A public hearing at the Capitol on mining legislation produced a bitterly divided hearing room, as advocates focused on the importance of economic development, while opponents voiced their environmental concerns.
The bill’s authors opened up the meeting defending their bill on the grounds it will create and sustain good jobs in Wisconsin, referring to it as a “true jobs bill.”
“The thousands of jobs this bill will create are not Democratic or Republican jobs; they’re an opportunity for all Wisconsinites,” Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, said.
Rep. Mark Honadel, R-South Milwaukee, noted the potential creation of 700 to 800 full time mining jobs, as well as 2,000 jobs directly in the construction process and another 1,000 jobs supporting this construction process in sectors like equipment production.
Ann Coakley, a mining expert speaking as a DNR representative, admitted a mine cannot be built without any sort of environmental impact.
Sen. Robert Jauch, D-Poplar, asked DNR representative Russ Rassmussen whether they have allowed for the creation of wetlands elsewhere to make up for the ones that would be lost.
Rassmussen said they have not done so, although they have allowed rerouting of streams. Jauch said the lack of mitigation marks a serious change of environmental policy.
Gogebic Taconite, the company seeking to develop the iron ore mine in northwest Wisconsin, brought three representatives at the committee. GTac President Bill Williams, spokesman Bob Seitz and engineer Tim Meyers praised the area’s workforce and touted the company’s tradition of hiring and personally training local workers.
The GTac representatives emphasized the potential for job creation with the building of a mine as well as the economic growth in the area. The mine’s development would draw on experts from all fields, from electricians to construction workers, Meyers said.
“This is touching all parts of the state,” Meyers said.
Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo, asked why GTac has not done any testing to explore the mineral makeup of the Penokee Hills, a potential site for mine construction. Seitz replied testing would be a wasted investment until Wisconsin’s mining laws are changed and unless some sort of certainty is in place.
Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, emphasized the importance of holding another hearing in northern Wisconsin, where those who are most directly affected by mining legislation live.
“We need to make sure that democracy shines and that bipartisanship prevails on this issue,” Barca said.
Tribal Chairman Mike Wiggins represented the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. Because the tribe’s reservation sits near Hurley’s mine site, many members fear water contamination in the river running through.
Wiggins chided this bill as “shortsighted,” claiming the jobs it creates now will jeopardize the environment for future generations.
Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, presented an alternative mining bill Tuesday, which he said protects the environment more and sends all revenue from mining to the affected area. Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, went against his party last session and voted against the mining bill, and he said he supports Cullen’s bill.
“Democrats and Republicans alike heard the same recommendations from mining experts that I did, and I stand by this bill as a realistic solution to the mining industry’s request for certainty,” Cullen said.