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Gogebic Taconite officials discuss mine with county board

 

Cortney Ofstad/Daily Globe

A CROWD of people prepare to listen to a question and answer session between the Iron County Board of Supervisors and Gogebic Taconite representatives during a special meeting on Tuesday at the Iron County Courthouse in Hurley.

HURLEY — Questions were asked and answers were given during a special meeting for the Iron County Board of Supervisors Tuesday at the Iron County Courthouse.

The meeting was designated for board members to ask questions of Gogebic Taconite representatives, in relation to a proposed iron mine near Upson, Wis.

Local residents from Iron and Ashland counties filled the county board room, asking questions of the board during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Topics discussed included infrastructure being affected because of the mine, the affect on water in surrounding areas, pollution liability, reclamation and the use of county land.

“I am not against the mine, if it’s done right,” Jim Lambert, supervisor from Mercer, Wis ., said. “I am going to be dead before we start digging, but I don’t want my grandchildren, 50 years from now, to say ‘What the heck were they thinking?’”

Many of the responses from GTAC were based on future studies that will be done, once the snow and ice finally melt away for spring.

Some of the tests include digging cores to be tested for sulfate as well as other elements, and bringing in hydrologists to study local water sources.

“We do these tests and present them to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, as well as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” Tim Myers, engineer for GTAC, said. “If they don’t like what they see, they won’t issue the permit, and we don’t mine.”

Myers also addressed the issue of possible acid drainage as a result of sulfate being found in the site.

“Sulfate is not a showstopper, but something we have to be aware of and address,” Myers said.

Another major concern was the waste that is produced during mining operations. According to GTAC president Bill Williams, for ever 3.4 tons of crude, there is one ton of pellets, leaving 2.4 tons of waste, or tailings.

The county is leasing GTAC 3,300 acres near the mine, and according to Myers, only half of the land will actually be used. Tailings will be piled on county land, until they can be put back into the ground.

Williams said that dry stacking tailings leaves a smaller carbon footprint, as well as impacts less land than other options, despite being more expensive.

“With this process, we can start shaping, contouring and reclaiming that land while the mine is still in operation,” Williams said.

With the leasing agreement, the county would be paid an annual rental fee, based on what the trees on the property are worth.

According to forestry head Joe Varius, if the payments were to start immediately, the county would receive $80,000 a year.

Supervisor Joe Pinardi, of Hurley, discussed the possibility of having town hall meetings during the permitting and mining process to keep residents informed about the progress that was being made.

“We are on board with that, letting people know what has been done and what will be done,” Williams said. “But we have to wait until we have test results to present.”

Williams was also asked about the possibility of starting training programs in local high schools and colleges to train students on how to work in the field of mining.

“That is very attractive to us,” Williams said. “We want to train those who are willing to live here.”

The board will hold a regularly scheduled meeting next Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the county board room.