County Board refuses to take a stand on sulfide mining

Courage wanting on the board

Oct. 15, 2019—The Oneida County Board once again showed its true colors, voting 11-8 to defeat a resolution that would protect Oneida County-owned forest lands from sulfide mining.

Resolution 81-2019 was brought forward by Supervisor Alan VanRaalte today to codify for the public record the results of the referendum vote of November 2018, when the question was put before the public about whether or not to allow the leasing of public lands in the Town of Lynne for the purpose of sulfide metallic mining, including exploration, prospecting, bulk sampling and mining. In a large voter turnout—84 percent of all eligble voters—63 percent said no. Eighteen of the 21 municipalities voted no.

Van Raalte’s resolution asked that the County Board Supervisors, as the elected representatives of the people of Oneida County, to honor the wishes expressed in the referendum vote. The resolution asked the superintendents to acknowledge its statutory responsibilities under Article 59.69 Wis. Stats. “to protect, preserve and promote the public health; property values and the property tax base; groundwater resources; wetlands and natural resources;” and especially, its accountability “to the electorate to act in accordance with their will.”

The resolution asked that the supervisors vote that all non-ferrous metallic mining activities be prohibited on county-owned forest land, which would serve as an update to the resolution passed in 2012 (#59) to no longer pursue sulfide mining on county forest land.

During the Public Comments period, all the speakers who came forth asked the Supervisors to take a stand, vote yes for the resolution, and tell the public that they heard what the voters said. No one spoke out against the resolution.

Karl Fate of Rhinelander said, “Last year, Oneida County rewrote its Mining Ordinance. Several important protections were eliminated. These protections were removed in order to push a mine on our County Forest, even though the Forest had been closed to metallic mining since 2012. Other protections were removed to pave the way for a potential Mining District, in this lake rich area of the Northwoods.  Oneida County spent several tens of thousands of dollars to remove these protections. When the ordinance went to public hearing, we were told we couldn’t talk about keeping the County Forest closed as a provision in the ordinance. However, the November Referendum Question came about because, we did ask to keep the Forest closed. The Referendum result reinforces the testimony that was given at that Public Hearing.”

Jeff Brown of Tripoli said, “Since that vote was taken, I haven’t heard anything from this Board. What I have heard from my neighbors is the question, ‘That mining thing is dead now, right?’ Sooner or later, this Board needs to tell the public that the vote was taken, and the vote was heard.” Addressing the argument often heard that a mine would bring in new jobs, Brown added, “what about the existing jobs? This county has a history of losing existing jobs that have nothing to do with mining. Maybe our focus should be on keeping what we have, such as the recreation and tourist jobs that have been the backbone of our economy for a long time.”

Eric Rempala of Lincoln County, who owns farmland in Oneida County, said, “Besides the voters, a large part of your tax base are non-resident property owners, and obviously they had no say in the vote, but I think you will agree that most of the non-residents are not coming up here for the jobs but for the clean water and recreation. There are certainly plenty other kinds of industry we could look to that would not be hazardous and jeopardize what we have in recreation.”  

Dave Noel of Sugar Camp pointed out that one of the arguments heard by some Supervisors is that the modern technology has made metallic mining safe for the environment. “This is simply not true. Modern mining technology is instead making it easier to mine lower-grade ores, which results in larger amounts of reactive wastes requiring long term storage. There are no new technologies to mitigate the requirement for long-term storage of the sulfide ore waste in tailings ponds for hundreds of years…There has never been a  metallic sulfide mine operation in the U.S. that has not resulted in acide mine drainage pollution….Healthy surface waters are critical to the northwoods economy. Oneida County has one of the highest concentrations of freshwater lakes in the world. People live in and visit Oneida County because of these pristine waters. If lake and river water quality deteriorates, waterfront properties values will erode, tourists will find other areas to visit, and seasonal homeowners will spend less time at their lake homes…This is your opportunity to do what your constituents have requested: Protect our ost valuable asset — water.”

Among the Supervisors who opposed Resolution 81, Bob Mott represented several of the Supervisors, saying he would have voted yes, “If this Resolution had had Lynne specifically mentioned, because that’s what the citizens were asked to vote on." He said he would’ve liked last year’s Referendum question to have a second part, asking the voters if they would approve of metallic mining anywhere on county lands. Mott said any time this issue might come up, about a location in the county that “doesn’t threaten water, society, air resources, we have to look at those separate areas on an individual basis when they come up. If Lynne were brought up again, I would have to vote not to allow mining in Lynne, because I think it would have impacted the resources. There may be a select site where people could mine in a responsible way that we could approve.”

Jim Winkler countered Mott, saying, “I don’t think Oneida County has any business doing any kind of metallic mining, because of our water resources. We need to protect those at all costs. This northern region has the fresh water; we should not be thinking of jeapordizing it in any way.”

It needs to be noted that the 11 supervisors who voted today against the VanRaalte’s #81 resolution, all represent districts, with two small exceptions, that voted overwhelmingly last year against a sulfide mine on county land in the Town of Lynne.

* * *

Following is a list of the Superintendents and their districts who voted no, and the percentage in each district that voted against sulfide mining in last year’s Referendum.

These are the nay-sayers to clean water who we need to vote out of office in April 2020:

District 1 - Sonny Paszak—Rhinelander, Ward 1: 60 percent opposed; Ward 2-3: 67 percent

2 - Tom Kelly—Rhinelander Ward 4-5: 65 percent; Ward 6-7: 61 percent

3- Bill Liebert—Rhinelander W 5, 10: 62 percent

5 - Russ Fisher—Rhinelander, Pelican, Wards 8-9: 65 percent; Wards 11-12: 70 percent; Wards 13-14:58 percent

7 - Bob Mott—Piehl—51 percent; Stella Wards 1-2: 62 percent; Schoepke: 60 percent; Monico: 37 percent; Enterprise: 46 percent; Three Lakes: 54 percent

8 - Greg Oettinger—Pine Lake Wards 1-4: 59 percent; Stella Wards 1-2: 62 percent; Pine Lake: 59 percent 

9 - Jack Sorenson—Pine Lake Wards 1-4: 59 percent

11 - Robb Jensen—Crescent—62 percent

12 - Mitchell Ives—Woodboro, Cassian—53 percent; Crescent: 62 percent; Lake Tomahawk: 71 percent

13 - David Hintz—Three Lakes—54 percent

17 - Billy Fried—Minocqua: 66 percent

After studying this list, ask yourself this: do you know of any potential candidates, in any of these districts, who might be courageous enough, perhaps outraged enough, to run against these entrenched political hacks in the April 2020 election? If so, let’s find them and get their names registered as candidates with the County Clerk’s office by the January 2 deadline.

It’s time for change in Oneida County.

It’s time we have Supervisors who truly represent us, and above all, care about protecting our precious waters and forests.

* * *

And here are the Supervisors who voted for Resolution 81. Be sure to thank them for their commitment to clean water, and vote them back into office April 2020!

District 4 - Steven Schreier—Rhinelander

6 - Greg Pence—Pelican

10 - Jim Winkler—Newbold

15 - Bob Metropulos—Newbold

18 - Lance Krolczyk—Minocqua

19 - Bob Almekinder—Lynne, Minocqua

20 - Alan Van Raalte—Little Rice, Nokomis

21 - Ted Cushing—Hazelhurst

Note: Supervisors who were absent Oct. 15

14 - Scott Holewinski

16 - Michael Timmons—Woodruff


Grassroots Effort to Stop Sulfide Mining in Wisconsin

WiLD Project Announces New Mini-Documentary Spotlighting Oneida County Group

Oct. 2, 2019--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.

The Protect the Willow group formed ahead of a November 2018 referendum on expanded mining in Oneida County. Using organizing practices developed at the July 2018 WiLD workshop, and coaching support from the River Alliance of Wisconsin, the team launched a campaign—and won.

How exactly did a grassroots team of "political rookies" mobilize 62% of voters to reject mining in one of Wisconsin’s most environmentally sensitive areas? This new video offers insights into effective organizing that can be replicated across communities and campaigns.

“To place a sulfide mine in this particular site, which was really environmentally sensitive, was outrageous. And even more outrageous: it was being contemplated on public land. Cut down all the pine trees, take out all the metals, and leave poison water—it upset me that it seemed like we hadn't learned anything. Those sorts of things propel people into feeling uncomfortable, so then you end up at county board meetings and writing letters to the editor and talking to your neighbors. And the next thing you know you're exchanging email addresses and phone numbers, and you see the same faces at all the meetings,” Rick Plonsky, a member of Protect the Willow, shared.

“Rather than to be too partisan or divide people, or have anyone feel attacked, they were really strategic in their approach. Clearly with the outcome of the referendum, it resonated. They really did have a bipartisan vote on an issue that people agreed on,” stated Danika Laine, communications director, River Alliance of Wisconsin.

“Protect the Willow: An Organizing Story” video links:
Video Still image:

About the Wisconsin Leadership Development Project:
The Wisconsin Leadership Development (WiLD) Project cultivates Wisconsin’s greatest resource—its people—as a source of renewal for our state. At WiLD workshops, participants learn how to engage others around their own core values, structure effective leadership teams, and make strategic choices that lead to measurable, effective action for change. Since its start in 2016, the project has trained more than 1,000 leaders across the state. For more information, visit


The State prohibits filling in lake beds


In wet years, dry lake beds become lakes

By Karl Fate,

Rhinelander, WI

March 27, 2019—Back in the early 1990s, we were on a field tour of the Lynne Mineral  Site. Bill Tans with WDNR was there, perhaps a Noranda Exploration representative, or two, as well as me, and perhaps a handful of other folks. Noranda, a Canadian company, had filed its notice of intent in  January, 1992, to mine at the Lynne Deposit Site by open pit, for zinc,  copper, lead, antimony, gold and silver.

We had just turned onto Al Hintz Road, when an area resident, who had intimate knowledge of the  area, pointed to a dry depression, and said, “That’s a lake. I duck hunt  there when it’s full of water.”

This initiated a review of several small depressions at the Lynne Deposit Site. Five of these areas were determined to be lake beds by the WDNR.  These lake beds were located in the only significant upland adjacent to the Lynne  Deposit, and that was where Noranda wanted to build the tailings and waste rock disposal areas for their mining project.  Because Wisconsin  state law prohibits the filling in of lake beds, this became one of  several stumbling blocks for Noranda. In October of 1993, Noranda halted  its plans.

Examining the dry lake bed proved a learning process for us. We learned that there are three requirements for an area to be designated a lake bed. 1) The area has to be able to “periodically”  float a boat. 2) It has to have a bed. 3) It has to have a bank. We have  many such areas in Oneida County and across the Northwoods that meet  these three requirements, and which can become dry at times, but other  times are full of water.

The picture above are of Woody Hagge, a local nature photographer and fisherman, wading through  that first “dry” lake bed, known as Lake 22-12, during a wet period  later in the decade. This illustrates how much a lake bed can change  during dry and wet periods.

Photo by Karl Fate: The watery Lynne Deposit Site. This DNR-designated lake bed is where Noranda wanted to dump its tailings from mining.

* * *

County Board: Listen to your constituents

By Karl Fate, Rhinelander, WI

Dec. 2, 2018--On  Nov. 6, 62.6 percent of voters in Oneida County advised our county  government not to lease the Lynne Site for a sulfide mine on our county  forest. This referendum question was born in the County Board's Planning  & Development Committee. Committee members were unhappy with  testimony that they received on a proposed mining ordinance. Many people  who testified asked for the county forest to remain closed to metallic  mining as a condition in the proposed ordinance.

Apparently, the  committee members felt that this was not representative of the entire  county.  One supervisor repeatedly said, to paraphrase, “Why should the  Town of Lynne be able to block something that the rest of the county  wants, and could benefit from?” As of Nov. 6, that supervisor knows that  most of the rest of the county doesn’t want it either.

Five  towns voted No with a margin of more than 70 percent; most of these  were closest to Lynne. Although, the percentage of No votes generally  dropped off the further away they were from Lynne, the fact remains that  even the county's most eastern towns collectively voted No by nearly 55  percent. This happened despite the influence of Dark Money from outside  interests calling for a Yes vote.

It seems that many voters were  able to sympathize with the situation confronting the Town of Lynne.  After all, what town would want our county government to force something  on them that, for entirely legitimate reasons, they clearly do not  want?

Our county government now has the advice they asked for, but they have an underlying problem.

When  Oneida County decided to review its Mining Ordinance earlier this year,  some supervisors used the process as an attempt to make a “back door”  policy change. This attempted policy change is in direct contradiction  to the Board's 2012 vote that closed the county forest to metallic  mining, and established that mining was “no longer a policy goal” in our  county.

Tens of thousands of dollars were spent removing several  critical protections in the ordinance. Even the prohibition on dumping  mine wastes in our county, produced from outside of our county, was  removed during the rewriting process. These changes were made in order  to promote sulfide mining in our county, in general, and specifically,  to promote a mine at Lynne, something that those supervisors now know a  clear majority of our county does not want.

The fact that our tax  dollars were squandered by removing protections in the Mining Ordinance  in order to facilitate a mine at Lynne, is an unacceptable travesty.

Oneida County needs to have an open public discussion on how to correct this colossal mistake.


Voters say No to Lynne mine

OCCWA report

Nov. 11, 2018--Last  Tuesday voters in Oneida County turned out at the polls in record  numbers to express their views. Of the county's eligible voters, 84  percent voted, compared to 75 percent in 2014, the last mid-term  election.  There were some local elections of interest, but the  Referendum Question on whether or not the county should lease publicly  owned lands in the Town of Lynne for mining was the main factor for the  dramatic uptick in voting. More than 62 percent said "No" to mining at the Lynne area. For full election results, visit the county's website page.

Through  a grassroots effort, concerned citizens from across Oneida County  worked tirelessly for three months leading up to the Nov. 6 election to  educate and motivate voters through Letters to the Editor, placing ads  in newspapers, and spots on radio and TV. The Lac du Flambeau Tribe did  its own educating. The Tribe sponsored a series of TV ads speaking to  the importance of the Willow Flowage region, which is part of the Ceded  Territory for northern Wisconsin tribes.

The  pro-mining forces, by comparison, mailed to every resident in Oneida  County a series of expensive, colorful, large-size cards that featured  cavorting deer, green woods and sparkling waters, to suggest that  sulfide mining is completely safe and pro-environment. The slick mailer  was paid for by WMC Issues Mobilization Council, Inc., an  anti-environment and anti-labor union Madison, Wis.-based group whose  donors are not subject to disclosure.

The  next step for concerned citizens who do not want to see a sulfide mine  at Lynne will be to closely monitor the Oneida County Board's actions in  coming months. In a Channel 12 interview on Nov. 7, Board chair Dave Hintz suggested that the matter of a mine would be dropped.

Those  who regularly attend the Planning and Development Committee meetings  understand how dedicated some of the Supervisors on that committee are  to bringing mining to Oneida County. Their mentor Sen. Tom Tiffany will  continue to prod them to find a way to promote mining on publicly-owned  forest lands. Tiffany authored Act 134, passed last year, a law that  considerably weakens environmental protections and forbids local  governments from passing more stringent laws than the State's for  protecting the environment from contamination. Under Tiffany's tutelage,  in June the Oneida County Board passed a Revised Mining Ordinance that  opened up all county lands, public and private, zoned A-1 Forestry and  General use, to mining as a permitted use, but the decision to lease the  mineral rights resides with the owner of the land. In the case of the  Oneida County Forest, that would be the residents of Oneida County.  Their representatives (the County Board) can decide to lease or not  lease those rights.

In August 2012, when the Lynne deposit site was last looked at for mining by the Board, Brian  Desmond, Corporation Counsel, stated, "if Resolution #59-2012 does not  pass, the direction of the County Board is that mining should no longer  proceed as a policy goal for Oneida County. There is no longer a need  for the Forestry, Land & Recreations Committee to continue with the  mining process. Oneida County Board will no longer endorse mining in  Oneida County. If Resolution # 59-2012 passes it would allow the process  of mining to continue." #59-2012 was defeated by 12-9. The issue of  mining lay dormant for five years, until the passage of Act 134, the law  that Gov. Scott Walker said would declare "Wisconsin is open for  mining." Gov. Walker was defeated in his third bid for governor.  Newly-elected Tony Evers is on record as committed to protecting the  environment.

The  Referendum Question was put on the ballot to provide the "social  license" that Sen. Tiffany stated was a necessary prerequisite for  bringing mining into the area. The issue now is whether the County Board  will honor the wishes of the 2/3s majority of Oneida County voters to  keep the Lynne area clean and the Willow Flowage, a DNR-designated  Outstanding Water Resource, healthy and free of sulfide contaminants.


Grassroots effort surges to oppose a mine at Lynne

OCCWA report

Oct. 25, 2018–As  the referendum question on the Lynne Mine approaches, a group in Oneida  County has gained traction on outreach and education about how a mine  would harm the environment and tourism. Protect the Willow recently  hosted an informational tour of the potential mine site. More than 80  people attended and were able to experience this water-rich area  firsthand.

“The site practically speaks for itself,” said Peter  Zambon, Rhinelander resident and member of Protect the Willow. “As those  who attended the tour know, just a few steps off the access road and  there is standing water everywhere. This isn’t a safe place for a  sulfide mine. This type of mine has always caused pollution.”

Protect the Willow recently released a 2-minute educational video about  how sulfide mining could impact Oneida County. To date, the video has  been viewed more than 17,000 times on Facebook and has been shared more  than 500 times. “This video is the clearest explanation I have seen  about what sulfide mining could mean for Oneida County,” said Kathy  Keogh Noel, resident of Sugar Camp.

The group’s organizing  efforts are geared to protecting the Willow River and Flowage from the  risks of sulfide mining. As the referendum approaches on Nov. 6, it has  shared this message through newspaper, radio and television ads, and  door-to-door canvassing. More than 500 “Protect the Willow” yard signs  have been distributed to homeowners and businesses.

“People from  all backgrounds and political stripes want to show their love for Oneida  County’s natural resources,” said Zambon. “We had a huge demand for the  yard signs and it has been encouraging to see them pop up in new places  as the referendum approaches. We know the vote could be neck and neck,  so we’re giving everything we’ve got to get the word out.”


What the heck is sulfide mining?

...And why is it so bad for the Lynne mineral site?

By Dave Noel, Sugar Camp, WI

Oct. 25, 2018—Now  that sulfide mining is allowed in Wisconsin, the Oneida County  Supervisors are considering leasing county-owned forest property near  the Town of Lynne for a zinc mine. Oneida County residents have an  opportunity to vote against consideration of this mine in the upcoming  election.

Do you know what sulfide mining is? 

It is the  practice of extracting metals such as copper, gold, silver and zinc from  a sulfide-rich ore body. It typically involves explosives and heavy  mining equipment to expose the metal ore in an open pit. There are major  environmental issues that are of concern, primarily the run-off from  the tailings. The tailings are the rubble created when the rock  containing the metal is crushed in order to release the ore. In this  type of metallic mining, the tailings contain sulfides. When exposed to  water and air sulfides become sulfuric acid – battery acid. The acid and  other heavy metal debris leach into the surrounding environment. It is  devastating to aquatic organisms and degrading to water quality.

At the proposed Lynne site the ore deposit is located immediately below a  wetland and an aquifer that drain into the Willow River, just a half a  mile away. The Willow River watershed includes the vibrant Willow  Flowage, which flows into the Tomahawk River, Lake Nokomis, and  eventually the Wisconsin River. The mining lobby suggests that there are  ways to protect the watershed during a mining operation, but the fact  is that this has never been achieved when mining in a wetland. 

The  processing of the ore may pose an even bigger problem than its removal  at Lynne. The proposed mine contains primarily zinc ore, which is not  particularly valuable, certainly not as valuable as gold or even copper.  What this means is that the processing will most likely have to be done  on-site to keep costs low and profits high. In order to process the  ore, the zinc-bearing sulfide rock is crushed into a fine flour-like  substance which is then separated in large vats of strong chemicals. Of  greatest concern is the waste material, the tailings. If the tailings  are not permanently stored and protected from the atmosphere and rain,  sulfuric acid drainage occurs. Mounds of fine tailings, about 5 million  tons at Lynne, would be nearly impossible to protect from the elements.  Sometimes, tailings are returned to the pit after the ore is removed. In  this case the proximity to the Willow watershed eliminates the option  of storing the waste in the pit.

The geographic realities of the Lynne deposit would make proper management of the tailings very difficult and very expensive.

Mining the proposed site would destroy several thousand acres of wetland and  forests, risk acid runoff from waste rock in the open pit, and create an  unmanageable amount of potentially contaminating tailings for a yield  of a small amount of precious metals. Acid mine drainage poisons water forever. Attempted remediation is never completely successful and is  almost always a burden to taxpayers.

Oneida County voters are  beginning to receive slick flyers from the mining lobby. The Flambeau  mine is held up as an example of “clean” mining, but unlike the Lynne  mining site, it is not located on a wetland; while the remediated  Flambeau site looks nice, the runoff still does not meet Wisconsin surface groundwater quality standards; the mine, only 32 acres, avoided the issues around processing and permanent storage of the tailings by  shipping the raw ore to Canada. Mining companies have much to gain by  exploiting the natural resources in our county, but Oneida County has little to gain and much to lose by experimenting with destructive mining  methods and proven environmental hazards. Tell our Supervisors that we are not interested in risking the Northwoods and our waterways for short term financial gain. VOTE NO to mining at Lynne on Nov. 6.

Don't be misled by the mining industry propaganda

Inform yourself about the real conditions at the Lynne site

By Karl Fate, Rhinelander, WI

Oct. 24, 2018—Prior to the upcoming election we are seeing extremely misleading statements  contained in flyers and letters that are designed to sway our vote on  whether our county government should lease the Lynne Deposit on our  county forest, just upstream from the Willow Flowage.

We are being told that “strong environmental standards” are required, and  that, “There have been no changes to the groundwater standards.”

Our groundwater standards were required because of the Clean Water Act. It  is critical to understand that these standards allow degradation of our  groundwater quality, up to what is known as Maximum Contaminant Levels  (MCL).  These standards can be set depending on, if “the costs of  treatment would outweigh the public health benefits of a lower MCL.”  These “standards” are a political compromise, not “strong environmental  standards.”

In Wisconsin, a waste disposal facility is allowed to  exceed this political compromise. A sulfide mine at Lynne would create  an enormous amount of waste material, dwarfing our county landfill.  The  mining industry is allowed to exceed groundwater “standards” over a  much larger area than is allowed for any other industry or business, up  to 1,200 feet from the edge of any waste disposal facility.

We are also reading that there is insufficient information regarding the  hydrogeology at the Lynne site. You would reach this conclusion if you  only do an internet search. To find the information about the  hydrogeology at Lynne, you would have to dig deeper.

Noranda did do a study of the hydrogeology of the Lynne site, some of which can be  found in the “Notice of Intent,” which can be read in the Oneida  Courthouse. This study of wells constructed in the large wetland areas  shows that the groundwater was only inches from the surface at that  time, and it is wetter now than it was then. For anyone who has spent  time walking through these saturated wetland areas, the reality of the  hydrogeology is obvious.

If our county board signs a mining lease  at Lynne, they won’t be able to just back out of it when they feel like  it, or when the reality of how wet the site is finally sinks in.   Unfortunately, only four out of 21 supervisors have taken the time to  examine the water resources at Lynne, something critical to making an  informed decision. Other supervisors have chosen to focus on other  mining operations, unrelated to Lynne, at considerable taxpayer expense. 

We have ample information about Lynne to cast an  informed vote. Our county government should not repeat its past  mistakes. The facts on the ground tell us we should vote “No” on leasing the Lynne Site on Nov. 6.

The Lynne Mineral Deposit vs. Flambeau

How similar are these two sites?

By Karl Fate, Rhinelander, WI

Oct. 10, 2018—On  Nov. 6 we will be voting on a referendum question on whether or not our  county government should lease the county forest for a mine at the  Lynne Mineral Deposit site.

Now we are being told by various government officials and local media that  we will be voting “blindfolded” on the issue because we may not really  know very much about a mine at Lynne, so perhaps we should just pretend  that it might be just like the Flambeau Mine site.

At this point, there is really no excuse for anyone in the media, or in the  Courthouse, to claim ignorance about the issues at Lynne. Perhaps the  local newspaper should hire an investigative reporter to dig up the  “reams” of information about Lynne that have been hiding under our noses for the last 25 years.

We do know very much about Lynne, and it is much different than Flambeau.

The negative impacts from a sulfide mine can be divided into three categories. Direct environmental impacts, infrastructure impacts, and  socioeconomic impacts. All three are interrelated, and are substantially influenced by the location of the mineral deposit.  

We know where the Lynne deposit is, and we know where the Flambeau deposit is.

Any industry that has a wastewater discharge will want their business located next to a major, industrial river, making it much easier to meet effluent limits, and minimizing the infrastructure necessary to accomplish the discharge of the wastewater.

The Flambeau deposit is right next to a major industrial river, not by choice, but by dumb luck.

The Lynne deposit is not right next to a major industrial river. The groundwater that flows over the deposit, and the surface waters that  flow over, and aside the area over the deposit, all enter Willow Lake and the Willow River. The Willow River is not allowed to be degraded  because it flows into the Willow Flowage, a DNR-designated Outstanding  Resource Water.

The mining industry does not like non-degradation standards, so it is exceeding likely that there would be a wastewater discharge pipeline constructed at Lynne to discharge the wastewater somewhere else. This would substantially add to the negative infrastructure impacts to the  area.

A mine needs power, and a way to get ore, or ore concentrate, to a rail line for transporting somewhere for further processing, so it’s extremely beneficial for a mine to be near a power  source and a rail line. The closer the mine is to existing infrastructure, the less are the infrastructure impacts. The farther from existing infrastructure, the greater the infrastructure impacts.

Flambeau  is very near existing infrastructure; Lynne is not. The infrastructure impacts at Lynne would be large enough to make a mine there unacceptable.

By the same token, the negative boom and bust impacts of a mine are minimized near existing development, such as Ladysmith, and are much greater in a more remote area like Lynne.  

Then there are the physical differences between Flambeau and Lynne.

The Lynne site is dominated by wetlands. These wetlands are saturated with  groundwater, mere inches from the surface, a 40-ft. or so deep column that flows over the deposit towards the Willow River. There are large wetland areas over the western and eastern portions of the deposit. The western wetlands are associated with Stream 16-4 that flows into Willow  Lake, just upstream of the bridge on Willow Road. The eastern wetlands are fed by Stream 18-14 that flows from the east, and are adjacent to a  primarily bog lake bed to the north.

Unlike Lynne, Flambeau is an upland site. There are some small wetlands at Flambeau, and some were  directly, and indirectly, impacted by the mine. There are three small  intermittent streams at Flambeau, one being the controversial Stream  “C”, that is labeled an “impaired water” because of its copper levels. All of these streams flow into the Flambeau, a major industrial  river. 

In combination, the exceedingly favorable location of the mineral deposit, the extremely short duration of the mine, the off-site processing of the ore, and the relatively dry environment, make the Flambeau Mine an anomaly in northern Wisconsin, and cannot be used as a template for other deposits.

The fact that there are any water quality issues at the “Flambeau Anomaly” does not bode well for another mine in the Northwoods, where much more difficult conditions are the  norm.

What you need to know...

...for the Nov. 6 Referendum on the Lynne Mineral Site

Sept. 11, 2018

Did you know...

  • On Nov. 6, Oneida County residents will be asked by referendum vote the  following yes or no question: “After performing their due diligence, should Oneida County allow leasing County owned lands in the Town of Lynne for the purpose of metallic mineral exploration, prospecting, bulk  sampling and mining?”

  • The Lynne deposit was discovered in 1990 by Noranda Exploration and is  located on forestry land owned by Oneida County within the town of Lynne. It is primarily a zinc sulfide ore with significant lead and  silver and minor amounts of gold and copper. The deposit is estimated to  be approximately 5.6 million tons recoverable metals by open pit  mining(1).

  • The Oneida County Board voted in 2012 against leasing the lands in the Town of Lynne.

  • The mineral deposit is located beneath a water-rich environment of interconnected wetlands, lakes, rivers and groundwater in the Town of  Lynne, in western Oneida County(2).

  • Noranda proposed open-pit mining at Lynne. The proposal included a 65-acre, 1,900 foot- diameter open pit that would produce 30 million tons of overburden, waste rock, ore, and tailings. Noranda proposed to put 17 million tons of waste rock and overburden in a 100-acre pit and up to 6  million tons of mine tailings (fine ground up rock left over from milling economic ore) into a 110-acre pit. The total disturbed or  destroyed acreage was estimated to be 342 acres total(3).

  • Noranda’s proposal estimated processing 5.6 million tons (MT) of ore grading  9.27% Zinc, 0.47% Copper, 1.71% Lead, 2.38 ounces per ton (opt) Silver, and 0.021 opt of Gold. This means only approx. 640,000 tons of metal concentrates would be produced (11.45% of 5.6 MT) and that 98% of the 30 million tons mined from the open pit would be left behind as waste  material(4).

  • According to the Toxic Release Inventory produced by the US EPA, metal mining is the most toxic industry accounting for 44 percent of toxic material releases into the environment. This amounts to 1.5 billion pounds of mining waste. Some of this waste product is managed responsibly but at many mines, the toxic materials migrate into surface waters and groundwater threatening the environment, public health and safety(5)

  • Large volumes of waste rock containing sulfide minerals create acid mine drainage when exposed to air and water. These waste products contain heavy metals such as lead and mercury and other contaminants that can migrate to groundwater and often in concentrations that exceed drinking  water standards. When this contaminated groundwater migrates offsite it can pollute private and public drinking water supplies. Additional contaminants like cyanide may be added when ore is processed and refined  on-site(6).

  • The surface water and groundwater at the Lynne site are highly interconnected. Toxic levels of metals and other wastes can migrate off the mine site into nearby surface waters causing fish kills and otherwise impairing aquatic life and water quality. Evidence from literature and field observations suggests that permitting large scale surface mining in sulfide-hosted rock creates a substantial and unquantifiable risk to water quality and fisheries(7).

  • If Oneida County leases the mineral rights the company will conduct more exploration and propose the type of mining that will be conducted. Some have suggested that an underground mine would be less environmentally risky. However, it is more-costly and is not risk-free. An underground mine still generates mining waste that must be managed and that mining waste could be a source of contamination for surface and groundwater. The mine’s location in a water-rich environment increases the risk of a release. Several sources have indicated that an open pit is most efficient and cost-effective way to extract the ore. This method of mining also carries the most risk. Moreover, both open-pit and underground sulfide mines themselves are sources of acid mine drainage even after the ore and waste rock are removed.

  • Mining at Lynne would require that both glacial and bedrock aquifers be dewatered by continuously pumping water out of the mine. For example, Noranda proposed up to 12 years of active mining requiring continuous pumping. This de-watering of the aquifers will negatively impact nearby wetland, lakes, and streams which rely on the groundwater to maintain water levels and ultimately aquatic life.

  • Despite the repeal of Wisconsin’s landmark Prove It First law for sulfide mining, no mining company has offered examples of sulfide mines that have operated and closed safely without causing pollution. The Flambeau mine polluted a nearby stream and the company has not yet fully reclaimed the mine site.

What’s at risk:

  • Our clean water. The Willow River is only 1/2 mile from the Lynne mineral deposit which lies beneath an open water bog, lakebeds, hundreds of acres of wetlands and an average of 50 feet of glacial aquifer(8).

  • The Willow Flowage is designated as an Outstanding Resource Water; less than 1% of Wisconsin’s 15,000 lakes are pristine enough to have this  designation. Treated wastewater from processing and contact with waste  rock and the mine pit was proposed by Noranda to be discharged to the Willow or other nearby rivers such as the Little Rice, the Little Somo or even nearby wetlands(9).

  • Air and water quality are at risk from fugitive dust and emissions from the milling process and waste dumps. Air pollution from mining ores such as at Lynne can include mercury, lead, copper, zinc, magnesium, cadmium, and more that can harm aquatic life.

The economy:

  • The claims that the Flambeau mine significantly boosted the local economy  are inflated and not supported by most economic indicators. The economic impact had little positive impact on the quality of life in Rusk County. The unemployment rate, poverty rate and per capita income all remained flat before, during, and after the mine. Additionally, Rusk County remains at the bottom of the rank (70 out of 72 Counties) on most economic indicators(10).

  • Mining always produces a boom & bust economy. Mines often idle during poor markets causing layoffs and all mines eventually close. The Lynne mineral deposit is relatively small, roughly twice as big as Flambeau. It would like only operate for 10 years or less. Yet the mine leaves a risk for environmental pollution that lasts for hundreds of years or longer.

  • Oneida County Tourism industry ranks 15th out of 72 counties.Visitors  pending and business sales were $305 million in 2017, up 3.5% from  2016. The Wisconsin Department of Tourism counts 2,200 jobs in the county related to tourism. Oneida County is a retirement and vacation  destination. Over 50% of homes in Oneida County are owned by  non-residents who are attracted to the area by the abundance of water-based recreation and quality of life(11).

  • Harvard University Economists recently evaluated a proposal to mine massive sulfide minerals in the Superior National Forest adjacent to the Boundary Waters. They found that, over the 20-year time horizon of the  proposed withdrawal, introducing mining in the Superior National Forest is very likely to have a negative effect on the regional economy. Further, they reviewed the relevant literature and concluded that their findings are consistent with the literature, most notably the history of  boom-bust economies associated with resource extraction that leave the local economy worse off(12).

    3 Noranda Minerals, Notification of Intent submittal to WI DNR, January, 1992
    4 Adams, Glen, Geology of the Lynne Base Metal Deposit, Institute on Lake Superior Proceedings, Vol. 42, Part 2, 1996
     7  a-review/view


Prepared by Protect The Willow, a Oneida County grassroots non-profit organization committed to  education on the risks of metallic mining to Oneida County and the  protected Willow River and Flowage and the wetlands, lakes, and forests of the town of Lynne. More information can be found at

What a local fishing guide says

Jeff Winters talks candidly about how a sulfide mine at Lynne would impact fishing on the Willow River and Lake and his business.