The Crandon mine in Northern Wisconsin has been sold to The Northern Wisconsin Resource Group, a company that intends to extract minerals, prompting more disagreement over a site that has been hotly debated in recent years. A major bone of contention has been whether the economic benefits for the area outweigh possible environmental impacts.

Runoff from the mine could find its way into the Wolf River, nationally recognized for its purity.

The Northern Wisconsin Resource Group is owned and chaired by Gordon Connor, who cited his accomplished history in environmentally delicate industries as president of the Nicolet Hardwood Corporation. Connor was recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for improving the Great Lakes ecosystem in his work with Nicolet Hardwood.

Connor said in that statement that “underground mining of zinc, copper and lead can be conducted in an environmentally safe manner” and that 95 percent of the land would still be open to recreation.

“It will also bring much-needed economic opportunity to the region,” Connor said in the statement. “I’m doing this for the people of Northeastern Wisconsin.”

Al Gedicks, executive secretary of the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council, said active mining at the site would be detrimental to the environment. The Council has been one of the groups organizing opposition to the Crandon mine and reported in 1999 that mining in the area would not significantly boost the local economy.

“It’s a major setback to the coalition of Indians, environmentalists and sport fishermen who have been working to keep mining from going on at this property,” Gedicks said.

Gedicks said that prior to the Northern Wisconsin Resource Group’s purchase of the mine, the state was considering purchasing the land in order to take it out of the marketplace and ensure that pristine natural resources in the area would be preserved.

“The fact that it has now been purchased by a company which intends to mine is disheartening,” Gedicks said.

The mining technique employed by mining giants B.H.P. Billiton company, and Exxon, has never been able to be used by anyone in the mining industry to extract zinc and copper without contaminating local surface waters.

Even when the Northern Wisconsin Resource Group begins mining, the Mole Lake Sokaogon Chippewa may be able to block operations. The tribe has a nearby reservation through which the Wolf River runs and under federal laws has the authority place regulations on any water flowing through their land.

With the potential for runoff chemicals from operations at the Crandon mine to affect the purity of waterways connecting to a wild-rice lake the Sokaogon Chippewa have farmed for over a hundred years, Gedicks expects resistance to the start of mining.

“Five companies with worldwide expertise have failed at using this technique without polluting, and it is not a very hopeful sign that this company has never been in the mining business,” Gedicks said. “It’s probably worse than having Exxon’s people mining there because at least they knew the industry.”

Gedicks said maintaining the purity of the Wolf River would keep the area attractive to canoeists and fly-fishermen who bring an estimated $15 million in tourism to the local economy and that pollutants entering the river at its headwaters could find their way into Lake Winnebago, the main supply of tap water for the city of Appleton.