of Nashville, PO Box 106,
Pickerel, WI 54465
Ph: 715-478-2524, or 715-484-4501
|artwork by Susan Simenski Bietela|
Chronology of the political battle over the Crandon mine in the Town of Nashville, Wisconsin (1996-2000)
Town claims mining firm violated deal;
Crandon mine deal upheld by appeals court
By MEG JONES of the Journal Sentinel staff
Last Updated: Jan. 29, 2002
A controversial agreement between a Forest County town and a company hoping to build a zinc and copper mine near Crandon was upheld Tuesday by a state appeals court.
The 3rd District Court of Appeals in Wausau ruled the 1996 agreement between the Nashville Town Board and Nicolet Minerals Co. conformed with state law and resolved all zoning issues needed to allow the mine's development.
The ruling is a setback for mining opponents and Nashville town officials who were elected in 1997 on an anti-mining platform.
The unanimous decision upheld a March 2001 ruling by former state Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske, who was acting as a Forest County Circuit Court judge. She upheld the local agreement and said the Town Board's 1998 decision to rescind it after mining opponents were elected to the board was invalid.
"We've been through this a few times," Town of Nashville Chairman Chuck Sleeter said Tuesday. "I'm never going to say I'm disappointed in representing my people. If these appear to be some bad news today, maybe (it's) good news tomorrow."
James L. Huston, attorney for Nicolet Minerals, said the company was confident it would prevail in the dispute. He also said negotiations took three years with the former Town Board before an agreement was signed in 1996.
"It was not something that came up a few minutes before and they took a flier on it. It was a very well-considered decision," Huston said.
When the new board voted to rescind the agreement "we had no choice but to sue. The local agreement is important to us, so we sued," Huston said.
Nicolet Minerals, a subsidiary of Australia-based BHP Billiton, is seeking permits to remove 55 million tons of mostly zinc and copper ore from an underground mine south of Crandon.
Supporters of the mine contend it will provide jobs and can be done safely, while opponents say it will harm the environment.
"We are first and foremost out there to protect the health, welfare and safety of our citizens, and we'll take any measure we can to do that," Sleeter said.
Glenn Stoddard, the town's attorney, said it's likely the town will petition the state Supreme Court to review the decision considering the ramifications of the ruling on other communities.
In 1996, the three-member Nashville Town Board unanimously signed a local agreement with the mining company authorizing the necessary local permits for the project. In return, the mining company immediately paid the town $100,000 plus up to $400,000 for legal expenses.
The Department of Natural Resources is expected to complete its draft environmental impact study of the project this year.
State appeals court hands down favorable ruling for mining company
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Aug. 13, 2001
WAUSAU, Wis. (AP) - The company that wants to build an underground zinc and copper mine in northern Wisconsin has won a legal battle in a dispute over its 1996 mining agreement with the Town of Nashville.
The 3rd District Court of Appeals upheld a judge's 1998 ruling that found the local agreement with Nicolet Minerals Co. was valid even though the town held illegal secret meetings leading up to its adoption of the pact.
"This is one of numerous cases involving Nicolet's proposal to open a zinc and copper mine in Forest County," the three-judge appeals court said in a ruling last week. "At the outset, it is imperative that we recognize what this appeal is not about: Whether mining should or will occur in northern Wisconsin."
The ruling involved a lawsuit launched by critics of the mine who initially alleged the town conducted illegal secret meetings.
The plaintiffs later contended the local agreement between Nicolet and the town was invalid, an argument that Forest County Circuit Judge Mark Mangerson rejected.
In upholding Mangerson's ruling, the appeals court agreed there was no legal basis to void the company's local agreement with the town because the agreement was approved at an open meeting.
The panel also ruled the lawsuit could not delve more deeply into the issue because of procedural decisions made by the plaintiffs, which included the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council, a mining opponent.
Glenn Stoddard, an attorney for Nashville, said Monday the ruling was disappointing but not surprising given decisions attorneys made in the case.
"This may be perceived as a setback (for mining opponents) but there is still another case before the court of appeals that goes right to the merits of the local agreement, which we think is more critical," he said.
Three former town board members, in return for being dismissed from the open meetings lawsuit, stipulated that secret meetings occurred between November 1993 and November 1996 in negotiations with the mining company's attorney.
Nicolet Minerals, a subsidiary of BHP Ltd. headquartered in Melbourne, Australia, is seeking state, federal and local permits to remove 55 million tons of mostly zinc and copper ore from an underground mine south of Crandon.
Critics say the mine will harm the environment, while supporters argue the mining can be done safely and will provide badly needed jobs.
Shortly after the local agreement with the town was signed in late 1996, all three town board members who signed the deal were defeated for re-election by opponents of the mine.
The new board voted in 1998 to rescind the agreement.
That prompted Nicolet Minerals to file a separate lawsuit seeking a court order declaring the agreement valid.
Last March, former state Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske, acting as a Forest County circuit judge, upheld the local agreement and said the town board's 1998 decision to rescind it was invalid.
The town board appealed that ruling.
Stoddard said the town has filed its appeal document with the 3rd District Court of Appeals and the next step is for the mining company to respond. A decision by the court likely is several months away, he said.
Town to appeal ruling upholding Nicolet Minerals pact
May 8, 2001
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Crandon - The Town of Nashville will appeal a judge's ruling that found a 1996 agreement between the town and a mining company was valid, the town chairman said Monday.
The 1996 agreement essentially endorsed Nicolet Minerals Co.'s proposed underground zinc and copper mine south of Crandon.
In March, former state Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske, acting as a Forest County circuit judge, upheld the local agreement and said the Town Board's 1998 decision to rescind it was invalid.
Town Chairman Chuck Sleeter said Monday that the board decided to appeal her ruling because at issue is whether, under Wisconsin's local mining agreement law, a town can "bargain away" its zoning and regulatory powers to a mining company.
The dispute is about a local government's ability to protect its residents from "unknown and unforeseen" environmental, health and safety problems, Sleeter said in a statement. The 3rd District Court of Appeals panel, based in Wausau, will hear arguments in the case.
Dale Alberts, spokesman for Nicolet Minerals, said he was not surprised by the town's decision because the board opposes the mine. The agreement is a legal, binding contract that was properly negotiated, and he is confident Geske's decision will be upheld, he said.
All legal appeals of the dispute must be resolved before there can be a formal hearing on the proposed mine's impact on the environment, Alberts said. That hearing is still at least a year away, he said.
Nicolet Minerals, a subsidiary of London-based Billiton, is seeking local, state and federal permits to remove 55 million tons of mostly zinc and copper ore from a site near the Town of Nashville.
In 1996, the three-member Nashville Town Board unanimously signed a local agreement with the mining company authorizing the necessary local permits, such as zoning variances, for the project. In return, the mining company immediately paid the town $100,000 plus up to $500,000 for legal expenses. The deal also included provisions for future payments.
But mine opponents elected to the board in 1997 rescinded the agreement. Nicolet Minerals then sued the town, seeking a court order declaring the agreement valid. Geske decided the lawsuit.
The mine's supporters contend it will be environmentally safe and provide badly needed jobs in northern Wisconsin. Critics say the mine would ruin the area and pollute the nearby Wolf River.
The DNR says it will be at least four years before the mine opens, if it receives approval from the agency. A state review of the project is only about 75% complete after seven years, and a final decision on whether the mine can be built without harming the environment is still at least two years away, said Bill Tans, the DNR's mining review manager. Then, he said, additional legal battles could delay construction until at least 2005. 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," Alberts said. "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."
Judge Scores Big One for Mine
March 15, 2001
Volume 22, Issue 11
Environment Watch - by Doug
Judge rules 1996 Nicolet Minerals, Nashville pact valid
by Daryl Youngstrum
Rhinelander Daily News
A ruling Thursday by former state Supreme Court justice Janine Geske has confirmed the validity of a 1996 agreement between the Town of Nashville and Nicolet Minerals Co. The town had challenged the agreement in an effort to stop Nicolet Minerals from establishing a mining operation near Crandon.
Nicolet Minerals Co., a subsidiary of London-based Billiton Plc., is seeking local, state and federal permits to remove some 55 million tons of mostly copper and zinc ore from a site in Forest County. The Nashville agreement covered an access road and other zoning variances that allow the project to proceed. A small portion of the ore body is also located in the Town of Nashville.
The town had alleged that the 1996 local agreement was improperly negotiated by the town board in office at the time and should be rescinded because it was "against public policy, illegal... and unconscionable."
Under the agreement, the mining company gave the town $100,000 when the agreement was signed, five annual payments of $120,000 during construction of the mine, up to $500,000 for legal expenses and some $4 million in special tax payments. The company also agreed to give employee preference to past and present residents and addressed other requirements related to the operation of the mine.
"We are very pleased with Judge Geske's decision, and we believe it validates what we have said all along which is that the Town of Nashville should honor their agreements in the same way the Town of Lincoln, Forest County and the City of Crandon have honored their agreements with us," Nicolet Minerals Co. spokesperson Dale Alberts said. "However, we are more than willing to meet with Town of Nashville officials if they perceive changes in the agreement that will ameliorate our differences."
Attorney Glenn M. Stoddard of Garvey and Stoddard, S.C., which represents the Town of Nashville in court, said that the town may consider an appeal within the next 60 days.
"An order must be signed before the judge's opinion is considered final under the law," Stoddard said, "and the appeal process and the timeline for an appeal is pretty specific under the statutes after the order is signed."
"We have not met with anyone from the Town of Nashville since Thursday. It will probably take two to three weeks before the order is signed so we will probably know within the next 60 days if we are going to appeal."
"We are not satisfied with her ruling because of the end result at this time, but there are a number of issues we are looking at that may be raised on appeal. We may decide that (Judge Geske) made some errors in the facts of the case, and maybe she overlooked some things in making her ruling," Stoddard said.
"We hope that the town will not decide to work against us while we continue with the permitting process," Alberts said. "They have the power to quit wasting taxpayer money pursuing this in court which in turn wastes our own money when we have to go to court to defend our position."
"We are not going away, and we want to get down to the business of mining," Alberts said.
Judge rules local agreement on Crandon mine is valid
March 8, 2001
CRANDON, Wis. (AP) - A judge Thursday ruled that a 1996 agreement between the Town of Nashville and a mining company that essentially endorses a proposed underground zinc and copper mine was valid, keeping development of the mine on track.
More than 125 people packed into a Forest County courtroom, many of them wearing "No Crandon Mine" stickers, for Judge Janine Geske's long-awaited decision.
"The local agreement is upheld and the recession resolution is null and void," said Geske, a former justice on the state Supreme Court.
Geske's ruling was a victory for supporters of Nicolet Minerals Co.'s mining project south of Crandon. The town chairman said an appeal was likely.
Nicolet Minerals, a subsidiary of London-based Billiton, is seeking local, state and federal permits to remove 55 million tons of mostly zinc and copper ore from a site near the Town of Nashville.
The stakes in the dispute with the Town of Nashville were high.
Nicolet Minerals spokesman Dale Alberts called Thursday's ruling an "important milestone" because his company needs the local agreement for a major access road to the mine. The mine itself is located in the Town of Lincoln.
The mining company would have to spend several million dollars redesigning the project, which would delay it a year or two, if a new access road had to be developed, Alberts said.
"We do need the local agreement," he said. "This decision validates what we have been saying. This town should honor this contract."
Chuck Sleeter, chairman of the Nashville Town Board, thanked supporters for attending the hearing. "The mine is not in yet," Sleeter said in an interview. "It's another day. Another battle. I never thought this was going to be a cakewalk."
In 1996, the three-member Nashville Town Board unanimously signed a local agreement with the mining company that authorizes the needed local permits, such as zoning variances, to allow the project to proceed.
In return, the mining company immediately paid the town $100,000 plus up to $500,000 for legal expenses, and the deal included provisions for future monetary payments.
But opponents of the mine elected to the board in 1997 voted in 1998 to rescind the agreement because it was "against public policy, illegal ... and unconscionable," according to court records.
Nicolet Minerals then filed a lawsuit seeking a court order declaring the agreement valid.
The town argued it retained its legislative powers to rescind the agreement, but the mining company said the agreement was a legal contract.
On Thursday, Geske rejected all the town's arguments for throwing out the agreement, saying the mining company had a "vested right" because it had spent millions of dollars, in part because of the agreement. There were no "inherent flaws" in the process of reaching the deal, she said. "It is clear what the Town of Nashville had to do and it did it."
Last October after hearing arguments in the dispute, Geske said she would delay her ruling to allow time for an out-of-court settlement, saying the case was one that "affects this community very deeply."
But in January, the town board voted to drop the idea of mediation as a way to resolve the differences.
Sleeter said his board demanded to meet with executives of Nicolet Minerals' parent company as a "precondition" to talking about differences over the local agreement. Nicolet Minerals refused that request, he said.
Alberts said Sleeter didn't want a better local agreement. "He wants no mine."
Supporters of the mine contend it will be environmentally safe and provide badly needed jobs in northern Wisconsin.
Critics say the mine would ruin the area and pollute the nearby Wolf River.
The regulatory process for the state permits for the mine has already taken about six years, and the state Department of Natural Resources said in December that the soonest a draft environmental impact study of the project would be completed is in the second half of this year.
Nicolet Minerals Co.: http://www.crandonmine.com
Town of Nashville: http://www.nashvillewiundersiege.com
Sticking points kept Nashville and
CRANDON MINE FIGHT GOES TO JUDGE
SUMMARY OF MAIN POINTS
GESKE DELAYS RULING ON MOTIONS
Crandon mine opponent has audience with Gore
By Susan Campbell
Green Bay Press-Gazette
July 6, 2000
NASHVILLE, WIS. -- Nashville Town Board Chairman Chuck Sleeter said he discussed local opposition to the proposed Crandon mine with Vice President Al Gore during a trip to Washington, D.C., last week. Sleeter was attending a national conference on rural development when Gore stopped by for a surprise visit.
A vocal opponent of the large zinc and copper mine proposed in nearby Crandon, Sleeter said he spent the better part of 40 minutes briefing Gore and about two dozen mayors from around the country on the potential long-term environmental and economic problems posed by the mine.
"The vice president looked at me and said that he is concerned, that he will follow through with this, his staff will follow through with it and that he wants to be personally advised of the status of that mine," Sleeter said. "Isn't that great for a little town chairman to wind up in there?"
The state is reviewing an application from Nicolet Minerals Corp., a subsidiary of Ontario-based Rio Algom Ltd., to build a 55 million ton zinc and copper mine in Wisconsin's Northwoods. The proposal has pitted those who say the mine will bring needed jobs to the economically depressed region against environmentalists and others who fear acid drainage from the mine will harm the region's many lakes and rivers.
Sleeter said his discussion with Gore led to a further briefing the following day with the vice president's senior advisor on domestic affairs.
The overall focus of the conference was empowerment zones -- rural, tribal areas designated throughout the United States that receive federal assistance to attract stable, environmentally sustainable development. Sleeter said the Mole Lake Sokaogan Chippewa Tribe brought Nashville into the program as a partner, along with the Menominee and Lac du Flambeau tribes. In the two years since the communities were designated an empowerment zone, the tribes and the town have received $550,000 of a $3 million grant.
"This is a strategy for the vice president to help rural America, to make it sustainable, to relieve the unemployment and bring in good safe jobs," Sleeter said.
The federal money can be used to stimulate sustainable economic development, he said, and to fight the mine.
"This is contrary to the mission, and that's why they're concerned," he said of the mining proposal.
Nashville Chair Sleeter meets with Vice President Gore
On June 28, Chuck Sleeter was in attendance with 24 other community leaders at a meeting organized by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Rural Development in Columbus, Ohio. The meeting was organized to discuss community development issues. Nashville and Mole Lake Sokaogon member, Sylvester Poler were there to represent the Northwoods NiiJii Enterprise Community, which received a federal grant to help develop sustainable industry in the region. After a presentation by the Vice President to the group, Chuck met with Gore for 40 minutes and discussed the potential impacts of the proposed Crandon mine on the communities of Nashville and Mole Lake. Chuck also met with David Baird, Gore�s senior advisor on domestic affairs, the next day. Baird told Chuck that he would review the mining issues with the Corps of Army Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other federal agencies.
Journal Sentinel online: June 30, 2000.
The fight over an agreement a northern Wisconsin town passed almost four years ago that endorsed a proposed underground zinc and copper mine near Crandon goes before a Dane County judge next month.
At issue is the validity of the agreement the three-member Nashville Town Board unanimously approved in 1996 supporting supported Nicolet Mineral Co.'s mine and authorizing the necessary local permits to develop it.
Opponents of the mine won election to the board in 1997 and voted a year later to rescind the agreement because it was "against public policy, illegal ... and unconscionable," according to court records.
About a year ago, Nicolet Minerals filed a lawsuit seeking a court order declaring the agreement valid.
Dane County Reserve Judge P. Charles Jones has set a hearing Aug. 11 at the Forest County Courthouse on various motions in the lawsuit, including one by the Town of Nashville to dismiss it and one by the mining company seeking summary judgment that would resolve the dispute without a trial.
"We hope it will be resolved on Aug. 11," Dale Alberts, a spokesman for Nicolet Minerals, said Friday. "We believe that there was a legitimate contract negotiated in good faith over the course of 21/2 years."
Nicolet Minerals, a subsidiary of Rio Algom Ltd. of Toronto, is seeking local, state and federal permits to remove 55 million tons of mostly zinc and copper ore from a site south of Crandon near the Town of Nashville.
Glenn Stoddard, the town's attorney, said Friday that if the judge determined the local agreement was invalid, the mining company would then have to negotiate a new deal or apply for zoning permits for its project to proceed.
"They need to be able to say to the state that they have the local approvals necessary to build their project," he said. "I would be surprised if they could modify the project enough to completely avoid Nashville."
Alberts said if the local agreement was struck down, the mining company would have to redesign a critical access road that partially goes through the town if the company couldn't acquire the proper permits from the town.
Such a change could delay the mining project, he said.
Under terms of the agreement, the mining company has paid the town nearly $500,000, most of which went to pay the town attorney who negotiated the agreement with the mining company, attorneys said.
Nicolet Minerals would seek reimbursement of that money if the agreement was no longer valid, Alberts said.
The issue of whether the company's mining agreement was valid has been in court before. In February, a judge in a different lawsuit rejected a motion asking him to void the agreement. Opponents of the mine had contended the deal was invalid because it was the product of meetings illegally conducted behind closed doors.
FYI, in case you hear any strange rumors about the unfortunate destruction at the Nashville town hall last week. Nashville is currently defending itself in a lawsuit filed by the Nicolet Minerals Co. Nicolet Minerals sued the town after Nashville rescinded an illegal contract with the mining company that would have given the company permits to mine in the town. See the Antigo Journal article below.Dave Blouin, coordinator
Within hours two northern Wisconsin communities were torn by acts of wanton vandalism.
Hours after Oneida County reported that a cabin in the town of Enterprise had apparently been torched by youth party-goers, the town of Nashville in Forest County reported substantial vandalism to its town hall at Highways B and 52.
"This is a dirty, rotten shame," town chairman Chuck Sleeter said. "We're afraid for the people."
The incidents happened about 30 miles apart but are probably unrelated. In Nashville, Sletter said the town hall's windows were broken and front door smashed. Files were overturned and perhaps rifled, although officials aren't sure anything is missing.
"We're not sure if this is vandalism or a theft," Sletter said. "We don't know if they went through things or were just vandalizing the building." The culprits attempted but failed to gain access to the current records kept in the town clerk's office. "They kicked the door almost completely in but didn't enter the office," Sleeter said.
The damage was noted by a neighbor and reported about 11:30 a.m. Friday.
The building is located on Highway 55, very visible, so the incident probably took place early Thursday evening or early Friday morning.
Sleeter said the town, embroiled in a debate over a proposed zinc and copper mine being planned by Nicolet Minerals Company, has been a hotbed. Threats caused him to move his offices to a location in the south end of the town months ago and they were not entered.
"We've had some enemies as a result of the mining issue," Sleeter said, unable to speculate to whether they were involved in the vandalism. "This just drove another wedge into this thing." "The building is basically destroyed," he added.
In addition to the building, Sleeter said there has also been recent vandalism to the town's equipment. "We've never had these problems," he said. "This is pretty flagrant."........
The following is a press release we sent out today after a judge ruled in favor of Nicolet Minerals Company in the Forest County Courthouse in Crandon. The hearing was to determine if the Town of Nashville could have their day in court to explain all of the illegalities that led up to the Local Agreement signed by the former Nashville Town Board. The hearing was about violations of the Open Meetings Law and the Judge said there was nothing he could do as previous rulings tied his hands, this was the same judge that made the previous rulings. As bad as it seems, this apparently is a necessary step to the final rejection of the Local Agreement. We lost this battle, but I still think we will win this war. Stay with us and help where you can. Jim
ENVIRONMENTALLY CONCERNED CITIZENS OF LAKELAND AREA ECCOLA
Today is a sad day for Democracy in Wisconsin. Judge Mark Mangerson's ruling in support of a foreign mining company will only lead to further corruption in Wisconsin government. He upheld a mining Local Agreement that was negotiated in a series of illegal meetings between the former Nashville Town Board and Mining company representatives. Even after the former Town Board has plead guilty to numerous violations of the Open Meeting Law, Mangerson ruled that the agreement negotiated in those meetings was still valid. The lawyer that represented Nashville Township was eventually paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by the mining company. There was a substantial amount of legal expenses billed to the Township for investigations of anti-mining citizens and local tribes. If this blatant corruption is upheld in the courts, then what is left of Democracy in Wisconsin? This kind of ruling should be a wake-up call for all citizens that thought we had some semblance of open government in our state. It should be most upsetting to veterans and those families whose loved ones paid the ultimate sacrifice to defend a form of free government that no longer exists in Northern Wisconsin. Regardless of the potential environmental pollution the mine may bring, the pollution of government in our state is far more dangerous and will likely continue statewide. ECCOLA spokesman Jim Wise said, "the main message Judge Mangerson sent today to the citizens and corporations in Wisconsin is that crime pays."
A judge's finding that a northern Wisconsin town held illegal secret meetings with a mining company lawyer has led to a court motion to void an agreement the town signed in 1996 with the company seeking to open a zinc and copper mine near Crandon, an attorney said Tuesday.
Glenn Stoddard, attorney for the Town of Nashville, said the local agreement with Nicolet Minerals Co. may be invalid because it was the product of meetings illegally held behind closed doors. A court hearing on the motion to void the agreement is planned Feb. 3.
Mary Kay Grasmick, a spokeswoman for Nicolet Minerals, said the mining company was not concerned about the motion.
In May 1998, the judge dismissed Nicolet Minerals from the open-meetings dispute, ruling that regardless of any ``technical violations'' the town committed in the law, ``those violations do not give rise to negating a contract,'' she said.
``That is a valid contract made between the town and Nicolet Minerals,'' she said. ``All of the maneuvers by the current town board will not stop the mine. It is important to remember the mine is in the Town of Lincoln.''
The mining company believes it does not need the local agreement from the Town of Nashville to proceed with the project, although it went to court to enforce it after a new town board that opposed the mine voted to rescind the deal, she said.
Nicolet Minerals, a subsidiary of Rio Algom Ltd. of Toronto, is seeking state, federal and local permits to remove 55 million tons of mostly zinc and copper ore from an underground mine south of Crandon.
Critics say the mine will harm the environment, while supporters argue the mining can be done safely and will provide badly needed jobs.
Shortly after the local agreement with the Town of Nashville was signed in late 1996, all three town board members who signed the deal were defeated for re-election by opponents of the mine.
Circuit Judge Mark Mangerson signed a judgment last month against the town for having violated the open meetings law based on admissions and stipulations by the three former board members, Stoddard said.
The lawsuit alleged the secret meetings occurred between November 1993 and November 1996 in negotiations with the mining company's attorney.
In the out-of-court settlement, the town board members were let out of the case without any forfeitures being assessed, and the town's insurance company was made liable for most of the $35,000 in legal fees of the plaintiff's attorneys, Stoddard said.
Chuck Sleeter, chairman of the town board, said settlement of the lawsuit and the former board member's stipulations ``prove that the laws were broken and the citizens' rights were violated, which is what we claimed all [along].
Citizens have scored a huge victory related to the Crandon mine with the settlement of an open meetings lawsuit concerning the negotiation of a mining local agreement. The Town of Nashville's old town board (which has since been replaced by mining opponents) was found to have committed 55 violations of the state's open meeting law when it secretly negotiated a pact with the mining company that was signed in December, 1996. The out-of-court settlement casts a huge shadow over the legality of the mining agreement and further clouds propects for the Crandon mine.
Details can be found on the Wisconsin Stewardship Network web site. Go to: http://www.wsn.org and click on the hot button and follow the links.- Will Fantle
Multiple violations of Wisconsin�s open meetings law may toss another monkey wrench into Rio Algom�s plans for opening a controversial mine in the northeastern corner of the state near Crandon.
"To have three years of closed meetings allowed corruption to take place," says Glenn Reynolds, a Madison attorney representing citizens in the town of Nashville, the small rural community that sits atop a portion of the coveted copper, zinc, gold and silver mineral deposits. He says this is exactly the type of situation the state's public meeting laws were designed to prevent. "They call this the sunshine law so that citizens have the ability to know what their government is doing."
At issue is an agreement signed in December 1996 after more than three years of closed-door secret negotiations between the mining company and Nashville's town board. This deal, known as the "Local Agreement," ignited a township revolt. In the 1997 spring elections, 616 of Nashville�s 626 registered voters trooped to the polls and convincingly rejected the town�s officers, replacing them with a slate of mining opponents.
Local citizens also filed a lawsuit challenging the secrecy surrounding the negotiation of the agreement. The lawsuit was headed towards a jury trial in Wausau this June when the parties agreed to settle out-of-court. In the settlement, which Oneida County Judge Mark Mangerson signed on Nov. 22, the old town board members admit they broke Wisconsin�s open meetings law 55 times in their three years of closed-door brokerings with the mining company. And the citizen plaintiffs will be reimbursed for about half their legal costs.
"I�m real happy," says Tom Ward, one of the local residents who initiated the lawsuit. "We definitely feel vindicated by this."
Reynolds, acting on behalf of the citizens who filed the lawsuit, is now readying a motion requesting Judge Mangerson to strike down the agreement between the mining company and the town of Nashville on grounds that the law was broken in the course of reaching it.
But Dale Alberts of Nicolet Mining Co., which is owned by Rio Algom of Canada, says his company was removed from this litigation early on and will not be affected by its outcome: "We do not believe that resolution of that case will have any impact" on the Local Agreement.
The Local Agreement between Nashville and Nicolet is a key component of the state�s mining permit process. Before the Department of Natural Resources can sign off on the mining permits, agreements with local communities must be reached that delve into local mining impacts and specify any type of compensation. Nicolet "needed a local agreement so that they knew the local guys could not hold up the show," explains Reynolds.
Depositions gathered by Reynolds reveal that town board members were nervous about working out a deal with the mining company in the presence of the public and mining opponents. He says the town�s attorney, Milwaukee lawyer Kevin Lyons, repeatedly advised and assured the board that the closed, unposted meetings were legal and justified.
"The town board members just followed his lead," says Reynolds. Notices about the meetings were not even sent to local media. State statutes allow closed meetings for purposes like contract negotiations or the discussion of competitive bids. But citizens still have a right to know about the meetings and their subject matter, through public notices. "That never happened," says Reynolds.
Local residents, however, learned when Kevin Lyons was coming to Nashville from postings at their Town Hall. For three years increasingly paranoid citizens came to these meetings and then were asked to leave. Moreover, one of the findings of fact in the lawsuit is that 12 of the 15 closed meetings "were not required to be closed for competitive or bargaining reasons" or to confer with legal counsel. The board's goal, says Reynolds, was to "keep the public in the dark."
Another finding is that Lyons assured the town board that, in striking its deal with Nicolet, it would not give up zoning authority over the mine. In fact, the agreement did just that. And Reynolds says the depositions show that Lyons developed an increasingly cozy relationship with the mining company�s lawyer, sharing information with him on what mining opponents were saying and doing.
As Nashville's old town board prepared to sign the Local Agreement, citizens desperate for an opportunity to publicly comment on the deal petitioned for an emergency town meeting in December 1996. Reynolds says Lyons worked with the mining company�s lawyer on a strategy to thwart the public will by declaring the special meeting illegal. With hundreds of people in the audience, the Nashville town board opened the special meeting, called the gathering out-of-order, and gaveled it closed.
Not long before the signing of the Local Agreement, says Reynolds, Lyons told the town board that his final fee for work on the 30-page document would total $350,000. The state�s Mining Impact Board reimburses local governments for mining-related expenses associated with such work.
After carefully reviewing the billings, the Mining Impact Board informed the town that it would pay only $150,000 of Lyon�s fee. Some of Lyons� legal billings to the town detail work investigating the activities of tribal and local mining opponents.
Tiny Nashville�s annual town budget was only $100,000, but, according to the lawsuit's findings of fact, Lyons assured the board that if the agreement was signed, the mining company would pay his bill in full.
"It was an impossible burden on the town," observes Reynolds. The board agreed to the mining pact, with Lyons advising them, again according to the lawsuit's findings of fact, "it was the best deal possible."
"I think there was a corruption that took place," says Reynolds of the process that led to the signing of the deal. "Here�s a lawyer that gets in so deep that only the mining company has a hand to get them out. So who�s Lyons working for in the final hour?"
While a law student, Reynolds recalls taking a class taught by Lyons. He�s saddened by the actions of his former instructor and says it was "horrible" listening to Lyons testify under oath during the deposition process about what had happened in Nashville. "He [Lyons] said he didn�t remember anything."
Lyons, through his secretary, declined to comment for this story.
The manipulations surrounding Nashville�s Local Agreement have spawned another lawsuit. Nashville�s current town board, under the leadership of mining opponent Chuck Sleeter, is charging the mining company with fraud and racketeering. The lawsuit is based upon the federal RICO statute, a law frequently used to combat organized crime.
The new town board has retained the services of Madison attorney Glenn Stoddard to pursue the case. "In a nutshell," says Stoddard, "the town is alleging that the mining company conspired with the town�s former lawyers to defraud the town to give up their zoning authority over the mine."
In return for signing on the dotted line, the suit alleges, the mining company paid the town�s legal fees. "It�s very clear there was a sweetheart deal," says Stoddard. The case, originally filed in federal court, was referred it to a state court, which has concurrent jurisdiction over federal claims.
The upshot, suggest both Reynolds and Stoddard, could be a voiding of the Local Agreement. And, given the current town board�s anti-mining stance, negotiating a new agreement would be exceedingly difficult at best.
"We haven't reached the final chapter here," says Stoddard. "It's still up in the air."
II was dismayed when I learned the Wisconsin Legislature dropped the amendment to the Local Agreement law that would have allowed the Town of Nashville to renegotiate their Local Agreement with Nicolet Minerals Company.
The problem is not losing the Amendment, but the Local Agreement Law itself and corporate control of state government.
The Local Agreement Law allows a foreign company to control what happens to American citizens. Nicolet Minerals Company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Rio Algom, Ltd., a Canadian company. It's not really an American company at all.
I believe the Local Agreement Law is unconstitutional because it eliminates the people's right to due process by removing their right to participate in negotiations with mining corporations.
Citizens don't have due process in Wisconsin. Not when corporations control the Governor and Legislators through hefty campaign contributions. Unfortunately corporations also contribute to Judicial candidates. The net result is the state's Executive, Judicial, and Legislative branches are controlled by multinational corporations.
Wisconsin citizens take note: your right to fair and equal representation is being jeopardized by a Local Agreement Law that could allow any local government to bargain away your zoning codes and environmental protections to the highest bidder.
We, the people of Wisconsin, need to declare our independence from corporate rule. We all need take part in our government. We need to vote in candidates who will work for us. We need to restore democracy by passing Campaign Finance Reform. And we need to revoke the Local Agreement Law.
The Forest County Town of Nashville near Crandon, WI recently responded to a lawsuit filed against it by the Nicolet Minerals Company over the town's rescission of a controversial mining permit or "local agreement" for the proposed Crandon mine. The local agreement was rescinded by the town last year after the mining company refused to renegotiate with the town, even though many changes had been made to the proposed mining plan and the town had objected to the process and terms of the local agreement as it had originally been approved by the former town board in late 1996.
In responding to the mining company's lawsuit, the Town of Nashville removed the case to Federal Court in Milwaukee and filed a countersuit against the mining company alleging that the local agreement resulted from a conspiracy by the mining company and the town's former attorneys to defraud the town of its zoning authority over the proposed mining operations. The town alleges in its countersuit that its former attorneys agreed to recommend approval of the local agreement by the former town board in return for the mining company's agreement to pay the town's former attorneys over $350,000 for past due legal fees and expenses purportedly incurred while representing the town.
Chuck Sleeter, who was elected Nashville Town Chairman in 1997 and again this year, said, "I am confident the town's rescission of the local agreement will be upheld by the courts, because the manner by which the local agreement was negotiated and approved was so sleazy and secretive that no reasonable person could possibly condone what was done to this town by the mining company and the town's former attorneys. The terms of the local agreement are unconscionable and do not protect the town and its environment from the many problems that will be caused by development of the proposed mine. It's a shame that the town board had to correct what happened in 1996 by rescinding the local agreement but we had no choice, because the mining company has refused to renegotiate the local agreement with the town in good faith."
The Town is now represented by a different law firm, Garvey & Stoddard, S.C., of Madison. The firm's partners include attorneys Ed Garvey and Glenn Stoddard. Ed Garvey ran for Governor last year against Governor Tommy Thompson, and strongly opposed the proposed Crandon mine during his campaign.
Attorney Glenn Stoddard said, "We believe the Town of Nashville has a very strong case against the mining company. We expect that the case will remain in Federal Court, and we expect the town to win."
According to Chuck Sleeter, "The mining company has been trying to bully the town into backing down by threatening the town's voters with letters referring to high legal expenses in defending this case. But Garvey & Stoddard have donated a good deal of time to the case and the town has established a litigation fund to help offset future legal fees and costs in fighting off the mining company."
"The mining company has complained that the town won't renegotiate the local agreement. But the fact is that the mining company won't renegotiate in good faith with the town. This is why the town had to rescind the local agreement in the first place. The mining company has consistently tried to fool the public with public relations gimmicks and half-truths about its position in this case, but it has played hardball every step of the way with the town." Sleeter said.
In April 1997, voters in the Town of Nashville elected a new town board after the former town board had approved the local agreement to permit mining by the Nicolet Minerals Company (formerly known as the Crandon Mining Company and before that as Exxon). But the town's voters were upset because the local agreement between the town and the mining company had been negotiated in secret by the town's former attorneys and former town board during closed town board meetings. Additionally, the local agreement gave away all of the town's zoning authority over the proposed mining operations, and provided that the mining company would pay the town's former attorneys for their unpaid legal fees upon approval of the local agreement. As a result, many voters in the town concluded that a "3sweetheart" deal had been made behind closed doors between the town's former lawyers and the mining company, and that the town had been defrauded of its zoning power over the proposed mining operations in the process. This led to the election of a new town board that vowed to rescind the local agreement. Chuck Sleeter was elected Nashville Town Chairman in that election. Also elected as town supervisors were: Duane Marshall and Robert Van Zile. Additionally, Joanne Tacopina was elected at that time as Town Clerk.
After researching the issue, the new town board rescinded the Local Agreement by resolution on September 22, 1998. As a result, Nicolet Minerals Company notified the town that it intended to sue the town to enforce the local agreement. The mining company filed a lawsuit against the town in Forest County Circuit Court on April 30th of this year.
In response to the mining company's lawsuit, the Town of Nashville removed the case to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin late last month. Additionally, the town has countersued the mining company, alleging a conspiracy by the mining company the town's former attorneys to defraud the town of zoning and police powers over the proposed mining operations.
The mining company has since filed a motion to remand the case to Forest County Circuit Court. However, this motion is still pending and the
Today (April 30, 1999) the town was served notice that Nicolet Minerals company has filed a lawsuit challenging the rescission of the Local Agreement.
On December 12, 1996, a former town board signed a Local Agreement with Crandon Mining Company (AKA Nicolet Minerals Company, owned by Rio Algom Ltd., of Canada) over objections of local residents. The opposition to the signing of that agreement was by a margin of four to one. Residents were outraged at the Local Agreement. It offered no protection to town residents, yet granted restricted future town boards from protecting the health, safety and welfare of its citizens, etc. In short, the Local Agreement was considered unconscionable in that all the power was given to the mining company and that the agreement itself was negotiated behind closed doors without allowing the public to participate. (Although several who had been part of the closed door negotiation had held personal leases with the mining company and had taken money from them over the years.) The former board is awaiting a June trial date for allegedly violating the open meetings law in regard to those closed door negotiations.
Shortly after this Local Agreement was signed the entire former town board was voted out of office and Chuck Sleeter was elected Town Chairman. Robert Van Zile and Duane Marshall were elected Town Supervisors after they vowed to undo the Local Agreement contract. After nearly two years of careful research, the current Town Board rescinded the Local Agreement based on its legal deficiencies, and is confident its rescission will be upheld in a court of law.
Nicolet Minerals Company (NMC) has sent two mailings to town residents which in essence, threatened to bankrupt the town if they didn't retract their rescission; the most recent mailing was sent just before the April 6 election. In spite of NMC's efforts the current town board won re-election by easily defeating their pro-mining opponents on April 6. The residents have spoken loud and clear in the past three elections (pro-mining opponents tried unsuccessfully to oust Chairman Chuck Sleeter in a recall last summer). The town residents refuse to be bullied and threatened by a large foreign corporation.
NMC has stated that they will take whatever steps are necessary to protect their interests and their investments. Nashville residents have responded by saying that we have already taken the steps necessary to protect our interests and our investments by rescinding this unconscionable Local Agreement that is certainly not in our best interest.
Chairman Chuck Sleeter stated, "This is America, not some foreign country. Rio Algom is going to learn that Americans have the right to protect their home from the siege of a foreign company's greed. Rio Algom certainly has more money than our 973 residents in this small rural community, however, Rio Algom cannot buy the law or the merits of this case and that is how we intend to win. Our forefathers made sure that the whim of a foreign multinational corporation cannot prevail over the will of the people. The law is on our side. Nashville residents are not afraid of NMC's lawsuit and look forward to the opportunity to expose this Local Agreement for what it is and what is not, as well as exposing the truth behind its negotiation in the months ahead."
The town set up a web site: www.nashvillewiundersiege.com last February in anticipation of this lawsuit. The town has created a Legal Defense Fund for accepting donations from groups and individuals who wish to help the town in its defense.
Help the citizens of Nashville by giving their town an economic boost!
Post a link on your website to NashvilleWis.com http://www.nashvillewis.com
the town's new website. Just add the following text to the body of the html for your web page:
Visit Nashville "A little spot of heaven in the Northwoods of Wisconsin"
Ten things you can do online to help raise funds for the Town of Nashville [WI] Legal Defense Fund:
Of course, tax-deductible contributions -- no amount is too large or small -- are always welcome. And thanks in advance!
Stop the Siege!
Help the citizens of Nashville, Wisconsin
Tax-deductible contributions may be made to:
Town of Nashville Legal Defense Fund
c/o Chuck Sleeter / Joanne Tacopina
P.O. Box 106
Pickerel, WI 54465
(Nashville, WI) "The people of Nashville have spoken. We don't want a mine and we don't want a mining company interfering with our elections," stated Chuck Sleeter, who was re-elected Chairman of the Town of Nashville tonight. Sleeter defeated his opponent, Dave Campbell with a vote of 351 to 266, reported Joanne Tacopina, Nashville Town Clerk.
Robert Van Zile and Duane Marshall were re-elected Town Supervisors. In a close race for Town Treasurer, Jan Olson claimed victory over pro-mining incumbent Mary Torgerson with a vote of 313 to 303. Joanne Tacopina was unopposed for Town Clerk.
With the election of Jan Olson as Treasurer, the Nashville Town Board is solidly opposed to Nicolet Minerals Company's proposed Crandon mine. Although the voter turnout of 85% for this election is less than the previous two Town Board elections, Sleeter said he is pleased with the results, "Compared to other races around the state, we had a very high voter turnout. The people didn't back down from the mining company's threat of a lawsuit. It shows we are not afraid to stand up to the mining industry to preserve our way of life."
I would like to respond to two statements that Dale Alberts of Nicolet Minerals, Co. made during his interview with the Associated Press in regards to the Town of Nashville Legal Defend Fund site on the internet.
First, Mr. Alberts stated that Nicolet Minerals was willing to renegotiate the Local Agreement contract that the former town board signed with the mining company.
In August, this past year, NMC was invited to a town board meeting and the current town board asked NMC if they were willing to renegotiate the agreement. The town proposed sending the company the proposed changes in writing and allowing NMC 30 days to respond. The question put before NMC was, "Are you willing to renegotiate the local agreement?". Dale Alberts stated three times, at that meeting, that NMC would not renegotiate rthe agreement. It surprises myself and other board members that Mr. Alberts would make such a statement to the press six months later.
Second, Mr. Albert's stated that this dispute that the town has with NMC, "need not be played out in the courtroom. It could be played out across the kitchen table."
This statement sums up the problems that the residents in Nashville have had with NMC and with Exxon right from the beginning. We in Nashville do not "play out" anything across a kitchen table. We do everything openly in public meetings where the townspeople can see and hear what is taking place.
We are currently involved in an open meetings violation lawsuit which charges the former town board members with 16 open meeting violations in regards to this local agreement. The public was continuously shut out of the negotiating process prior to the signing of the agreement. The former board members will stand trial in June, 1999.
As a matter of fact, Rio Algom and Exxon have already "played out" events across "the kitchen table". On April 4, 1997, three days after the current town board had been elected into office, the former board held a closed meeting at the home of the town treasurer. There was no posting of this meeting and no minutes were recorded. We have been told by the former board that this meeting was attended by the entire former board and the former town attorney. The purpose, we're told, was to discuss how to keep the current board from taking office.
However, the former town attorney billed the town $2,362.50 for that meeting at the treasurer's home and the bill was later paid by Rio Algom, Ltd. and Exxon Minerals, co owners of the Crandon Mining Company.
Mr. Alberts and Nicolet Minerals have not been able to figure out that we no longer do business like that in Nashville. This board is committed to open and honest government. And it is because Nicolet Minerals operates in such a fashion that we need everyone's help and support.
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. Wolf Watershed Educational Project (WWEP)
Clean Water Forever, a new innovative way to raise funds. Just change your long distance service and you can help the Town of Nashville stop the proposed Crandon mine or raise funds for your tax-exempt organization Want to learn more? Visit http://www.cleanwaterforever.com/ Emal: firstname.lastname@example.org Or call Bonnie Toll-free 877-303-9235. Another website from EarthWINS GROW Project.