By Karl Fate,
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.
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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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Sept. 11, 2018
Did you know...
What’s at risk:
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
5 https://www.epa.gov/trinationalanalysis6 https://www3.epa.gov/npdes/pubs/env.htm
7 http://easternbrooktrout.org/resources/science-publications/acid-mine-drainage-and-effects-on-fish-health-and-ecology- a-review/view
8 http://www.co.oneida.wi.gov/docview.asp?docid=10160&locid=1359 https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/lands/willowflow/
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 protectthewillow.org
Jeff Winters talks candidly about how a sulfide mine at Lynne would impact fishing on the Willow River and Lake and his business.