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.
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.
Ed Vocke of Minocqua is the Democratic nominee for the 12th District Wisconsin Senate race. He will run against Mary Felzkowski for the seat formerly occupied by Tom Tiffany in the Nov. 3 election.
Vocke is an environmentalist who is campaigning with a five-point platform, the first of which is clean water for Northern Wisconsin. Vocke is dedicated to preserving our abundant fresh water natural resources. Once elected, he says, he will fight to repeal Wisconsin’s Act 134, ushered into legislation in 2017 by Tom Tiffany. Known as the “Mining for America” law, Act 134 did away with the state’s Prove It First law, which had protected Wisconsin for 20 years from any company receiving a permit for sulfide mining that could not prove that sulfide mining would not contaminate land or water for up to 10 years afer the mine was closed.
Vocke walks the talk of his environmentalism. His wife and young son live on an off-grid, sustainable 100-acre forest homestead along the Tomahawk River. “I saw the trajectory of where things were headed,” he explains, referring to the challenges of increased carbon dioxide emissions that are changing the climate, and the weakening of protective environmental laws. He wanted to set up a homestead-style farm with systems in place for protecting the environment and with wells that access clean water. “And I would like to keep it that way,” he says.
Through his work as a consultant to farm-to-fork restaurants in Wisconsin, the 34-year-old has acquired an ethic for sustainable agriculture and preservation of our natural resources. “Food is tied to water,” he says. “To have a healthy population, healthy food is the first line of defense. You need to have the ability to procure fresh food. And for that you need clean water.”
What motivated him to run for office, he says, was watching Tom Tiffany in action these past four years and how he did nothing to help the local farmers and businesses who have been struggling ever since tariffs were raised for Canada and China in food purchases. “We need legislation that will help local farmers to be able to sell directly to the consumer, instead of enabling the large conglomerates from outside a district to control the market,” he says.
His platform includes other reforms for helping farmers and small-business people, while preserving our natural environment. “I want to see an expansion of the Badgercare and Medicaid Programs so that all citizens, regardless of employment status, are wholly covered and entitled to health insurance in Wisconsin,” he says.
He will push for rural broadband access to provide infrastructure to Northern Wisconsin, “for students, employers and citizens, so no one is left out or left behind," he explains.
Vocke says he will push for non-partisan redistricting, to end the gerrymandering that has denied fair representation to the majority of voters in Wisconsin, and to honor what the majority of voters in the recent primary have expressed their wish for.
Vocke also feels passionate about how the Republicans in the state legislature have stripped local counties and municipalities from maintaining control over budgetary issues and local land and water ordinances. “They did this to homogenize each county so that outside corporate interests do not have to deal with a patchwork of county and municipal laws,” he says. “This has created austerity measures and funding crises as local communities try to keep up their roads and infrastructure, resulting in taxpayer subsidies to the same large corporations under the guise of ‘economic opportunity.’”
As for his opponent, “Mary Felzkowski, like Tom Tiffany,” he points out, “follows the Koch Brothers’ ALEC program, which reduces funding for public education, removes local control, and favors funding large transnational corporations like FoxConn, which do nothing for us in the northern part of the state. It should be us deciding which industries we taxpayers want to fund.”
Vocke sees his youth as an advantage. “I’ve been connecting with young people. Actually, it’s the number one reason why I started this campaign — to leave things better than I found it, and to inspire other young people to work for change. We’re connecting the bridge between the older generation that has fought for the environment and policies that support working families, and the younger people who want to continue this fight.”
More information about Ed Vocke can be found on his Facebook page.
Ed Vocke is running for the District 12 Wisconsin Senate seat, formerly occupied by Tom Tiffany.
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.
Whereas, Oneida County is an extremely water rich part of Wisconsin, with over 1,100 lakes, and with nearly 38% of its surface comprised of lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands, totaling over 463 square miles, and
Whereas, there are three known sulfide deposits in Oneida County that are associated with ancient rock formations of volcanic origin, and
Whereas, sulfide deposits contain minerals that are compounds of metal and sulfur, and the process of mining these deposits creates an enormous amount of waste material, when exposed to air and water, create a condition, know as Acid Mine Drainage, that leaches metals from the surrounding environment, and remain a threat to the water resource for hundreds of years, and
Whereas, in Oneida County, these ancient deposits were buried under thick layers of glacial drift and water when the Glaciers receded, and
Whereas, our lakes, streams, and wetlands are intimately connected to the water contained in this glacial material, and In order to keep a sulfide mining operation reasonably dry, the pumping required would reduce lake and water well levels, reduce stream flows, and impair wetland function, and
Whereas, more than 62% of Oneida County voters opposed a sulfide mine upstream of the Willow Flowage, which is of great County, Tribal, and regional significance, and
Whereas, Badger Minerals is planning to conduct exploratory drillings for sulfide minerals, at the Wolf River Deposit, near the upper Wolf River, which is also of great County, Tribal, and regional significance, and
Whereas, the water resources of Oneida County are of profound importance, providing many people that live and work here with sustenance, for generations, from our incredible fisheries, and many others that benefit economically from the folks that come from far and wide to enjoy the scenic beauty of the Northwoods, and
Whereas, the repeal of the Mining Moratorium Law, known as Act 134, eliminates the “Prove it first” provision from the metallic mining law, and also makes groundwater standards non-applicable in certain areas, weakens wetland protections, streamlines approval of bulk sampling, shortens the timeline for review of mine permits, weakens the criteria for the approval of high capacity wells, weakens the public process for the approval of mine permits, eliminates solid waste disposal fees, limits the timeframe for predictive modeling, and limits the timeframe to maintain an irrevocable trust for preventative and remedial activities, and
Whereas, the future of Oneida County depends on keeping our water clean and protecting our lakes, streams, and wetlands.
Now therefore be it resolved that the following Towns, Lake Associations, and Sportfishing groups consider Sulfide Mining to be incompatible with the goals stated above, and ask the Wisconsin State Legislature to repeal Wisconsin 2017 Act 134.
If your group, association or town agrees with this Resolution and would like to endorse it, please contact Karl Fate at email@example.com.
Stockley Creek is surrounded by wetlands that would be destroyed by sulfide mining.
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.