Aug. 29, 2002
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DNR says proposed Crandon mine would pollute drinking water source
Two recent letters from agency create new setbacks for mining proposal
New concerns about pollution of groundwater and surface waters by the proposed Crandon mine have been raised by the Department of Natural Resources in two recent letters to the mine site owners, Nicolet Minerals Company, a subsidiary of Australian-based BHP Billiton.
"This latest setback for the mining company is just another warning that their proposal cannot comply with Wisconsin's law," according to Gus Frank, Chairman of the Forest County Potawatomi Community. "Their plan does not protect the drinking water or the environment. The company still has not submitted a viable plan for a mine."
Chairman Frank said two recent letters from the DNR will likely cause further delays in the DNR's decision on the company's request for a mining permit. A decision before 2005 was unlikely even before the two new letters on groundwater pollution and on runoff were issued.
"The proposed mine is a threat to the only source of drinking water in the area surrounding it. This latest problem again shows the need for continued and vigilant scrutiny of the details of the mine application," according to Potawatomi Attorney General Jeff Crawford. "This is not a project that's ready to move forward."
An August 12 letter from the DNR to Nicolet Minerals Company says groundwater models predict pollution at a legal compliance boundary nearly a quarter mile from the proposed mine site. The DNR said the pollution may travel 22 times faster and reach levels five times higher than the company's predictions. The agency also predicts the pollution will affect the groundwater that provides the sole source of drinking water for the surrounding area.
"This pollution would continue for tens of thousands of years," Chairman Frank said. "It would be unforgivable to poison our drinking water for hundreds of future generations for a project that will last one generation at most."
The groundwater pollution would come from the underground mine shaft where mine wastes will remain stored after the 30 years on mining operations. Attorney General Crawford noted that mine waste facilities are not subject to the same legal requirements as other waste facilities in the state. "If this were a municipal landfill, the DNR would base its permit decision on compliance at 150 feet. Groundwater modeling for mining waste is at 1,200 feet," he said. "That's just one of the loopholes we need to close with the No Special Treatment for Mining bill."
Another recent letter from the DNR to the mining company says NMC has underestimated runoff from the Tailings Management Area into nearby wetlands and streams. The TMA is a proposed facility for mining wastes.
It would cover an area larger than 200 football fields with 90 feet of mining wastes.
A July 29 letter from the DNR says, "(T)he existing analysis appears to have under-estimated runoff from the TMA area and potentially resulted in both inappropriately sized runoff basins and incorrect assessments of potential impacts on wetlands and other water bodies."
Crawford said the letter was example of the project's design flaws. "The DNR is saying that up to four times more untreated runoff than the company predicted will run from the tailings dump into wetlands and then into Swamp Creek. Swamp Creek feeds the historic rice beds on the Mole Lake Reservation and flows into the Wolf River. It's one more example of the ways the mine would pollute the pristine environment at the headwaters of the Wolf River."
The two DNR letters are just the most recent events in a series of recent setbacks for the mining company. In May, the DNR rejected one of the example mines submitted by the owner of the proposed Crandon mine in its attempt to comply with the mining moratorium law.
The DNR said the Sacaton Mine in Arizona is "not acceptable as an example of a mine that has been operated or closed for ten years without resulting in significant environmental pollution." The company submitted the Sacaton mine as an example mine that satisfies both the ten-year operation requirement and ten-year closure requirement specified in the 1998 Mining Moratorium Law.
The mine proposal received another major blow the same week the United States Supreme Court upheld the right of the Mole Lake Sokaogon Chippewa to enact water quality standards that upstream activities - such as the proposed Crandon mine - must meet under the federal Clean Water Act.
DNR wary of pollution at Crandon mine
Concerns raised about possible runoff, tainted groundwater
By ROBERT IMRIE
Aug. 29, 2002
State regulators have raised new concerns about possible pollution if a company is allowed to proceed with plans for an underground zinc and copper mine near Crandon in northern Wisconsin.
In two recent letters to Nicolet Minerals Co., the Department of Natural Resources said its consultants determined that potentially polluted groundwater from the mine may travel faster and be closer to the surface than the mining company's models predict, mining team coordinator Larry Lynch said Thursday.
That could threaten drinking water in the area.
The agency also said its modeling of water runoff from a gigantic pile of mine wastes suggests there will be more water flowing from the pile than the company believes, Lynch said. That means the company's assessment of potential effects on wetlands and other water bodies, including Swamp Creek and the Wolf River, may be incorrect.
Lynch said the letters provide further evidence that issues still need to be resolved in the process of determining whether the mine can be operated without harming the environment.
However, the letters did not identify the differences "as fatal-flaw-type issues, project-stopping issues," Lynch said.
"It is just a continuation of the process that has been going on for the last seven years where we have been identifying issues," he said.
Dale Alberts, president of Nicolet Minerals, was out of his office Thursday afternoon did not immediately return a telephone message for comment.
Nicolet Minerals, a subsidiary of global mining giant BHP Billiton, is seeking state and federal permits to remove 55 million tons of zinc and copper ore from the Crandon site. It applied for the permits in 1994.
Gus Frank, chairman of the Forest County Potawatomi Community, which opposes the mine, said the DNR letters provided "another warning" that the mine cannot comply with Wisconsin law.
"Their plan does not protect the drinking water or the environment. The company still has not submitted a viable plan for a mine," he said in a statement.
The letters are the latest evidence of disagreements between state regulators and the mining company.
In May, the DNR rejected one of the three mines that Nicolet Minerals submitted as examples of similar mines that operated without harming the environment. The company was required to submit those examples under the state's so-called mining moratorium law.
The developments come as the state is appraising about 5,000 acres of mining property, including 550 acres where the milling of ore would take place and mining wastes would be piled, to determine whether to buy it.
Gov. Scott McCallum said in June he would consider a proposal from a coalition of conservation groups and tribal governments for the state to in essence buy out the mining project.
The DNR expects to issue its draft environmental impact statement on the mine during the first three months of 2003, Lynch said Thursday in a telephone interview from Madison.
The main unresolved issue involves what will happen after mining operations cease and the underground shafts where ore was removed and then were refilled become flooded with water, Lynch said.
That water must be clean enough to comply with groundwater standards at a boundary 1,200 feet from the edge of the mine workings, and the compliance must be forever, Lynch said.
State consultants believe the water is going to move differently than the mine contends, he said. Also still at issue is whether the water will be clean enough to comply with standards.
Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Aug. 30, 2002.
Crandon mine decision still years away, state says
May 6, 2001
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The company that wants to mine zinc and copper from an underground quarry in northern Wisconsin once hoped to have the mine under construction by now. Instead, a state review of the project is only about 75 percent completed after seven years, a top state regulator said.
A final decision on whether Nicolet Minerals Co.'s mine can be built without harming the environment is still at least two years away, said Bill Tans, the state Department of Natural Resources' mining review manager. And it's unlikely construction would begin on any authorized mining until at least 2005 because any decision likely will trigger a lengthy court fight, he said. With at least $70 million invested in the project, the mining company says it is growing weary. Company officials at first thought the reviews would take no more than five years.
"It is a preposterously long process," said Dale Alberts, spokesman for Nicolet Minerals. "I think one can assume that if the nature of this process had been fully understood, I am not sure any company would have tried to do business in the state of Wisconsin. It is just too difficult."
The timetable for getting permits to open metallic mines in the United States has lengthened dramatically in recent years because the process is more political, said Laura Skaer, executive director of the Northwest Mining Association, a 106-year-old group that represents the hard-rock mining industry. Twenty years ago, a mining company in the western United States could get the necessary permits within a year to 18 months, she said. Nevada and Alaska are the only states left where the process can be done in two years, she said. In Washington, a company has been working 11 years to get state permits for an open-pit gold mine. Wisconsin Rep. Spencer Black, a leading Crandon mine critic, said the long delay in getting a decision shows the project is flawed. "You do wonder why the mining company continues to persist, but the blame for any delay is theirs and theirs alone," said Black, D-Madison. "They keep changing plans. The mine keeps changing ownership. And the mine is a bad idea to begin with."
Nicolet Minerals, a subsidiary of London-based Billiton Plc., wants to remove 55 million tons of mostly zinc and copper ore from a site south of Crandon. The company applied for nearly 20 state permits it needs to operate the mine back in 1994.
Since then, more than 40,000 pages of documents about the mine and its predicted environmental effects have been submitted to regulators for review, Alberts said.
Tans acknowledges the reviews have taken much longer than he would have predicted in 1994, but the environment demands a thorough analysis that cannot be rushed, he said.
Crandon Mayor Pat DeWitt is among mine supporters who question why it's taken so long to reach a decision. "I mean, how much more can you do? If you can't get it done in seven years, how long is it going to take you?" he asked.
According to Tans, several reasons explain why it will take nearly as long for a decision on the mining permits as NASA took in the 1960s to achieve former President Kennedy's goal of landing a man on the moon.
Among them is Nicolet Minerals' decision to change its plans significantly in 1998 after Exxon Coal and Minerals Co. sold out most of its interests in the project, triggering new studies and reviews, he said. The mining company pays for the DNR's review - about $5 million so far, Tans said. Hundreds of DNR decisions regarding details of the project have been made, but none give the project a preliminary green or red light, Tans said. Both the company and environmentalists are pressuring the DNR, Tans said, but the mine is the most complex ever proposed in Wisconsin.
Tans expects a draft of all the project's environmental impacts late this year. Then will come a formal public review that will culminate with a months-long hearing before an administrative law judge, who has the final say on whether the permits will be issued.
Dave Blouin, coordinator of the Mining Impact Coalition, which opposes the mine, said if it takes years to get answers on the mine's environmental impact, so be it. "Siting and building a mining proposal is not the same as throwing up a Wal-Mart, and we see Wal-Marts take a couple, three years to put together," he said. "Wal-Marts don't discharge toxic wastes."
Wisconsin's DNR is taking so long because the Crandon mine, in a "world-class" copper and zinc deposit discovered in 1976, has political opponents, and regulators want to produce a "bulletproof decision" because it will end up in court, Skaer said. "They are dotting the 'Is' and crossing the 'Ts' two or three times," he said.
Some reasons why the Crandon mine permit is taking years
May 6, 2001
Several reasons explain why it has taken state Department of Natural Resources seven years so far to review Nicolet Minerals Co.'s proposed underground zinc and copper mine in northern Wisconsin, said the agency's project manager, Bill Tans:
River with acid and heavy metals. But both the DNR and NMC calculations clearly demonstrate that this proposal will harm the groundwater at the site instead.
State law allows local pollution of groundwater up to 1,200 feet away from the mine, but the mine cannot legally pollute groundwater outside of this boundary. At the Flambeau Mine in Ladysmith, WI, this same provision has allowed groundwater pollution surrounding that closed mine site, but the dilution of these toxins by the Flambeau River which
flows well within the 1,200-foot boundary makes technical violation of Wisconsin's recently weakened groundwater laws unlikely.
"Rio Algom cannot mine at Crandon without producing wastes that will be dangerous for hundreds or even thousands of years. State and federal regulators must not gamble with Wisconsin's environment by considering permits for a mine that may be a perpetual polluter." said Ken Fish, Director of the Menominee Tribe's Treaty Rights and Mining Impacts Office.
"Rio Algom's attempt to hide its wastes underground are a complete failure," stated Tom Wilson of the Wisconsin Stewardship Network. "It's only common sense that if you dump pollution underground, it will eventually contaminate our drinking water. You can't just bury this stuff out of sight and pretend the problem is gone."
"How can Rio Algom propose this with a straight face?" asked Zoltan Grossman of the Midwest Treaty Network, "It admits that acidic mine wastes would be poisonous for over 200,000 years, yet somehow thinks it
will be around that long to pump and treat the wastes. The company has existed for only 40 years, and the State of Wisconsin has existed for just 152 years. The plan only confirms that many future generations would pay for the certain pollution from this mine."
"This news confirms one of our worst fears about the proposed mine." stated Dave Blouin, coordinator, Mining Impact Coalition of Wisconsin, "The proposed Crandon mine will produce acid and heavy metal wastes that will cause groundwater pollution for many years in the future and demonstrates that the mine is simply too dangerous to be permitted."
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Regulator Says Recommendations
on Crandon Mine
Wetlands top issue facing DNR, new secretary says
February 7, 2001
MILWAUKEE (AP) - Wisconsin's new natural resources secretary is a veteran of 16 years in state government who says he learned to hunt and fish after leaving the inner city neighborhoods where he spent his boyhood.
Darrell Bazzell, 42, said in an interview Tuesday night that he grew up mainly in inner cities in California and Washington before graduating from Milwaukee's North Division High School - and he now hopes he can promote more opportunities for young people to enjoy the wilderness.
"I didn't have a lot of chances to interact with nature, so I really hold those opportunities near and dear to my heart," Bazzell said.
Bazzell, who lives in McFarland, just outside Madison, said he hunts and fishes and looks forward to meeting with others who do the same. He also hopes to prove his capability to environmental activists who said Tuesday they know little about him, he said.
"I certainly feel comfortable working with them," he said. "They're getting someone who has spent 16 years in state government, who has worked at every level and has management skills and leadership."
Gov. Scott McCallum called a news conference at North Division Tuesday to name Bazzell to replace George Meyer as secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources. The state Senate must confirm the appointment, but Bazzell immediately began the new job.
It marks the first time a governor has used the authority to fire a DNR secretary under a 1995 law change making the secretary an appointee of the governor, instead of the citizens Natural Resources Board.
Meyer, 53, served since 1993 as head of the agency that enforces environmental laws, controls fishing, hunting and other outdoor activities and manages parks, forests and wildlife populations.
Bazzell has served as DNR deputy secretary since 1996. He said he would continue talks with Meyer on Wednesday, and he hopes the former secretary will take on a new role in the DNR.
Meyer's expertise will be especially needed in ensuring a strong transition, and Meyer has committed to helping him, he said.
He said the job of aggressively protecting the state's wetlands is the most pressing issue confronting the DNR at this time.
Other issues he inherits include dealing with the cleanup of PCB pollution in the Fox River, the pending application for a mineral mine near Crandon and Perrier's plans to bottle Wisconsin water.
Bazzell said he will take a "wait and see" approach on the proposed mine near Crandon, with scientific reports still to be presented on the environmental impact of the project.
"There's still a lot of analytical work to do," he said.
He said he spent Tuesday making several stops around the state with McCallum, including a visit to Wisconsin Dells, near Perrier's proposed bottling site that has been opposed in votes by local residents.
The local opposition prompted Thompson to suggest to Perrier officials late last year that they look elsewhere for a site.
"It's very clear they're no longer welcome here," Bazzell said of Perrier. "We've handled our regulatory responsibilities, now it's up to them."
Before joining the DNR in 1993, Bazzell was an assistant administrator with the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. He previously was a budget and policy analyst in the state budget office, and before that had worked for the state Department of Health and Social Services.
He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a social sciences degree in 1982.
On the Net:
From: John Koss firstname.lastname@example.org
Here is a map of the proposed hardrock mine site just east of the Mole Lake Reservation (c/o WDNR). Recently the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released the Draft Scoping Document, which is a significant step for Corps in the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process and the federal regulatory review. The final Scoping Document provides an outline for the federal Environmental Impact Statement.
The Corps is attempting to narrow the scope of their review quite dramatically in the Draft Scoping Document. For example, the Corps does not plan to examine water quality issues Wolf River, located not far downstream.
The link to the Corps web site and the Draft Scoping Document follows. Comments are due to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers by April 27, 2001 -- the email address of the person to address comments to follows. Please ask the Corps to provides additional time to comment on the Draft Scoping Document because this is such a big, complex, and changing project, among other things. Thank you.
Web Site (click Crandon Draft Scoping Document):
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