Oneida County citizens criticize Land and Resource Plan

Plan lacks meaningful protection against sulfide mining pollution

June 6, 2019--The public hearing, held June 5 in the Oneida County Courthouse, was sparsely attended. The hearing was a state-mandated feature, part of the required periodic updating process of the county's Land and Resource Management Plan. 


Chairing the hearing were Resource Advisory Chair Bob Mott and co-chair Alan VanRaalte. Also present were Supervisor Jim Winkler of the county's Conservation and UW-Extension Education Committee, and the Plan staff members Fred Heider and Michelle Sadauskas.


After listening to three public comments and reading aloud a comment submitted earlier by email by the Lac du Flambeau Tribe, Mott, VanRaalte and Winkler discussed the merits of the public comments and agreed to ask the staff to do a re-write of the Plan that would reflect the citizens' request for stronger language for protecting wetlands, ground water and lakes from the effects of any potential sulfide mining, and to consider the concerns raised by the Lac Du Flambeau Tribe. The staff's re-write will be discussed at the committee meeting held on Mon, June 24, held in the lower level at the Oneida County Airport.


Below are the four citizen statements made at the hearing.


David Noel

Sugar Camp, Oneida County

Retired engineer


I am here to comment on the April 2019 draft of the 2020 – 2029 Oneida County Land & Water Resource Management Plan.


I want to thank the Resource Advisory Group and the Oneida County Land & Water Conservation Department for developing this comprehensive look at our land & water resources.  I realize that it took many hours of work.  


I applaud their conclusion that the primary goal of this Plan should be to Protect and Enhance Wetlands and Surface Water Quality of Oneida County.


I support their list of overall resource concerns, and want to acknowledge the inclusion and description of the impact of climate change on the natural resources of the Northwoods, especially in the current political environment.  


I was impressed with the comprehensive 5-year Work Plan, the associated action items, and specifically the annual measurement tools and guidelines. 


However….I was disappointed in the lack of concern of the risks of metallic sulfide mining.  


Yes, mining was mentioned in the 5-year work plan, but the plan hardly addresses the substantial risks of metallic sulfide mining.  And, I want to point out that the County’s current mining ordinance will not protect the wetlands and surface waters of Oneida County from acid mine drainage from a metallic sulfide mine, so the plan to “maintain the current ordinance” is meaningless. 


My recommendations:


In Chapter 3, Section A (page 9) under Overall Resource Concerns, I recommend adding a section on the risks of metallic sulfide mining, along with your existing concerns of climate change, invasive species, and insect decline. 


In the 5-Year Work Plan, Goal 1, item G (page 43), I recommend the following changes where the plan currently calls for “Maintain county mining ordnance(s)”:

G.  County metallic mining ordnance. 

1. Create a mining ordinance specific to metallic mining intended to limit environmental impacts within the county.

2. Create a metallic mining ordinance prohibiting metallic mining in County owned forest land, especially within the proposed Lynn wetlands site.

3. Hire an independent mining engineer/geologist with experience in metallic sulfide mine remediation to educate the FLRC, P&DC, and interested Board members on the true long-term impact and cost of metallic mining, especially in the proposed Lynn site.  

4. Keep abreast of impacts of the metallic mining on nearby sites (such as Eagle Mine) as well as the proposed North Forty project in Michigan. 


Here’s why I believe these additions are important. There seems to be a belief by many that modern technology has made metallic mining safe for the environment.  This is not true. Modern mining technology is instead making it easier to mine lower-grade ores, which results in larger amounts of reactive wastes requiring permanent safe disposal.  


The Ladysmith mine is often showcased as a successful metallic mine that did not harm the nearby groundwater.  This is not true.  The Ladysmith mine pit continues to leak reactive sulfuric acid which is detected at nearby monitoring sites.  But…an important point is that Ladysmith was an extremely small mine site, and therefore the copper-sulfide ore was hauled off-site for processing.  There was no on-site storage of the mine tailings.  Therefore this is not a representative example.  


The Eagle Mine in the UP is also showcased as an example of a model metallic mine without a single environmental mishap.  Wrong again.  The State of Michigan advises that the mine has exceeded wastewater chronic toxicity limits multiple times since 2017.  The mine recently caused a chemical spill of sulfuric acid at the processing plant.


My point here is that there has never been a successful, environmentally safe metallic sulfide mine operation in the US.  Never.  Metallic sulfide mining represents a clear and present danger to our wetlands and surface water, and because of this it deserves more attention in this natural resource management plan.


Thank you for allowing me to comment.


                                                               * * *


Eileen Lonsdorf

Lake Tomahawk, Oneida County

Retired nurse


Just four years ago, in 2015, a flood of thick yellow wastewater sludge from the long abandoned Gold King Mine in Silverton Colorado made headlines, as it flowed down the Animas River toward the Navajo nation, farmland, and the Colorado river. Three million gallons of mine waste water and tailings containing cadmium, lead, arsenic, iron, copper, zinc, and other heavy metals, all flowed into the Colorado and San Juan Rivers...affecting four states: Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah.


It is ironic that the damage was actually caused by the EPA. And it is sad and reprehensible that the farmers and Navajo nation that were affected by the toxic Mine spill are still litigating in court against the government for financial compensation.


The reason that I mention this incident here today is because of my concern for a potential duplication in the state of Wisconsin. A spill of toxic mine waste water in Oneida County in the Willow Flowage watershed (where the proposed Lynne mine site is located), would go directly down into the Wisconsin River, and down the Mississippi river until it reached the Atlantic. Many states south of Wisconsin would obviously be affected.


I think this committee should be applauded for its goals. Their goal of protecting and enhancing the wetlands and surface water quality is of tantamount importance for Oneida County. I feel that all actions taken by this committee should be made with this goal in mind.


However, I am very concerned about the lack of language mentioning active and preventative measures regarding Mining in Oneida County. When it comes to preventing damage from waste water in the mining process, I see only passive, watch-and-see-what-happens language in the five-year plan under Item A, on page 42.


For instance, I am concerned about the fact that the Willow Flowage is designated as an Outstanding and Exceptional Resource Water by the State of Wisconsin. These designations require Wisconsin to adopt an anti-degradation policy that is designed to prevent any lowering of water quality, especially in those waters having significant ecological or cultural value. I see no language in the five-year goal plan to institute this protection in Oneida County.


I see that this committee recognizes the extreme susceptibility of groundwater contamination in Oneida County. I see they reflect their knowledge of groundwater being very difficult to purify and taking many years to clean itself up after the contamination. Yet, I see no language in the five-year plan to institute protection of groundwater from potential mine waste water contamination in Oneida County.


I see the committee's recognition of areas of critical environmental sensitivity such as wetlands. My concern is that most known areas of critical environmental sensitivity in Oneida County are managed and regulated at the federal, state and county levels. My concern is that, due to act 134 passed in December 2017, Oneida County may lack the staffing, the finances, and legal methods of local control over controlling damage from outside industry to our wetlands and groundwater.


Case in point would be the environmental protection agency. The EPA is the agency of the federal government responsible for carrying out our nations pollution control laws. It provides technical and financial assistance to reduce and control air, water, and land pollution.


Just ask the people in Durango Colorado about the effectiveness of the EPA. Just ask all the people along the Animas River about the effectiveness of the EPA.


History tends to repeat it self time and time again, unless individual communities learn from mistakes of others.


In closing, I want to thank this committee for all the hard work and environmentally protective goals it has set for it self. My biggest concern, however, is that the committee lacks the tools it needs to implement adequate environmental protection in Oneida County. It needs to fight hard to gain those tools. I think that with more education in our community, we will wake up more people and we will all be able to fight for protecting our rivers, lakes and streams....the reason that we all live here, and the reason our tourism economy is near a $3 million dollar a year industry.


                                                                 * * *


Sarah Juon

Rhinelander, Oneida County

Retired journalist


Under Accomplishments for the 2012-18 Work Plan, it states: “With changes in mining legislation and increased citizen attention to water quality, LWCD expanded mining objectives and activities in their 2020-2024 Work Plan.”


I looked for these expanding mining objectives and activities in the 2020-2024 Work Plan, and found under Goal 1: Protect and enhance wetlands and surface water quality, only this stated objective:


G. Maintain county mining ordinance(s)

1. Maintain working knowledge of mining. FLRC, P&DC….As needed.

2. Stay abreast of new research/policies. LWCD, P&Z…. As needed.

3. Attend workshops/seminars that expand staff knowledge base. LWCD, P&Z….Attend 1 conference/webinar.


In light of the 2018 referendum results on the Lynne mineral deposit issue, in which 62 percent of the Oneida County voters said they did not want a mine at the Lynne site, with what measures does this Plan reflect the voters’ wishes?


The Plan commendably outlines areas of concern for our county. On page 24 it states “Because groundwater seeps more slowly than surface runoff, pollution that occurs today may not become evident for several years. Once polluted, the groundwater is very difficult to purify and may take many years to clean itself by the dilution process.” On page 26 it states in poetic terms, “Wetlands are nurseries for fish and wildlife, purifiers for lakes, rivers and groundwater, and storage for floodwaters. They are also playgrounds for birders, hikers, hunters, and paddlers. In terms of hazard mitigation, they act as water storage devices in times of high water. Like sponges, wetlands are able to absorb excess water and release it back into the watershed slowly, preventing flooding and minimizing flood damage, including shoreline erosion. As more impermeable surfaces are developed, this excess capacity for water runoff storage becomes increasingly important.”


Yet when it comes to creating Objectives for protecting these vital resources, the Plan fades into a non-active stance. I realize that Senator Tom Tiffany’s 2017 Act 134 was a power-grab designed to limit the ability of local authorities to create standards that would protect our wetlands and surface water quality. But are you not allowed to state at least a few proactive goals? Such as, something along the lines of: “Given the sensitivity of wetland areas, and the importance of DNR Designated Outstanding Resource Waters, such as the Willow Flowage near the Lynne mineral deposit, we recommend that there shall be no permitting of open pit mining granted in such areas.”


If the Plan is to stand for anything more than a poetic tribute to our unique area of wetlands, lakes, forests and rivers, shouldn’t there be a stated commitment to improving how we protect these areas? The Plan admits right up front: “Additional staff is needed to accomplish all the activities in this plan.” An understatement. It is vital that the Plan include a stated, strong commitment to finding the means to hire the staff needed for monitoring, and fulfilling action plans.


                                                                * * *


Dee A Allen

Submitted on behalf of the Lac du Flambeau Tribe and Tribal Natural Resources


General/Issues: The document excludes Tribal Consultation, Coordination, or Involvement at every level. Tribal representation should have been involved upfront and during the plan development as a resource advisory group member. No participation was requested by either Oneida County Board/Conservation & UW Extension Committee. Not all user groups had the opportunity to participate or be listed in the plan. The tribe is also a proerty owner and user group.


Assessments/DATA: The plan identifies resource assessments with professionals. Did Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission participate or provide input? Assumption is not. The LDF Tribe was not contacted to provide information or participate. The plan does not include GLIFWC data, Tribal Data, Climate Change Data, etc.


Location/Mapping: Plan does not include  mapping of under Location or any other section of the plan: Lac du Flambeau Reservation (which is adjacent to Oneida County) and/or Reservation land in Oneida County; Ceded Territory -- Treaties of 1836, 1842, 1854.


Note: The Lac du Flambeau Tribe maintains reservation lands within and adjacent to Oneida County, maintains treay protected resource use within Oneida County. The plan does not include a ceded territory map, LDF Tribal Reservation border or map. Should include an insert or addendum to identify this.


Water Resources: The LDF Tribe maintains federally approved Water Quality Standards within Oneida County, and is a property owner within Oneida County. This Plan does not address this and should identify this in the plan. The Tribal Water Resource Department was not contacted to participate or asked to provide input. The Plan fails to recognize the Lac Du Flambeau  Reservation, ceded territory lands and treaty protected resource use, and federally recognized outstanding resource water designations. The Lac du Flambeau Tribe as well as cooperating agencies maintain information and data that would be useful and important to this plan, resulting in a missed opportunity to correct errors and include readily available information.


Sensitive and Rare Natural Communities: The Plan identifies cultural and archeological sites within the county. The Tribal Historic Preservation Office was not contacted or asked to participate nor were any other Tribe that has historic sites in Oneida County. (A significant site being McCord Village.)


Climate Change: The LDF Tribe has a Climate Resiliency Plan initiative and were not contacted regarding this.


Current Land Use Issues: Does not identify all WPDES municipal and Industrial discharges that are listed on Wisconsin's WPDES listing. There are more discharge sites than what is mentioned. The Lakeland Sanitary District has a permit to discharge but is not listed. At least 9 other point discharges are not listed.


Minimizing impacts to our natural resources form mining activities-Goal 9: All eleven Tribes oppose Metallic Mineral Exploration, Prospecting and Mining. This plan should identify this as well as include stronger language to protect the resources and land from this activity. Potential metallic mining should be in each section of the plan. The potential to pollute land and all water resources is significant.


Commercial and Indistrial Development: The Plan should include "to develop in an environmentally sustainable manner..."


Thorough Education Needed -- a suggestion: The Plan was developed with a Resource Advisory Committee appointed by a UW-Extension Committee and prepared by North Central Regional Planning Commission. It is suggested that LDF UW Extension staff provide a training to the UW Extension committee overseeing the development of this Plan to include: a) Working Effectively with Tribal Governments; b) Awareness of Place -- Reservation Location, Treaty ceded territory; c) Coordination of information and data; d) Federal and Tribal Laws; e) Tribes Climate Adaptation Work (climate change was a large portion of the Plan); and f) Consultation Policy. This same training should be offered to North Central Regional Planning Commission.


These are a few of the comments and concerns which could have been addressed if the Tribe were included upfront and during the development of the Plan. Without proper notification of this Plan, insufficient information and comments can only be provied at this time.


We request to be consulted with, before this plan is approved by the Oneida County Board.


                                                                   # # #

Here or abroad, mining accidents are catastrophic disasters

By Al Gedicks

May 16, 2019--Nathan Conrad, the executive director of the advocacy group Natural Resources Development Association -- who represents the Canadian mining company Aquila Resources -- criticizes environmentalists for highlighting catastrophic mining accidents that have occurred in other countries (“Mining can bring Wisconsin’s economy, environment together," Capital Times, May 7, 2019). 


Significantly, Conrad never mentions the recent tailings dam disaster in Brazil (see article below) that killed over 200 people and contaminated local water supplies. Conrad says that such reporting omits the “simple fact that the permitting and regulatory process in lands abroad are not nearly as stringent as those in the United States.” This statement is wrong on both counts.


The tailings dam failure in Brazil occurred in a technologically advanced country with mining companies that were required to use state-of-the-art technology to construct and maintain tailings dams. 


The leading expert on tailings dam failures is Dr. David Chambers, director of the Center for Science in Public Participation in Bozeman, Montana. His research demonstrates that these dam failures are not limited to countries with weak regulation. “Thirty-nine percent of the tailings dam failures worldwide occur in the United States, significantly more than in any other country,” according to Chambers.


Conrad also fails to mention that the same technology for constructing tailings dams that failed in Brazil is now being proposed for the large open pit sulfide mine and tailings dam next to the Menominee River on the Wisconsin-Michigan border. Aquila Resources, supported by Conrad’s NRDA advocacy group, is proposing to use this failed technology.


Al Gedicks is executive secretary of the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council in La Crosse.

Judge's decision leaves the Carlin Lake bottled water issue in limbo

Concerned citizens pack the courtroom

Update by Carmen Farwell of the Carlin Lake Association



Weds., May 1, 2019--In yesterday’s hearing in Eagle River, Judge Chip Nielsen did not make a decision regarding the bottling company’s suit against the Vilas County Board of Adjustment. Instead, he talked at length and then sent the issue back to the BOA for reconsideration of the “language of the ordinance."    


Approximately 80 supporters of residential zoning were in the courtroom, and nearly everyone walked out in confusion. Although Judge Nielsen stated that everyone could probably agree on the facts of the case, he still wanted further clarification before ruling on the issue.


The judge began the hearing by noting that “the last time we saw this much interest in a land-use case was regarding four-wheelers.”  He also noted ironically that “a lot of time, attorney’s fees, and people’s time has already been spent on this issue.”  Very early in the proceedings, he informed us that there would not be a “final decision today.”


This week's action follows the very positive ruling that was released last week from the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. The three judges confirmed the ruling by Judge Stenz and the district court of November 2017: that pumping and transporting water from the well at the Carlin Club would be a violation of county zoning ordinances, and that the permanent injunction for that business will remain in place. 


The Carlin committee will continue to work with our attorney Dan Bach. Of course, we are resolved to keep our commitment, and we will keep you informed as this process continues.   


Sincere thanks to those who were able to attend the hearing in support of local zoning ordinances, and sincere thanks to all for your continued encouragement!


Carlin Lake on a summer day.

Carlin Lake on a summer day.

Wisconsin Could Face a Mining Disaster

Mining company's proposed tailings dam could cause massive pollution of Lake Michigan

  By Al Gedicks

    Emeritus professor of environmental sociology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and executive secretary of the Wisconsin Resources Protection  Council   


April 20, 2019—On Jan. 25, 2019, a 28-story high tailings dam in Brumadinho, in southeastern Brazil failed, releasing almost 3 billion gallons of sludgy mine waste. The spill flooded nearby homes, submerging cars and buses  under a river of reddish-brown sludge. The death toll so far has risen  to 228 with an estimated 49 people still missing and presumed dead. This is Brazil’s deadliest-ever mining accident.


The same design for storing mine waste, known as the upstream dam  construction method, is now being proposed for a large open pit metallic  sulfide mine and tailings dam next to the Menominee River on the  Wisconsin-Michigan border. While Brazil’s mining agency has already  banned this design from further use, Michigan regulators are poised to  approve this design and risk a catastrophic dam failure that could send toxic wastes into Lake Michigan and threaten drinking water for millions in the Upper Midwest. A coalition of concerned citizens, environmental groups and the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin is determined to prevent this from happening.


What are tailings dams?


Tailings dams are some of the largest human-made structures on earth. Tailings are the waste material left over from the crushing, grinding and  chemical processing of mineral ores. The chemicals used include cyanide.  


The tailings often contain residual minerals – including lead, mercury and arsenic that can be toxic if released to the environment. However, unlike water-retaining dams made of concrete and steel, tailings dams are held back by walls of sand and silt.


Contrary to the claims of safety by the mining industry, tailings dams are  failing with increasing frequency and severity. When they fail, they can  destroy entire communities and livelihoods. The largest mining disaster in Canadian history occurred in August 2014 when the Mount Polley tailings dam failed and released 25 million cubic meters of tailings into the Fraser River watershed in British Columbia. Local emergency response officials warned downstream residents not to drink, cook with, bathe in or come in contact with the effluent.


The Brazilian spill has contaminated 75 miles of the Paraopeba River, where  mud, debris and dead fish have devastated the Pataxo indigenous people  who depend upon the river for drinking, fishing and irrigation. A Pataxo  woman emphasized that the damage from the spill was not limited to the  loss of life and the pollution of the river. “Our relationship with the river is very special because the origin of the Pataxo was born in a drop of water that fell on the ground.”


The Brumadinho dam is owned by the mining giant Vale, the same company  responsible for a tailings dam failure four years earlier at the Samarco mine in Mariana that buried three communities and killed 19 people, leaving hundreds homeless and contaminating hundreds of miles of river valleys with toxic sludge. It was one of the worst environmental  disasters in Brazil’s history.


The tailings dam failures at Brumadinho and Mariana occurred in a  technologically advanced country with a history of mining and with mining companies that had the ability to use state-of-the-art technology to construct and maintain tailings dams. Vale is the largest producer of iron ore and nickel in the world, with massive operations in Brazil. BHP Billiton was a co-owner, with Vale, of the failed tailings dam at Mariana. BHP Billiton, an Anglo-Australian company, is the world’s  largest mining company.


This environmental disaster should raise red flags for Michigan regulators  who have already been besieged by multiple controversies about the impact of Aquila Resources’ Back Forty project on the communities and  environment around this proposed mine.


Aquila Resources’ Proposed “Back Forty” Mine and Tailings Dam



Aquila is a Canadian exploration company that has no experience with mining. It has recently submitted a revised permit application to Michigan’s  Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for its proposed Back Forty  metallic sulfide mine a mere 100 feet from the Menominee River. Although  the Menominee River is an interstate waterway (it forms much of the border between Wisconsin and Michigan and empties into the Green Bay, just above the city named for it), the Wisconsin Department of Natural  Resources has allowed Michigan to assume exclusive jurisdiction over the permitting process.


The proposed mine would produce 70 million tons of acid-producing waste  rock and milled tailings. When sulfide minerals in mines and mining  wastes are exposed to air and water, the chemical reaction produces sulfuric acid and metal pollution known as acid mine drainage (AMD). AMD is toxic to fish and wildlife due to dissolved metals and contaminants such as mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium, zinc, copper and many others. These contaminants would threaten the Menominee River and eventually Lake Michigan, the second largest of the Great Lakes, which are the largest source of fresh water on earth.


Downstream communities oppose the Back Forty project


The main revision to Aquila’s mine permit is the expansion of the tailings  dam. Aquila claims that these finely ground chemical-laden wastes, along  with millions of gallons of water mixed in a slurry, can be stored  safely next to the Menominee River in perpetuity. Downstream communities in Wisconsin that depend upon the river for their drinking water, fishing and tourism doubt the company’s assurances of safety. Seven counties, four towns, three cities, and dozens of tribal governments have passed resolutions against the project.


Mining on sacred lands?



The location of the proposed Back Forty mine has special significance for  the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin because it is their original homeland. The Menominee River is named for the Menominee Indians, who trace their origin back thousands of years to when the Ancestral Bear emerged from the mouth of the Menominee River and was transformed into  human form as the first Menominee. They occupied the Menominee River area for millennia, until an 1836 Treaty with the US forced them to cede  their original territory in Michigan. However, the Menominee Nation never gave up its right to protect its traditional cultural resources  that are essential to their identity. The present-day Menominee  reservation is sixty miles southwest of the proposed mine.


The mine site is located on the traditional lands of the Menominee Nation that include prehistoric burial mounds, village sites, raised agricultural beds and dance circles. Similar concerns about harm to  water supplies and the destruction of sacred sites have resulted in a  massive tribal and environmental protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline next to the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota.

Aftermath of the Brumadrho dam collapse in Brazil. Photo by TV NBR / CC

Aftermath of the Brumadrho dam collapse in Brazil. Photo by TV NBR / CC