environmental danger

Town of Nashville,     PO Box 106,     Pickerel, WI 54465     Ph: 715-478-2524,   or   715-484-4501

Chronology of the political battle over the Crandon mine in the Town of Nashville, Wisconsin 1996-1998

  • 1976 Exxon discovers a large zinc-copper sulfide deposit, and proposes a mine that would straddle Nashville and Lincoln townships in Forest County, about eight miles south of the town of Crandon.
  • 1986 Exxon withdraws its Crandon mine permit after public opposition grows, and cites low metal prices
  • 1992-93 Exxon returns, first with Phelps-Dodge as a partner, and later with Toronto-based Rio Algom, as the "Crandon Mining Company"
  • June 1994 The Protecting Mother Earth Conference draws 1000 people to the Mole Lake Sokaogon Chippewa Reservation, which is one mile downstream from the mine site, in the Town of Nashville.
  • December 7, 1996 A pro-mine town board shuts down a public meeting legally called to question its Local Agreement with the mining company.
  • April 1, 1997 Township voters oust the entire three-member Town Board, and replace it with three critics of the mine--Chairman Chuck Sleeter, Duwayne Marshall, and Mole Lake Chippewa trribal member Robert Van Zile.
  • January 23, 1998 Exxon sells its half of the Crandon project to Rio Algom, which forms the new subsidiary Nicolet Minerals Company (NMC). Exxon retains financial interests in the project.
  • June 30, 1998 A pro-mine recall effort against Sleeter fails, by a bigger vote margin than the 1997 election.
  • September 22, 1998 The Town Board rescinds the Local Agreement NMC is expected to challenge the action in court.

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Nashville Rescinds Local Agreement on Wisconsin Mine

As in the passage of the Mining Moratorium Bill, the Nashville action does NOT automatically stop the Crandon mine project, since the town decision is expected to be challenged in the courts. But if the decision holds, it would clearly stop the project in its tracks. Mine opponents are planning a statewide rally to halt the mine permitting process, at the State Capitol State Street steps, Saturday, October 17, 1 pm. For speakers to comment, see the Wolf Watershed Educational Project speakers list at http://treaty.indigneousnative.org/speakers.html For background on the mine proposal, see the Midwest Treaty Network web site at http://treaty.indigneousnative.org/content.html

Date: Wed, 23 Sep 1998
From: fishhawk@mail.bfm.org (WXPR - Van der Puy, Nick)

History was made in the tiny township of Nashville last night when the town board rescinded the "Local Agreement" with Rio Algom's Nicolet Mineral Company. The Local Agreement has been under fire by residents who do not wish to live near the proposed metallic sulfide mine which would be located only two miles upstream from the Mole Lake Sokoagon Chippewa Reservation.

Robert Van Zile, Mole Lake, tribal member and town board supervisor, introduced the resolution to rescind the Local Agreement citing, "the need to protect the health and welfare of the citizenery" Nashville town Chairman Chuck Sleeter stated, "this is not a matter of money folks; this is a matter of safety, this is a matter of health and welfare for this town."

Glen Stoddard, an attorney for the town from the Ed Garvey firm in Madison, alleges that the local mining agreement unfairly grants special rights to mining companies to buy zoning rights. "What we have is sort of a legal morass in respect to the zoning power of the town in regards to this proposed mine. What we've done tonight is set it back so the town now has the right to exercise zoning power over the mine clearly based on the rescission of the agreement."

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WHEREAS, in December 1996 former Town of Nashville ("Town") Chairman, Richard C. Pitts, Sr. ("Pitts"), and former Town Clerk, Carol Marquardt ("Marquardt"), signed a Local Agreement, pursuant to sec 293.41, Wis. Stats. (formerly sec. 144.839, Wis. Stats.), with the Crandon Mining Company (now known as Nicolet Minerals Company or "NMC") concerning the development and permitting of a proposed metallic mining operation which would have significant, long-term impacts on the Town and its residents; and

WHEREAS, sec. 293.41, Wis. Stats, appears to violate U.S. Const. Amend. 14, sec. 1, and the Wisconsin Constitution, because it purports to grant special property rights and privileges to operators of metallic mines (i.e., the right to enter into contract and spot zoning with local governments) which are not granted to any other similarly situated property owners. Therefore, the Local Agreement between the Town and NMC is apparently an illegal contract based entirely on an unconstitutional statute; and

WHEREAS, the Local Agreement was negotiated in secret by the Town's former attorneys, Kevin J. Lyons and Cook & Franke, S.C. (collectively "Lyons") and NMC's attorneys and representatives. These secret negotiations included a series of closed meetings between Lyons and NMC's representatives and attorneys, as well as meetings between Lyons and the former Town board which allegedly violated the Wisconsin Open Meeting Law, secs. 19.81 to 19.97, Wis. Stats; and

WHEREAS, when Lyons advised the former Town board to authorize Pitts and Marquardt to sign the Local Agreement in December 996, Lyons had a conflict of interest because he knew that he would be paid at least $350,000, for past due legal fees and costs indirectly by NMC under the terms of the Local Agreement if it was approved at that time; however, he also knew that he would receive only $140,200 for past due legal fees from the Wisconsin Mining Investment and Local Impact Fund Board if the Local Agreement was not approved by the Town at that time; and

WHEREAS, when the Local Agreement was signed in December 1996 by Pitts and Marquardt, on behalf of the former Town board, they relied on allegedly fraudulent misrepresentations by Lyons concerning the legal effect of the Local Agreement on the Town's zoning authority over NMC's proposed mining operations. Consequently, the Town entered into the Local Agreement under the mistaken belief that the Town would continue to have the legal right to fully exercise its zoning authority over all of NMC's proposed mining operations; and

WHEREAS, the Local Agreement fails to satisfy the statutory requirements of sec. 293.41(2)(b), Wis. Stats. (formerly sec. 144.839(2)(b), Wis. Stats.), because it is vague and indefinite as to the duration of the agreement; and

WHEREAS, the Local Agreement fails to satisfy the statutory requirements of sec. 293.41(2)(f), Wis. Stats. (formerly sec. 144.839(2)(f), Wis. Stats.), because it is vague and indefinite as to the applicability or nonapplicability of county, town, village, city or tribal ordinances, approvals or resolutions; and

WHEREAS, the Local Agreement fails to satisfy the statutory requirement of sec. 293.41(20(g), Wis. Stats. (formerly sec. 144.839(2)(g), Wis. Stats.), because it is vague and indefinite as to a provision for the amendment of the agreement; and

WHEREAS, since December 1996, NMC has publicly announced substantial design and plan changes in its proposed mining operations near the Town, including proposals for onsite wastewater treatment near the proposed mine, which would clearly cause "an additional substantial unmitigated negative impact" on the Town as those terms are used under Article 6.A. of the Local Agreement; and

WHEREAS, the Town board finds that the Local Agreement, as it currently exists, is illegal, unenforceable, and unacceptable to the Town and must be either substantially modified by the parties or rescinded by the Town; and

WHEREAS, during an open Town meeting on August 20, 1998, an NMC representative, Dale Alberts, stated three times to the Town board that NMC would not agree to reopen or modify the Local Agreement.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that for the reasons set forth above, and because NMC has informed the Town board that it will not agree to reopen or modify the Local Agreement, the Local Agreement between the Town and NMC is hereby rescinded by the Town board.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that a copy of this resolution be sent to NMC, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and any other interested persons and governmental agencies.

Dated this 22nd of September, 1998

                    Chuck Sleeter, Chairman
                    Duane Marshall, Supervisor
                    Robert VanZile, Supervisor

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From 1993 through November of 1996 the former town board met in closed session meetings negotiating a local agreement contract with the mining company. The residents were shut out of these meetings and not allowed to participate or even know what was taking place.

We were told that our interests were being protected. That is all. Since the board never held any open meetings on this subject how could they know what the people of Nashville's interests were? When we tried to ask our board questions they would not answer us.

We tried repeatedly to object to these closed meetings but our objections fell on deaf ears. We filed complaints with the local District Attorney but he would not investigate. We asked the State Attorney General for help as well but his office refused to get involved and would not look into the matter.

Finally, area residents were forced to dig into their own pockets to hire an attorney to protect ourselves from our own town board and file a lawsuit alleging 16 open meeting violations. That case will come to trial in June of this year.

In the meantime, the former town board printed a copy of the local agreement that they had negotiated in the local paper and told the residents that they would hold a public hearing on the matter in 30 days. This was in November of 1996. This was the first time any of us had even seen what had been going on behind closed doors. The board told us that they would be signing this contract with the mining company after this public hearing.

Majority of the area electors petitioned for a special town meeting. They wanted to have an opportunity to speak to their town board and tell them that this agreement was unacceptable to them and to please not sign anything until after the Master Hearings were held by the Department of Natural Resources and all the facts and impacts to our area would be known.

The meeting was petitioned to be held on December 6, 1996. The town hall was filled with area residents hoping to finally get a chance to speak but the town board adjourned the meeting before anyone had a chance to say anything. They just got up and walked out on the people.

At the public meeting that was held on December 12, 1996 no one was allowed to ask any questions; they were just allowed to give testimony. And give testimony they did. For four hours residents pointed out the flaws in the contract and cited different areas that left the residents with no protection whatsoever. They pointed out the fact that the town was giving up their zoning and the people objected to that. The opposition to the signing of the local agreement contract was four to one against.

But the town board still refused to listen. I watched as my neighbors and friends begged, cried and pleaded with the board not to sign the contract. It didn't do any good. The board signed it anyway.

I ask you is this democracy? Is this how government is supposed to work?

At the very next election, the entire board, including the clerk was elected out of office. The former board refused to leave office. They withheld the keys to the town hall for 28 days. During that time they gave the $100,000 fee they received from the mining company to the former town attorney who had negotiated this contract. The former town attorney ended up being paid over $600,000.

The townspeople have their issues with the former town attorney as well and have filed a malpractice suit against him and his firm.

I hope you can understand now how the people of this community feel. We were railroaded into something we did not want. We are a community of our word. We however, did not give our word. Three people who refused to allow democracy to exist gave their word. Our rights were violated and the open meeting laws were violated. This contract was negotiated illegally.

The people of this community have said all along that they do not want this local agreement contract. I believe in democracy. I believe in majority rules. I believe in the WI State Statutes that insist government be open to the people and that the people have a right to know the affairs of their government. When people are denied their basic constitutional rights they have no choice but to fight back.

Chuck Sleeter
Nashville Town Chairman

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April 1997
Crandon Mine Critics Win Big
For More Information

Nashville Town Chairman Chuck Sleeter has beat back a recall election by defeating challenger Carol Marquardt, with the preliminary results of 374 to 264. The election is considered a major local defeat for backers of Rio Algom's Crandon mine, which would lie half within Nashville Township, in Forest County. The township also includes the Mole Lake Sokaogon Chippewa Community, which overwhelmingly backed Sleeter's re-election. The Crandon mine was clearly the central issue in the recall campaign.

In December 1996, the former Town Board had concluded a Local Agreement with the mining company, and dismissed a town meeting that had been called to review the agreement. Marquardt was the Town Clerk under the former board. She and the Board members were swept out in the April 1997 election, in which Sleeter defeated then-chairman Dick Pitts by a vote of 338 to 277 (less than today's vote).

The June 30, 1998 vote is also considered a rebuff to the Rio Algom mining company, by demonstrating even stronger local opposition to the zinc-copper sulfide project. Hoping to stave off opposition to its proposed Wisconsin River liquid waste pipeline, the company is floating the alternative idea of "settling ponds" that would store mine wastewater on site, a plant that would turn solid wastes into sulfuric acid, and a "grouting" process to fill in bedrock cracks.

Yet the company is jumping from the Wisconsin River "frying pan" back into the Wolf River "fire," by proposing to store all mine wastes upstream from the Wolf River, which has a state Outstanding Resource Water designation. It may have hope that placing the burden of pollution on the Mole Lake Chippewa would lead non-Indian environmentalists and sportfishermen to turn their backs. Yet today's vote shows that there is even stronger solidarity on the local level--the most essential arena for defeating the Crandon mine. Though a mining moratorium bill has been passed on the state level, it would not stop the Crandon mine until later in the permitting process. Nashville's overturning of the Local Agreement (with pro bono legal help from gubernatorial candidate Ed Garvey) would, however, stop the project in its tracks.

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Voters in the Forest County township of Nashville--where part of the proposed Crandon mine site is located--have ousted their entire three-member Town Board.

In early December, the three Board members considered a Local Agreement for mine construction with Exxon/Rio Algom1s Crandon Mining Company. On December 7, a town meeting to halt the Agreement process was petitioned for by a majority of Town voters, but Town Chairman Richard Pitts adjourned the meeting before it began. The three Town Board members--Pitts, William Marquardt, and Edward Bula--unanimously approved the Agreement five days later.

Critics of the Agreement who challenged the Board member in the April 1 election all won against the incumbents.
*Chuck Sleeter defeated Pitts, 338 to 277.
*Duwayne Marshall defeated Marquardt, 327 to 228.
*Mole Lake tribal member Robert Van Zile defeated Bula, 308 to 246.
(All figures come from the Antigo Journal newspaper, with 100% of the votes counted).

Another critic of the Local Agreement, Joanne Tacopina, ousted the incumbent Town Clerk, Carol Marquardt, 322 to 296. The only incumbent town official to maintain a post was Town Treasurer Mary Torgerson, who defeated Jan Olson, 317 to 314.

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Nashville Town Board Violates Democratic Rights

A popular movement against a multinational oil company grows dramatically in a remote village. The movement calls a local meeting, which government officials immediately shut down. Police are called, and the people are directly denied the right to speak or take a vote in the meeting.

This scenario comes not out of Nigeria, Indonesia, or Ecuador, but from Forest County in northeastern Wisconsin, on December 7, 1996.

The citizens of Nashville township, where Exxon plans its Crandon mine complex, held a Special Town Meeting to stop their Town Board from signing a Local Agreement to allow the mine. Under state law, a Local Agreement or zoning decision is legally essential for a mine project to open. In response to an attempt by Exxon's Crandon Mining Company to get the Town Board to sign the Local Agreement, 230 out of 301 of Nashville's registered voters petitioned for the Special Town Meeting, as allowed by state law, in order to hold a citizens' vote on the signing.

The meeting had been preceded by a local organizing campaign by mine opponents, and full-page newspaper ads from the mining company. Town Attorney Kevin Lyons warned electors in a town mailing that the electors' resolution to prohibit the Town Board from signing the Agreement was an illegal act. Nevertheless, about 340 people turned out for the New England-style town hall meeting, including local retirees, loggers, lakefront property owners, and members of the Mole Lake Chippewa tribe.

As the unexpectedly large crowd arrived, Lyons advised Town Chairman Dick Pitts on his options to hold the vote or adjourn the meeting. The two men were unaware that a radio microphone was turned on. When Pitts asked Lyons what he should do, the attorney responded, "It 's your choice; you can let people talk, you can take a vote, or you can just adjourn it. It 's really your call." After Pitts told Board Member William Marquardt of his decision to adjourn, Lyons warned, "If you do what you were planning on doing, then you and Bill better stand up and walk, so people don 't think they can continue yakkin' at ya."

When Pitts began the meeting by adjourning it, saying that the resolution was "out of order", he was advised by Wisconsin Resources Protection Council (WRPC) Attorney Kevin Potter that the Town Meeting can only be adjourned by a vote of those present. Pitts refused to ask for a second or a vote on adjournment, and was loudly booed by the crowd, and met with yells of "Look at all the people who are here, can't you listen to us?" and "This is America? This is democracy?'". Potter said the adjournment would be the subject of a lawsuit. County police were then called into the meeting.

Tom Ward, WRPC Forest County chapter president, said that the Local Agreement would sell his town down the river. Ward said of the December 7 meeting, "That was a travesty of justice. Government 'of the people, for the people, and by the people' was trampled to the worst degree that I have ever seen.... It's just a crime it could happen in this country.... The more people are being educated about the dangers of metallic sulfide mining, the more awareness that we're having, and the more outrage that we're having here."

Ward pointed out that the Agreement would be signed before an Environmental Impact Statement is completed, and up to $500,000 in the deal would pay Lyons' attorney fees. The group filed a lawsuit stating that the Agreement was developed in illegal "closed sessions," and that records pertaining to the negotiations were kept secret. It hopes to secure an injunction on the agreement, and asked Attorney General James Doyle to investigate similar violations by the Forest County Board in its Local Agreement talks with the company. (Doyle is also a probable gubernatorial candidate in 1998.)

On December 12, Oneida County Judge Robert Kinney denied an injunction based on the December 7 meeting adjournment, and formal evening hearings on Local Agreements were held simultaneously by the Nashville Town Board, the Board for adjacent Lincoln Township (where the mine waste dump would be located), and the Forest County Board. Local Agreement opponents were forced to split their numbers between the three hearings.

In Nashville, 250-300 people attended the December 12 hearing, yet the Board voted to sign the Agreement. Local opponents yelled "boot 'em, boot 'em!", vowing to oust the three Board members in April elections--if not sooner. Ward testified, "What we are seeing here is government of Exxon, by Exxon, and for Exxon." The Town Board for Lincoln (which includes part of the Forest County Potawatomi Reservation) voted not to sign an Agreement, due to an upcoming post-election turnover in Board membership. The Forest County Board voted 18-3 to sign a Local Agreement with the company.

On the same day, 50 Madison mining opponents held a support rally at the Attorney General's office in the State Capitol, to ask that he investigate violations of democratic rights in Forest County. Secretary of State Douglas LaFollette joined the protesters. They asked Wisconsin citizens to call the Attorney General's office at 608-266-0320, and appeal that the state government safeguard the rights of citizens whose local governments are being severely pressured by mining interests.

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•   For the phone numbers of concerned Nashville citizens, log on to the Wolf Watershed Educational Project Speaker's Bureau at http://treaty.indigneousnative.org/speakers.html.
•   The WWEP will meet Saturday, July 25, 10 am in the St. Michael's Church Hall in Keshena.

Wolf Watershed Educational Project (WWEP)
c/o Midwest Treaty Network,
P.O. Box 14382, Madison WI 53714-4382
Toll-free Hotline: (800) 445-8615
Tel./Fax: (608) 246-2256
E-mail: mtn@igc.org
Web page: http://treaty.indigneousnative.org/wwep.html
Web links: http://www.earthwins.com

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