Wolf River headwaters area."
Northern Wisconsin Resource Group purchased Nicolet Minerals Company from BHP Billiton on April 10, 2003. The Wisconsin DNR and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are currently reviewing applications to operate the proposed Crandon mine in Forest County, Wisconsin.
Black Hails Decision To Put Mine on Hold
Today's action by the owners of the Crandon mine to stop regulatory work on the project is a good news for the environment and for Wisconsin, according to Representative Spencer Black, author of the state?s mining moratorium law.
"The mining company's action to stop all consideration of its Crandon mine application means there will not be a mine at Crandon any time soon," Black said.
"This is a victory for the citizens of Wisconsin who worked so hard to pass the mining moratorium law. The mining moratorium law prevents a sulfide mine like the one at Crandon from opening unless the owners can show a similar mine has operated and closed without harming the environment. As today's letter from Nicolet Minerals indicates, the Crandon mine's owners have been unable to meet that requirement," Black said.
"Construction of the Crandon mine, which is located at the Wolf River headwaters, would pose a significant threat to one of our state's most pristine waterways. That's why today's announcement is good news," Black said.
Nicolet Minerals Company
Re: Crandon Mine Project - Hold on Further Action
Dear Ms. DeVetter and Mr. Whiting:
On April 10, 2003, Northern Wisconsin Resource Group LLC ("NWRG") purchased Nicolet Minerals Company from BHP-Billiton. As you know, the previous owners of the Crandon Mine Project have spent over a decade working with regulators and interested parties in preparing the necessary application and analyses for approval of the project. As the new owner we are reviewing those materials to assess how they fit with NWRG's long range plans, goals and vision for the project.
With this recent change in ownership and management, it seems an appropriate time for a pause in the process. This will allow NWRG to complete its internal review of the project and consult with other parties, as appropriate. These efforts should provide an economy of resources in the future approval process for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the applicant.
With this background, NWRG requests that the WDNR and USACE:
1.Stay further processing of all pending applications and approvals for the Crandon Mine Project.
2.Delay further work on the draft environmental impact statements until NWRG completes it internal review of the project.
3.Direct all employees, vendors and consultants under WDNR and USACE control to stay all work on the Crandon Mine Project.
During this stay period, NWRG will:
1.Continue monitoring regional groundwater levels, wetland levels, and lake levels to aid in the State and Federal environmental impact process and to establish baseline data.
2.Agree to toll any statutory or regulatory deadlines by which the WDNR and USACE are required to act on permit applications or requests for approval.? This tolling shall end upon the applicant requesting that the WDNR and USACE reinitiate the application/approval process.
3.Not withdraw the permit applications or requests for approval that were previously filed for the project.? In this regard, NWRG is not seeking to cease approval of the proposed mining project - just place that approval process on hold.
4.Hold the tailings testing program in a stable environment by flooding the cells with deionized water and sealing the cell ports to eliminate tailings exposure to the atmosphere.
5.Not respond to any outstanding requests for information or concerns raised on the application (eg. the mining moratorium and paste backfill submittals).? The applicant will file responses, as appropriate, after the stay.
We look forward to working with the WDNR and USACE in the future. In the interim, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Gordon R. Connor
Cc:Stephen V. Donahue, Foth & Van Dyke
Mining appeals only to those who will profit
By Curt Andersen
Green Bay News-Chronicle
The recent purchase of the Crandon Mine property by Northern Wisconsin lumber baron Gordon Connor Jr. has many people wondering why a lumber magnate would be interested in mining. You know what they say: Do what you do best and leave other work to others.
So why would this lumber guy buy the mine property? Many think Connor is merely a front to hide the ugly multinational megacorporation that Wisconsinites suspect will stiff us for our precious metals and leave us with a hole in the ground and a poisoned Wolf River.
Other speculation concerns the opportunity for Connor to get the permit to mine and then resell the property to the original owners for a tidy markup. It is uncertain whether Connor has enough money to bribe (they call it "campaign donations") Republican legislators for several years with no guarantee of a permit.
To buy the property, Connor borrowed $4.25 million from a Green Bay bank, borrowing the remaining $8 million from BHP Billiton, the former owners. That $12.25 million is a far cry from the ludicrous $50 million asking price from last year.
After all these years the mining industry has been shown to be a fly-by-night operation that will grab what it can, as cheaply as it can, and run before the bill for the sulfuric-acid and sodium-cyanide pollution comes due.
Thousands and thousands of hunters, fishers, sports people, boaters, residents, business owners and environmentalists, all level-headed people, recognized the stench of a scam. In spite of the probable millions of dollars the mining companies have spent to grease the legislative skids in towns, counties and Madison to allow a mine, time after time they have failed to convince residents of the safety of any new mining operation.
They have convinced only those who will profit.
The warning siren has sounded for those businesses in the sleepy Wolf River hamlets that rely on a sparkling clean river for their livelihood.
The Republican plan to trash the Stewardship Fund is a direct assault on Democratic Party notions to buy the mine property. Even if the land were sold, state and federal officials say 75 percent of the money would have to be returned to the federal government.
Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah, wants to sell the land anyhow because it's not "pristine forests." Kaufert thinks only forested land has value. Perhaps it's time for some remedial reading on environment and economics.
State Sen. Robert Welch, R-Red Granite, chided state Sen. Gwendolynne Moore, D-Milwaukee, who protested the plan to sell recreational lands owned by the state. Said Welch, "I'm insulted you think the only people who want to buy land are developers. That's goofy."
What Welch should have said was, "I'm embarrassed about my transparent connections to the land developers and others who'll make a mint on these land sales!"
Since 1995, Welch has collected almost $107,000 in "campaign donations" from the broad spectrum of businesses that would profit from the sale and development of pristine land. The list includes developers, lending organizations, road and residential construction firms, energy providers, transportation services, manufacturers of building products, the insurance industry and more. This does not include what he has collected in soft money from the Republican Party.
It's easy to see what's goofy at the Welch office.
Andersen is a lifelong resident of the Green Bay area and a Navy veteran. He owns a small business and is an adjunct instructor at NWTC. He is vice president of the Clean Water Action Council. His column runs Wednesdays. Contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org