Welcome to Oneida County Clean Waters Action
Exploring the issues that affect our rivers and lakes
Exploring the issues that affect our rivers and lakes
OCCWA advocates responsible representation at the local and state government levels for protecting our greatest in the Northwoods: our pristine waters, wetlands, forests and clean air.
This OCCWA website serves as your resource for news about environmental issues that impact Oneida County in northern Wisconsin.
Oct. 20, 2021--In 2009, an obscure “mining interest” called Tamerlane approached Oneida County, seeking to acquire the rights to a known mineral deposit on County Forest lands on the western side of the county, called the Lynne Deposit. The Lynne Deposit was formed well over a billion years ago and then eroded and twisted for many million years more, before being buried beneath a vast column of water and layers of sand and gravel when the glaciers receded over 10,000 years ago, forming the foundation for our lakes, streams, and wetlands.
Our county government reacted to Tamerlane’s request by rubber-stamping a failed, old policy Resolution that was used a decade previously to open the County Forest to metallic mining. A Mining Oversight/Local Impact Committee was formed to consider developing a leasing plan, and although, over the course of three years the Committee spent considerable time, energy and resources, it was never especially interested in the existing information base, nor the considerable public concerns and opposition that it heard meeting after meeting.
Fortunately, the full County Board was listening, and in February 2012 the leasing plan was stopped. The Committee's recommendation was turned back two more times that summer, the last being the defeat known as the “Shidell Resolution,” which ended metallic mining as a policy goal of the County government.
Despite no longer pursuing “mining as a policy goal,” the county was back promoting a mine at Lynne within a month of the defeat of the “Shidell Resolution.” This time it was the Planning and Development Committee proposing to allow metallic mining in areas zoned “1-A Forestry.” The County Forest at Lynne is zoned “1-A Forestry” and the Town of Lynne was opposed to rezoning the area to “Manufacturing and Industrial,” a change necessary to have a mine there. Planning & Development wanted to allow metallic mining in “1-A Forestry” to circumvent the need for a rezone, thus stripping the town of a critical protection.
It was at this 9/11/2012 P&D Committee meeting where the idea of weaponizing the zoning districts in retaliation against a town that opposed a mine was first developed. Although the committee would eventually drop the proposal because of public opposition, it had another chance to go after local control within five years, thanks to Tom Tiffany, then the region's District 12 state senator.
The Mining Moratorium Law was always popular, but Tom Tiffany was able to successfully repeal it in late 2017. Once the law was repealed, it was widely, but inaccurately, construed as opening Northern Wisconsin to massive sulfide mining as a matter of right, and it was clear that there was a coordinated effort to establish sulfide mining anew in the Northwoods. There were promotional mine tours, a promotional “Mining 101” seminar, and then the counties were pressured into developing a compliant mining ordinance, which removed several key protections.
In Oneida County, vast areas were opened to metallic sulfide mining by precluding a mining company from having to petition to rezone those areas. This was done by allowing metallic mining as a “Permitted Use” in areas zoned “1-A Forestry” and “General Use.” It was already allowed in areas zoned “Manufacturing and Industrial.” This means that in addition to the permitted use specified, “services essential to the permitted use, and its accessory uses shall be permitted in that district as a matter of right.”
When you couple this with the fact that the new ordinance removed prohibitions on smelting, refining, solution mining, and dumping mine wastes in the county, generated from outside of the county, the new mining ordinance was a blueprint for turning the region into a mining district. Under this scenario, the Lynne mine would have likely been used as a central processing center, eventually receiving ore, and generating waste on site from other mines, including from outside of the county.
Once Oneida County removed these protections with the new mining ordinance, there was only one more step to open the door for a mine at Lynne. The supervisors pushing the mine at Lynne have always wanted a referendum question on the issue. They finally got it, and it did not go their way when their referendum question failed substantially during the November 2018 election. Without “social license” for a mine at Lynne, the centerpiece for a mining district in our county collapsed.
Since the failure of the Noranda experiment in the 1990s, our county government has, on three occasions, spent considerable time, effort and resources promoting one mining scheme or another in our county, always with considerable public opposition, and always to no avail.
It’s time for our county government to take a sober, objective look at this issue, and ponder its priorities. It makes no sense for our county government to continue squandering its fiscal resources to remove protections from itself, while pushing something that people do not want, and which threatens the integrity of our high quality natural resource base.
Aug. 24, 2021--We at OCCWA hail the recent Wisconsin Supreme Court decision to give the Wisconsin DNR the rightful ability to protect Wisconsin's waters. Above is a link to an article which explains the details of this ruling.
OCCWA opposes any attempt by our current state legislators to change the Wisconsin State Constitution in any way regarding our Public Trust Doctrine, established more than 150 years ago. The concept of this doctrine is simple: the water belongs to the people and cannot be abused by individuals, corporations, or private businesses for private gain. As climate change accelerates, our waterways will be stressed more than they already are, and the DNR will need to carefully regulate the use of our groundwater and connected surface waterways. The DNR's ability to use their knowledge and training will help protect the citizens from the effects of CAFOs, PFAs and metallic sulfide mining.
We also understand that Wisconsin's ACT 21 as it is written gives our legislators the ability to restrict the DNR's ability to do the job they have been entrusted to do. We hope that the citizens of Wisconsin will stand with OCCWA and contact their legislators about the need to protect the DNR's important role in providing Wisconsin with guidance and supervision over our most precious resource: clean water.
An election is coming up next year. Citizens who care about keeping our waters uncontaminated and healthy will pay close attention to our lawmakers' actions. Will they let the DNR fulfill their assigned responsibilities?
Aug. 3, 2021--Recently, Eric Rempala and I addressed your Board, requesting that a sulfide mining resolution be added to a future agenda for discussion and possible adoption by your Board. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to engage with your Board regarding the resolution, so I am providing the following information.
The reason that we are asking the towns of Oneida County to take a leadership position on this issue is that we believe that our county government will not protect the towns on this issue, at this time. Oneida County has a very weak Metallic Mining Ordinance because of Wisconsin's Act 134 passed in 2017, and we believe that our current ordinance will not be properly corrected unless Act 134 is repealed.
I am a firm believer in the ability of the towns to protect those who live, work, and pay taxes in the county's towns, and that having a town mining ordinance is a good idea.
However, the effectiveness of such an ordinance can be enhanced, or substantially weakened, by state laws and the Mining Ordinance that the related county currently has.
Unfortunately, in Wisconsin, state laws have been weakened over the past decade relating to water protection and specifically relating to metallic mining. Because these state laws have been weakened, Oneida County now has a substantially weakened Metallic Mining Ordinance, removing several protective prohibitions, and allowing non-ferrous metallic mining in areas of the county zoned “1-A Forestry” and “General Use”, as a matter of right, including all required infrastructure.
When it comes to sulfide mining, no town is an island. Such a mine requires a massive infrastructure and produces waste materials that must be isolated from the environment in perpetuity, transcending jurisdictional boundaries, so that any town may be negatively impacted by a sulfide mine in adjoining towns and counties.
Economically, a sulfide mine anywhere in a county can negatively impact towns within that county for a very long time, while any positive economic impacts are relatively short-lived.
Because our resolution aims to improve state laws and county ordinances, towns that have passed the resolution are helping to protect every other town in the county. Helping our neighbors protect themselves helps every town protect itself.
By Eric Rempala
June 16, 2021
First, our local update by Oneida County Clean Waters Action
The city of Rhinelander, and the towns of Lynne, Newbold, Lake Tomahawk, Stella, Pelican, Crescent, Cassian, Nokomis, and Pine Lake have all adopted our resolution or some form thereof. We thank these municipalities for their foresight in protecting our water.
We have yet to contact the towns of Sugar Camp and Monico, but hope to attend their board meetings this summer.
So far, the towns of Minocqua and Three Lakes have refused to allow us to present at one of their board meetings. Their stance has been that they feel they have protections written in their local mining ordinances. Our opinion is that the enactment of Act 134 in 2017, plus Oneida County's current weakened mining ordinance, will override any local ordinances. This is why we are striving for the repeal of Act 134. We commend Minocqua and Three Lakes for attempting to protect themselves locally but want to impress upon them that we must strive for better protection at both the state and county level.
Hazelhurst Town chairman Mr. Cushings refused to invite us to any of their board meetings. Hazelhurst residents who would like our resolution to be considered please contact your town board at 715 356-5800.
Because of Covid concerns, the towns of Woodruff, Schoepke, and Enterprise have all delayed having us appear. We respect their positions and hope to be added to one of their board meetings this summer.
The town of Little Rice board listened to our presentation but as of yet has not adopted our resolution. The town of Woodboro board also listened to usand agreed with our position on mining, but said that they have no confidence in the resolution process. Instead, they sent a letter of support to their county supervisor.
The town of Piehl is the only one of our 21 townships that has no lands currently zoned for mining. They chose not to adopt our resolution. We tried to impress upon them the importance of towns standing together to affect change.
Next: The Bigger Picture in Threes
1. The Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce is suing the DNR to eliminate the Spills Law. If the Spills Law is undermined, we lose our most effective tool for protecting communities from toxic contamination. Here is the press release explaining a counter-action being taken by the Midwest Environmental Advocates.
Environmental and Public Health Groups Announce Legal Action to Defend Communities from Toxic Chemical Lawsuit Brought by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce
Madison, WI, June 14, 2021—Today, Midwest Environmental Advocates (MEA) filed a request to intervene in a lawsuit initiated by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce that threatens to fundamentally undermine the Spills Law—a bedrock environmental and public health protection that keeps Wisconsinites safe from exposure to PFAS and other hazardous substances.
The lawsuit was filed in February by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and Leather Rich, Inc., who are suing the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in an effort to limit the agency’s ability to investigate environmental contamination and require responsible parties to clean up contaminated sites.
MEA’s request to intervene was filed in Waukesha County Circuit Court on behalf of a group of environmental and public health advocates who are seeking to participate in the case in order to defend their interests and the interests of their members.
The group includes Citizens for a Clean Wausau, Clean Water Action Council of Northeast Wisconsin, River Alliance of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Environmental Health Network and Doug Oitzinger, a former mayor of Marinette.
“WMC’s agenda prioritizes industry profits at the expense of public health and natural resources,” said Tony Wilkin Gibart, Executive Director of Midwest Environmental Advocates. “MEA filed a motion to intervene on behalf of our clients because we refuse to sit by while WMC attempts to dismantle one of Wisconsin’s most significant environmental and public health protections.”
Doug Oitzinger, a former mayor of the City of Marinette, said, “We’re not talking about theoretical legal arguments here. The court’s decision will have real-world consequences. Under the Spills Law, DNR is providing critical assistance to people in Marinette, Peshtigo, La Crosse and other communities devastated by PFAS contamination. If WMC prevails, that assistance would vanish—the required well testing, the orders for cleanup and remediation—it would all come to a halt. No other law gives DNR the authority to address PFAS pollution.”
“The outcome of this case could have implications for virtually every community in the state, not just those facing PFAS contamination,” said Tom Kilian of Citizens for a Clean Wausau. “Here in Wausau, the Spills Law has enabled us to address industrial contamination that impacts residential areas, public parks, and the Wisconsin River. Without the Spills Law, we’d have no legal recourse for holding polluters accountable. Everyday people would be forced to figure out how to deal with soil and water contamination on their own."
“Our request to intervene in this case is about defending the legal protections that keep Wisconsin families safe,” said Beth Neary, M.D., Co-President of Wisconsin Environmental Health Network. “Responding to hazardous substance spills and cleaning up contaminated soil and groundwater is critical to protecting public health.”
Allison Werner, Executive Director of River Alliance of Wisconsin, said, “Preserving the integrity of the Spills Law is crucial to DNR’s ability to protect Wisconsin’s rivers and lakes. WMC’s assault on the Spills Law is a significant threat to Wisconsin’s water resources, to public health, and to all the sectors of our economy—including tourism and agriculture—that rely on clean water.“When it comes to regulating PFAS and other toxic chemicals, we need to move forward, not backward,” said Dean Hoegger, President and Executive Director of Clean Water Action Council of Northeast Wisconsin. “The idea that the Spills Law could be gutted and that we could return to a time when polluters weren’t held accountable for cleaning up contaminated soil and water—it’s unthinkable. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what’s at stake in this lawsuit.”
2. The threat of metallic mining near the Boundary Waters (BWCA) in Minnesota continues to worry those who care about these precious waters, rich in beauty, wildlife, and fish.
We in Oneida County are not alone in the fight to keep sulfide metallic mining from ruining our water-rich areas. Along with Minnesota's Boundary Waters, remains the ongoing battle with Aquila's Back 40 Mine that threatens the Menominee River on the border between Michigan and Wisconsin. Read this MinnPost article to better understand the issues.
Read what this community voice has to say:
Sulfide copper and nickel mining should never be attempted on the boarder of the BWCA
By Chris Baldwin
As a lifelong engineer and miner and a native Minnesotan, I feel it is my duty to say this. The threat to the BWCA from a mine like what Twin Metals is proposing could be devastating under current best mining practices, and in my considered opinion, too risky to be allowed.
As a mining engineer and graduate from the Colorado School of Mines, I dedicated my career to extracting minerals to support a modern society. Now my engineering and operating experience in 12 different open pit and underground salt, iron, uranium, and gold mines across the U.S. over the past 45 years, tells me Minnesotans should be deeply concerned about the long-term impacts for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) watershed if the sulfide-copper and nickel minerals of the geologic Duluth Complex of northern Minnesota are mined according to the proposed Twin Metals mine plan. Continue reading.
3. Myth Busting: Four Myths about PolyMet, Twin Metals and the Green Economy
By Pete Marshall
May 24, 2021
Many who love the Boundary Waters and Lake Superior, who oppose copper-sulfide mining in favor of a clean-water future, are troubled by the fact that as a society, we rely on the metals Twin Metals and PolyMet seek to extract. Copper and nickel are vital to a 21st century lifestyle. In particular, these metals are needed for windmills, electric cars, and solar panels. They are essential to a green energy future. This has become a favorite argument from the mining companies and their allies. Ironically, many who make this argument deny climate change.
Though this may be a disingenuous stance, it does need to be addressed.
First, it’s important to acknowledge that copper and nickel are a necessary part of the United States building a green future. However, the urgent need for these metals is grossly overstated.
What’s more, getting these metals through traditional mining methods is an expensive, dirty, inefficient and unnecessary way to extract these metals. Looking at the data, we decided to dispel four persistent myths about the green economy and copper-sulfide mining in Minnesota. Continue reading.
By Eric Rempala
More towns adopt the sulfide mining resolution
March 24, 2021--Karl Fate and I attended three town board meetings in the past week. The towns of Stella, Crescent, and Pine Lake all were holding votes on adopting Karl's resolution on sulfide mining. All three towns voted unanimously to adopt said resolution. We thank all three towns for their professionalism and for their foresight in protecting Oneida County's water.
These three towns now join the City of Rhinelander and the towns of Lynne, Nokomis, Cassian, Newbold and Lake Tomahawk in adopting our resolution. The town of Schoepke has committed to having us out when they feel Covid will permit.
Karl and I will continue to solicit remaining towns to have our presentation added to their town agenda's. If your town has yet to adopt our resolution, and you would like them to consider it we recommend you contact your town board to ask to have us present. You can read the resolution on our mining issues page.
As always, if you have any questions, please contact myself or Karl Fate. You may also contact us at Oneida County Clean Waters Action by using the Contact Form on the Contact Us page.Thank you for your interest in preserving our clean waters!
Rhinelander City Council approves resolution
Feb. 9, 2021--Last night the City of Rhinelander voted unanimously with one abstention to adopt a town-specific resolution opposing sulfide mining in our water-rich area.
In the language there is the request to repeal Act 134. This was adapted from Karl Fate's resolution stating the same. Rhinelander joins the towns of Lynne, Newbold, Lake Tomahawk, Cassian, and Nokomis in adopting this resolution.
The resolution is also being considered in the town of Piehl and will be presented to the towns of Stella, Crescent, and Pine Lake in the coming weeks, with the town of Schoepke committing to have it on a future agenda.
We at Oneida County Clean Waters Action thank Rhinelander and the towns who have adopted our resolution for their consideration and foresight in protecting our most valuable resource: the clean waters of Oneida County's lakes and rivers.
Open Letter to the Rhinelander City Council
Jan. 26, 2021--On behalf of Oneida County Clean Waters Action, I would like to thank you for your time and consideration on our resolution submission. We respect the fact that you chose to delay the vote for the reason to obtain input from your constituents. We understand that due to Covid this process becomes that more difficult. If any of your residents would like more information on our presentation, please direct them to this website.
We would also like to provide you with the results of the Nov 6, 2018, referendum on the Lynne deposit, which we feel is a clear indication of your city's position on metallic sulfide mining. Note that a no vote was a vote opposed to mining in Lynne.
Aldermanic District Yes No % No
AD 1 142 211 60%
AD 2 115 236 67%
AD 3 116 217 65%
AD 4 122 190 61%
AD 5 172 322 65%
AD 6 135 216 62%
AD 7 100 230 70%
AD 8 145 204 58%
The Lynne site is located 34 miles west of Rhinelander. Since this referendum two years ago, drilling has occurred this summer in the town of Schoepke, which is just east of Rhinelander and much closer than Lynne.
We urge you to consider the environmental effects of this type of mining in this water-rich area that we live in. Acid Mine Drainage and heavy metal leaching into lakes, rivers, and aquifers could damage hunting, fishing, and tourism for hundreds of years.
Remember that mining is a boom-and-bust industry, around only until the mine is exhausted. One only needs to look to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to see what happens to mining towns when the mines go away. For these reasons we urge you to consider adopting our resolution. Rhinelander will benefit far more from tourism and second home-residents who come for the beauty of the Northwoods and especially our clean waters, not to be found anywhere else. That is where we will see our greatest economic rewards.
Thank you for your careful consideration of this important issue.
Town of Nokomis and Town of Newbold adopt sulfide mining resolution
Oct. 22, 2020--Karl Fate and I attended the Cassian town board meeting this month and gave our presentation. The board was friendly and accommodating. Our information was well received and the board had numerous questions. Karl and I were pleased that the board showed a good knowledge of mining issues and we are hopeful that Cassian will consider our information and vote to adopt the resolution.
The Town of Nokomis has adopted our resolution. The board listened to our presentation at their September board meeting and was very aware of the environmental impact of sulfide mining, given their proximity to the Willow Flowage, an area threatened in 2018 by a proposed sulfide mine. We thank them for their hospitality.
The Town of Newbold also has passed our resolution, with slight modification, making it more town-specific. Our meeting with them went extremely well. What a terrific bunch of warm and welcoming people, with great interest in protecting their water.
An update on the Town of Schoepke meeting: we had been on their agenda for October but they notified us that we had been removed over concerns that because of Covid too many people might crowd into the town hall building. The town clerk was accommodating and they have offered to put us back on when they feel it will be safer.
The Town of Lake Tomahawk will put us on their agenda for the Nov. 11 meeting. Kudos to Eileen Lonsdorf for meeting with Lake Tomahawk's chairman George DeMet and explaining our presentation.
The Town of Minocqua has been sent all our information and we are hoping to be added to the agenda of a future board meeting. Anyone who is a resident of Minocqua can contact the town board and ask that we be added. Help is always appreciated!
Our request to be added to a board meeting at the Town of Woodruff is on hold because of Covid concerns, according to town chairman Mike Timmons.
The Town of Three Lakes has been contacted and board chaiman Jeff Bruss has told us that he did not feel mining was an issue for his town. We have sent him some information that we hoped to convince him that may not be true, but he has yet to reply. I'm afraid if a town chairman refuses to hear our presentation there is not much more we can do, other than ask the town residents to speak up and request that we be added to an agenda.
Karl and I will be attending the Rhinelander City Council meeting Mon., Oct. 26, to request that we be added to their next meeting. All our information has been sent to the mayor and city council members, and if one chooses to have us added we should be in line for the following meeting. Any Hodag love would be appreciated!
On a sour note: Karl and I attended the Hazelhurst Town Hall to ask to be added to their November agenda. Chairman Ted Cushing was not receptive. In fact, this was the worst reception we have been given by any town. Mr. Cushing apparently had a preconceived idea of what we were presenting and immediately said he was not interested. Funny thing: Karl was a few minutes late and by the time he got there, it was all over. We found it curious that a chairman who represented a town whose citizens voted 74 per cent against mining at Lynne, had no interest in our presentation. Karl did send a cordial follow-up email but has yet to hear back.
I would like to thank County Supervisor Jim Winkler for his support. He asked to have our resolution brought up at a Conservation and UW Extension committee meeting, which I gratefully attended. Mr. Winkler was very supportive of our work, which is no surprise as he is a staunch supporter of protecting the waters of our Northwoods.
Finally, I would like to address those following us at OCCWA and are Oneida county residents or landowners: We are a small group of grassroots, boots on the ground volunteers who have experience in protecting our water-rich area from the toxic damage of sulfide mining. Many of us cut our teeth with The Protect the Willow action. Karl Fate, who has been involved in these issues since the 1980s, is our backbone. His knowledge of mining and its legislation both past and present is the engine that drives us.
We are working hard to protect our water, but we can't do it without the people of Oneida County. So, we ask you to follow our website, share our information, share your concerns with your elected officials, and join us in protecting Oneida County's water!
Note: You can read the 2020 Resolution on the Mining Issues page.
ACTION YOU CAN TAKE TO SAVE THE WOLF RIVER FROM TOXIC METALLIC SULFIDE MINING:
Right now the Wisconsin DNR is revising the rules that govern where mining can happen. You can send a simple email, text or make a phone call to the government officials in charge of writing the rules.
All your message has to say is: Please make sure that you specifically list the Wolf River Region as being off-limits to mining in the rule-making process.
The DNR has spent millions of dollars protecting the Wolf River Region from pollution. No other human activity has the ability to ruin the entire Wolf River Watershed more than metallic sulfide mining.
There is a short period of time in which the DNR is rewriting the rules surrounding mining. This is the time to have your concerns be heard. If you live, work or play in the Wolf River Basin, 100 per cent of the clean drinking water you and your family consume comes from groundwater supplied by the Wolf River Watershed.
You can make a difference by contacting the following people and letting them know you want the Wolf River specifically listed in the rules as being off-limits to mining. Tell your family and friends to do the same. It is important to contact all the people listed as they all play an important role in rule making.
If you have newspaper and media contacts tell them that it is vital Governor Evers and DNR Secretary Preston Cole make sure the Wolf River is protected from mining.
Oct. 13, 2020--Mining company Badger Minerals has dropped plans for further exploratory drilling at a site in rural Oneida County near the headwaters of the Wolf River, according to reports from WXPR and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Badger Minerals wrapped up a round of minor test drilling at the end of June as it sought to determine whether the wooded land in the town of Schoepke contained enough valuable sulfide minerals such as gold and silver to warrant a mining operation there. The prospect of a sulfide mine in the largely pristine Northwoods worried nearby landowners and environmentalists who feared pollution from such an operation would have negative impacts on the ecology along the Wolf River and beyond....
However, Badger Minerals owns other land in the area and plans to continue mining exploration in Oneida County and elsewhere “within the region,” wrote Eric Quigley, Badger Minerals’ senior geologist. Read the story at Up North News.
METALLIC SULFIDE MINING IN ONEIDA COUNTY
Position Statement of the Oneida County Lakes and Rivers Association
The mission of the Oneida County Lakes and Rivers Association is to protect and preserve the quality and riparian habitat of our county’s inland waters. Accordingly, OCLRA and its lake association and individual members will strongly oppose any project that presents a significant threat to our surface waters or groundwater, whether from mining, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) or any other source.
Our organization will use science-based evidence to inform the public of such threats and will use media outlets, public meetings and other channels to distribute information to Oneida County property owners. Preserving the quality of our lakes, rivers, and streams for today and for the future is paramount in sustaining our economy, aesthetics and way of life for our citizens.
The proposal by Badger Minerals to conduct test drillings for sulfide minerals in the Town of Schoepke, in the headwaters area of the Wolf River, has again raised serious concern about the environmental impacts of mining in this lake-rich region of Wisconsin. We believe that any sulfide mining proposal in our county must undergo regulatory review with the utmost care and with the requirement that the protection of our water resources is the paramount consideration.
In 2018, more than 62% of Oneida County voters opposed a proposal for a sulfide mine upstream of the Willow Flowage, which is of regional significance. The Wolf River, meanwhile, is a waterway of statewide importance and extremely significant to the Menominee Nation downstream. Both of these are recognized by the State of Wisconsin as Outstanding Resource Waters; the Wolf is also a federally recognized Wild and Scenic River.
Furthermore, Oneida County has 1,129 lakes encompassing 106.95 square miles; 222,600 acres of wetlands covering 347.81 square miles (28.2%) of the county; and more than 800 miles of rivers and streams, many home to naturally reproducing trout populations.
Leaving aside their incalculable recreational, cultural and aesthetic values, these water resources form the backbone of the Oneida County economy. In 2019, the county’s resi- dential waterfront properties were assessed at $4.2 billion, representing 73% of total assessed value and generating $85.5 million of property tax revenue. In addition, maintaining the health of the lakes and rivers is crucial to the tourism and recreational economy on which the county depends: Visitors to the county annually spend some $229 million at hundreds of resorts, stores, restaurants, hotels and numerous other local businesses.
The mineral deposits in Oneida County are associated with ancient rocks of volcanic origin. These deposits were buried under thick layers of glacial drift and water when the glaciers receded. Our lakes, streams, and wetlands are intimately connected to the water contained in this glacial material. The pumping required to keep an underground sulfide mine reasonably dry has potential to reduce surrounding lake and groundwater levels, reduce stream flows, and impair wetland function.
Furthermore, these deposits contain minerals that are compounds of metal and sulfur; the mining and milling of the metallic ore creates an enormous amount of waste material (tailings) which, if not properly stored, will become exposed to air and water. This leads to acid drainage that, as experience with numerous sulfide mines has shown, can damage downstream waters and decimate fisheries for hundreds of years. High costs to repair such damage often fall upon the public, long after the mining concerns have profited and left town.
In recent years, Wisconsin’s mining regulations have been significantly changed in ways designed to make it easier for mining companies to receive permits and run their operations. The concern is that these changes have come at the expenses of local public involvement and the protection of lakes, streams, wetlands, groundwater, and the environment in general.
The future of Oneida County depends on protecting our water resources now and for generations to come. We appreciate that metallic mining is an essential industry that if conducted responsibly can bring economic benefits in jobs and tax revenue. However, those considerations can never override the importance of maintaining the scenic, environmental and economic value of the county’s waters. Any mine that threatens those values has no place in Oneida County.
OCLRA's Mission Statement
To protect Oneida County waters and habitats through: *Education *Collaboration *Advocacy
Published with permission from OCLRA.org
Sept. 30, 2020--Badger Minerals won’t pursue further sulfide mining exploration at a site in eastern Oneida County, the company told WXPR. The site is near the Wolf River.
In June, the company drilled six holes at the site in the town of Schoepke, a first step to determining whether the area could be a good place for a sulfide mine. Profitable sulfide minerals include gold, silver, lead, zinc, and copper. Badger Minerals had the option to buy the land from a private landowner if the results looked promising. But Badger Minerals geologist Eric Quigley told WXPR the results of the drilling program “were not considered significant enough to justify the purchase.” Continue reading the story by Ben Meyer at WXPR.org.
In a second story posted at WXPR.org, Katie Thoresen reports on the reaction to Badger Minerals' decision from a neighboring landowner and from members of two neighboring Native American tribes, the Sokaogon Chippewa Community and the Menominee Tribe.
The Wolf River
Photo by Ben Meyer of WXPR
Report by Eric Rempala
Lincoln County, Wisconsin
Sept. 30, 2020--For the past few weeks Karl Fate of Oneida County and I have been making in-person presentations to the town boards in Oneida County, asking them to review and formally endorse the Oneida County Clean Waters Action 2020 Resolution (see above). Here's how our efforts are doing so far:
Town of Newbold: Karl and I had an excellent presentation with the Town of Newbold on Sept 24. The town board was very receptive. It didn't take much time to present as their board members seemed to have a pretty good grasp of mining issues and their consequences . Mr. Kroll, town chairman, said that he would prepare a town specific resolution to be considered on Oct 8.
Town of Pelican: The board was receptive to our information and did have some working knowledge of the mining issue. We provided updated information on what was going on in Schoepke. They told us they would make copies of the resolution and discuss it. Another visit or email contact may be required.
Town Of Little Rice: County Board Supervisor Allen VanRaalte was present on another matter and we discussed the Resolution and objectives. Karl and I gave our pitch and were treated well by the board. However, there was no discussion between us and the board; they took our information, thanked us and moved on, which was disappointing. With a 75 percent No vote on the Town of Lynne referendum, their neighboring town, we had expected more interest. Another visit or email contact may be required.
Town of Lynne: This third presentation was a big win. Tom Jerow attended also. The Town of Lynne was very receptive to our Resolution. In fact, they had already voted and approved it in a previous meeting and had simply failed to notify us. There was productive conversation between us, the board and the town people in attendance. Updates were given and information exchanged. We were all on the same page, and many warm thanks were exchanged among us.
Town of Nokomis: An encouraging level of interest in our presentation was shown by the board and the discussion went well. Alan VanRaalte was there for another issue and spoke in support of our resolution. The board confirmed that they will vote on our Resolution at the next meeting and they expect it to be passed.
Town of Schoepke: At their board meeting, along with a cover letter and copy of our resolution, I gave a brief description of our intent, and they appeared receptive. I presented them a cover letter and copy of our Resolution, asking it to be added to their agenda for the next meeting. Their rules do not allow discussion until the item is posted to their agenda.
Going forward: We have been added to the agenda in the Town of Cassian for October, and have sent emails asking to present the Resolution to Hazelhurst and Crescent. Minocqua and Three Lakes are on the near horizon, as is Rhinelander and Woodboro. We also will be presenting the Resolution this month to OCLRA -- Oneida County Lakes and Rivers Association.
If you would like to attend or offer any assistance with our upcoming meetings with Town boards, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Goal: to avoid this happening in our lake-rich region.
By Jonathon Sadowski, Up North News Wisconsin
July 1, 2020--Ronald Zabler considers his family’s property in rural southeastern Oneida County to be “sacred land.”
Zabler’s grandfather bought 80 acres of secluded wilderness in the county upon returning from World War II. The area, just off the Wolf River, has remained pristine ever since. But the family’s sacred land — and the lakes and waterways in the massive Wolf River watershed — may be tainted, Zabler fears, by a potential sulfide mining operation next door.
“When you start disrupting one little system, it snowballs into other things affected,” said Zabler, a self-described anti-mine activist, conservationist, and former plumber who is out of work due to injury.
Badger Minerals, a Michigan-based subsidiary of a Canadian mining corporation, is currently wrapping up some minor test-drilling adjacent to the Zabler property to help determine whether the company will propose a full sulfide mining operation for gold, silver, and other minerals. Continue reading.
A so-called "mud pit" in Oneida County at an exploratory drilling site.
By Ron James
Langlad County, WI
June 17, 2020--Residents of Northern Wisconsin are waking up to the concern about a project that is advancing in the region through which the Wolf River flows. We fear that this venture will harm our drinking water, our health, our property value, our outdoor recreation (hunting and fishing), and our regional and cultural values. We also realize that this project is of statewide concern. The negative impact of this project will affect Wisconsin as a whole.
This week several local television and radio stations covered the story of how Badger Minerals, a subsidiary of a Canadian company, began digging up wooded areas without any warning given to local property owners. Two local politicians visited the site to talk with the property owners. Ed Vocke is running for Wisconsin Senate District 12, and Kirk Bangstad is a candidate for the Assembly 34th district. Listen to what they have to say about this unannounced incursion on one of the state's most beautiful regions at Wausau's WAOW. Rhinelander's WJFW reported on the reaction of the owners near the torn-up land.
The DNR’s Website shows a mining project referred to as the ‘Schoepke Site’ under the ‘metallic mining’ area. The Schoepke Site gets its name from the Township where the metallic sulfide deposits are known to exist. Previous exploration has confirmed the presence of copper and zinc in the region. Schoepke is located in the southeastern most corner of Oneida County, where Oneida, Forest and Langlade Counties meet. The Wolf River begins at the south end of Pine Lake in adjoining Forest County. The Wolf River’s source is approximately 10-miles up-river from the location of the mineral deposits in Schoepke. The area is high in elevation and mostly consistent in topography (flat). Water tends to be retained in what can be referred to as an ‘upland-wetland’. Maps often show this area as ‘swampy’. All of the flowing streams eventually connect to the Wolf River to form the beginning of the ‘Wolf River Watershed’. This is an environmentally sensitive area.
According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and National Park Service, Wisconsin has 57,000 miles of rivers, yet only two are designated as National Scenic Rivers – the Wolf River being one of them. Of those 57,000 miles, only 276 miles are designated as Wild And Scenic – the Wolf River is part of just ½ of 1% of the water with this unique designation. The Wolf River is the third longest river in Wisconsin. The DNR lists the Wolf River Basin as 3,700 square miles in size. The Wolf River has many other special designations from various organizations. It is one of our states precious gems.
The Wolf River is the defining natural feature in northeastern Wisconsin. It flows for 225 miles through 8 (eight) counties, then into Lake Winnebago, northward up the Fox River, through Green Bay, and eventually Lake Michigan. It is the basis of a big part of the economy. Tens of thousands of jobs depend on the Wolf River. It is unthinkable to jeopardize all this for the short term benefit of a foreign-owned mining company. But that is exactly what is happening right now. No Wisconsin company needs the minerals that will be mined. America doesn’t need the minerals that will be mined. There is an abundance of scrap metal that American companies utilize as base material. The minerals will be shipped off to Eastern Asia for their industrial benefit. Where is the American patriotism in such a plan?
A current example of the damage sulfide mining can do to an area is the 2015 toxic spill on the Animas River near Durango, Colorado. A 100-year abandoned sulfide mine ruptured its sulfuric acid buildup and killed off everything for hundreds of miles as it ran through four western states. Since that happened very recently, the internet has numerous videos and pictures of the environmental devastation. Watch them and see a prediction of what Wisconsin is in store for.
Sulfide mining always causes un-repairable environmental damage. There is no possible way to bring the target minerals to the surface of the earth without also releasing sulfuric acid. It took millions of years for the sulfuric acid to be buried deep enough for life to thrive on the surface of the earth. When disturbed, the sulfuric acid (same as battery acid) loosens up mercury, arsenic, lead, and cadmium. That host of toxins gets into trout, walleye and whitetail deer tissue (and every other animal that depends on the water) that we then eat. And that is how sulfide mining poisons the human inhabitants of the region. And the disturbed poisonous substances plague the region for hundreds (if not thousands) of years. Unfortunately, though we may wish it not so, environmental damage from sulfide mining is in Wisconsin’s future.
There are a few concerned residents who are sounding the alarm and trying to bring statewide awareness to the issue. It surely is a statewide issue of ultimate importance. When the inevitable damage happens, it will be a heavy financial burden that every Wisconsin taxpayer will be called upon to pay for. When the Wolf River becomes associated as “that polluted river,” no one will want to live in the region and businesses will fail. We have limited resources, while the mineral company and the out-of-state forestland owner who have partnered, seem to have the upper hand as they continue to successfully move the project through the permitting process.
The DNR is responsible for protecting Wisconsin’s Natural Resources. The protection of those resources is inseparably associated with the health and value of our entire state. An unequivocally proven environmentally damaging project in the northeastern part of Wisconsin is currently underway that goes contrary to protecting all things we hold dear. Write to the DNR and let them know that they must do their job and protect our precious resources, of which the Wolf River is one of our very best.
Badger Minerals clear-cut this area to do its core drilling. The adjacent owners were not notified.
By Ron James
Langlade County, WI
June 6, 2020--Wolf River metallic sulfide mining–exploration drilling commenced June 1.
The Wolf River is under threat. Badger Minerals, a subsidiary of a Canadian mining company, is conducting exploratory drilling to determine the extent to which valuable minerals exist, and could use this information to construct a metallic sulfide mine. The Wisconsin DNR website has sulfide mining information and company documents specifically related to the Schoepke site. The mineral deposit is located in the headwaters area of the Wolf River in Forest, Oneida, and Langlade Counties.
The Wolf River flows through eight counties, and more than 30 townships before it drains into Lake Winnebago, then flows onward to the Fox River, Green Bay, and ultimately Lake Michigan. Twenty-five percent of the water in Lake Michigan gets its start in the Wolf-Fox Watershed. Millions of people depend on the Wolf River for clean drinking water whether they know it or not.
The Wolf River is the defining natural feature in northeastern Wisconsin. Thousands of people rely on the Wolf River for business and employment livelihood, for hunting, fishing and recreation, and for cultural and regional identity. This is particularly true for the Menominee Nation and Sokaogon Chippewa—the original people of Wisconsin—who have developed lifeways associated with the river for thousands of years.
The river plays a major role in the $5 billion in wages paid to the 168,000 direct jobs in the Wisconsin outdoor recreation economy. This sector of the economy generates $18 billion in consumer spending and more than $1 billion in state and local revenue, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. The Wolf River pays for schools, roads, infrastructure, and helps lower taxes.
Sulfide mining always causes irreparable damage and is the most expensive taxpayer-funded liability under the EPA’s Superfund cleanup program. What part of this economy are residents of Wisconsin willing to sacrifice to benefit foreign-owned mining companies that ship their workers in—to ship out our valuable minerals and cause environmental damage?
We categorically refuse to allow this to happen to our lands and waters.
That is why, on June 1, a group of concerned citizens, taxpayers, and local Native communities congregated to witness the start of sulfide mining exploration in the headwaters of the Wolf River. The Mole Lake Sokaogon Chippewa community would be impacted first and worst by this potential mine, which is why we gathered at the Mole Lake Casino and from there, drove to the mine exploration site entrances on Browns Road and Meister-Stockley Road. At the mine site we gathered to witness, and show our opposition to, the beginning of the destructive process of metallic sulfide mining in the environmentally sensitive headwaters of the Wolf River.
To learn more about this mining project, visit the DNR's information sheet. Badger Minerals, LLC (a subsidiary of Can-American Minerals, Inc of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada) is doing exploration to evaluate the mineral potential of the area. The three planned drilling sites are located on private parcels owned by Badger Minerals and Heartwood Forestland Group. evaluate the mineral potential of the area.
This project will negatively affect property values and business livelihood all along the 3,700-square mile Wolf River Basin. When the mining company leaves the area, Wisconsin taxpayers will have to pay for the cleanup.
By Karl Fate
April 25, 2020--Eric Rempala, Ron James, and I went out to the Upper Stockley Creek area to see what is going on there. [See story below about Badger Minerals's license to drill.]
We saw a great amount of activity in that area. A lot of logging has been done and was occurring at the time. Unfortunately, it appeared to be all clear cut. We also noted a great deal of road work had been done.
We did not find any proposed drill sites, but we were at least close to the “rabbit” sites.
Ron saw a leatherwood, which are small understory scrubs, and we came upon an awesome population of them in a hardwood forest. Should that area be clear cut, its character will be changed forever-- not my idea of sound forestry practices.
We did see many flags, stakes, and markings, some in a north-south orientation. These may, or may not be related to the exploration plan.
The bottom line is that we got a start, but there is much work needed to become familiar with the area. The next time I will copy the locations of the proposed sites onto all of my maps.
Here is a photo of Stockley Creek that Badger Minerals identifies as their “Northern Water Source.”
By Ron James
April 22, 2020, Rhinelander—This afternoon the Oneida County Planning & Development Committee held a meeting in the Oneida County Courthouse. There were a few in-person attendees and approximately 20 attendees who participated by phone. About 60 written comment letters and emails were received from the community prior to the meeting.
The item on today’s agenda, “Discussion/decision concerning an exploration license for Badger minerals in the Town of Schoepke, Oneida County” was the issue that generated all the public comment.
An announcement in early February that a Canadian-owned mineral company had been granted an exploratory drilling license in the Headwaters of the Wolf River by the DNR was the preceding factor that required the Planning & Development Committee to take up the issue.
The county officials tabulating the comments indicated that all the comments received (except for one from a mineral company employee) were against approving exploration that might lead to a sulfide mine being constructed.
In an odd sequence of scheduling the meeting’s agenda, the Public Comment opportunity was actually scheduled and carried out after the five-person committee had already unanimously approved the three points to allow Badger Minerals to begin drilling.
The Committee voted to approve the exploration license based on it being an allowed activity (or “permitted” activity) in the County’s ‘Metallic Mineral Exploration, Bulk Sampling and Mining’ section of the ‘Oneida County Zoning and Shoreland Protection Ordinance’. This section was revised in 2018 in response to the 2017 Wisconsin Act 134 mining law that Wisconsin Sen. Tom Tiffany was responsible for authoring and which Gov. Scott Walker signed into law.
The reasoning of the Oneida County officials was that since the county’s ordinance seemed to allow exploration for sulfide minerals, and that the DNR had already approved a license for Badger Minerals, the committee had no other choice but to approve the County’s portion of the permitting process.
This committee-level action does not require approval by the full Oneida County Board. The construction of a metallic sulfide mine in the Headwaters area of the Wolf River moves one step closer to becoming a reality.
Wisconsin Leadership Development (WiLD) Project announces a short documentary highlighting the organizing story of the Protect the Willow group’s successful campaign to halt risky sulfide mining in northern Wisconsin.
Update: More good news!
Nov. 15, 2019--Earlier this fall, after a wait of nearly a year, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the plaintiffs from Carlin Lake. Furthermore, the bottling company (Carlin Club Properties—CCP) so far has not applied to bring the appellate court decision to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Then, yesterday, according to WXPR, this happened: "A Vilas County committee rejected Trig Solberg’s attempt to collect water from a well in Presque Isle for commercial bottling. Over a span of nearly five years, Solberg’s group has been blocked time and again by judges, boards, and administrators. It wants to take water from near rural Carlin Lake, bottle it, and sell it in stores. Solberg is the founder of Trig’s supermarkets. But, by a 4-0 vote, the Vilas County Board of Adjustment rejected the plan. The vote came after more than two hours of closed-session discussion." Continue reading the story at https://www.wxpr.org/post/yet-again-board-rejects-plan-solberg-s-company-pump-transport-water-near-carlin-lake#stream/0
Mine on Wisconsin border would use approach that has resulted in 46 catastrophic failures in last 20 years.
By Al Gedicks
For the communities downstream from the proposed Back Forty open pit mine on the Michigan-Wisconsin border, the threat of a massive release of toxic mine waste into the Menominee River is a nightmare scenario. Why would Wisconsin and Michigan residents put up with what Brazil will not? After a catastrophic mine tailings dam collapse in Brumadinho, Brazil killed 270 people in January of 2019 Brazil not only banned that design for future mines, but mandated that every existing mine tailings dam of that design be decommissioned. The dam collapse was the world’s deadliest in more than 50 years.
The State prohibits filling in dry lake beds, for a good reason:
Like the lake beds at the Lynne Mineral site, in wet years they become really wet lakes.
The Colorado Gold King sulfide mine spilled 3 million gallons of wastewater into the Animas and San Juan Rivers in 2015.
Is sulfide mining really safe? This short video produced by the Wisconsin River Alliance may help you decide whether it's right or not for your community.
Wisconsin's Waters Belong to Everyone
Wisconsin lakes and rivers are public resources, owned in common by all Wisconsin citizens under the state's Public Trust Doctrine. Based on the state constitution, this doctrine has been further defined by case law and statute. It declares that all navigable waters are "common highways and forever free", and held in trust by the Department of Natural Resources.
Assures Public Rights in Waters
Wisconsin citizens have pursued legal and legislative action to clarify or change how this body of law is interpreted and implemented. Go to the Wisconsin Department of Resources website to watch videos on how individual Wisconsinites have benefited from these efforts.