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The Badger State’s mining tradition

In the 1830’s, Wisconsin miners working in the Galena mine carved out caves in the hillsides as their homes. The caves were described as badger dens, and the miners who lived in them as badgers. In 1957, the badger became Wisconsin’s official state animal.

Originally discovered in the mid-1800s, iron ore mining aggressively began in Wisconsin during the 1880s. The Jackson County iron mine characterizes Wisconsin’s mining enterprises.

The mine was a small magnetic taconite operation active from 1969 to 1982 before modern mining and environmental regulation existed. Both the mine and mill site have since been reclaimed (read restored) to Jackson County’s largest and newest park – the Wazee Lake Recreation Area.

Wazee Lake is the deepest lake in Wisconsin filled with various species of fish and underwater flora. The 3000 acre park further offers year round recreational activities including hiking, cross country skiing, mountain biking, skating, fishing, swimming and snowmobiling.

Once again Wisconsin has an opportunity. Gogebic Taconite LLC is attempting to obtain the necessary permits required to initiate mining over two billion tons of iron ore resources in Ashland and Iron Counties.

Foundries throughout Wisconsin would have access to locally mined iron instead of iron mined in Minnesota, Michigan, or foreign countries. According to the Department of Workforce Development, there are over 75 different companies that operate as foundries in this state including ThyssenKrupp in Waupaca.

Various stakeholders united to research and discuss ways to improve Wisconsin’s ferrous metallic mining regulatory environment. New statutes were created to responsibly regulate iron mining while streamlining and separating it from other forms of mining.

Iron mining is a process which uses magnets to separate the metal from rock while non-ferrous mining uses chemicals. Both Michigan and Minnesota have already streamlined their iron mining regulations.

AB 426 doesn’t remove any of the requirements needed to comply with standards set by the DNR, the EPA, and the Army Corps of Engineers. The bill creates a minimum two-year permitting process which includes a one year pre-approval environmental study followed by a 360 day DNR review period. By streamlining the permitting process for iron mines, companies seeking to invest in Wisconsin will be guaranteed a definite “yes” or “no” answer.

The projected $2 million cost of a DNR review will be paid for by mining companies seeking approval, not Wisconsin taxpayers. Input from the public will be taken during the process. To ultimately get a permit, the applying mining company will have to meet rigid environmental standards.

Opening an iron mine in northern Wisconsin would create more than an estimated 3,000 jobs during the initial phase. Consulting and research firm, North Star Economics estimates the mine would have the potential to create 2,800 to 5,600 long term jobs with average compensation packages reaching $82,000 per year. The firm also estimates the mine would add an annual $600 million to $1.2 billion to Wisconsin’s economy.

The Badger State has a proud mining tradition. Because it puts in place a process that maintains our state’s high standards for clean land, water, and air while giving job creators certainty, I voted yes on AB 426.

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