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Mining ordinance draws fire, support

 

Cortney Ofstad/Daily Globe

MORE THAN 100 people attended a public hearing on a proposed mining ordinance for Iron County at the Memorial Building in Hurley, Monday.

HURLEY — “Make it stronger” was the theme of many speeches during a public hearing on a proposed mining ordinance in Iron County Monday in Hurley.

More than one hundred people packed into the Iron County Memorial Building to express support or concerns about the draft ordinance to the Iron County Zoning Committee.

Each speaker was given a three-minute limit, and zoning administrator Tom Bergman started the hearing by giving background on how the ordinance came to be.

According to Bergman, mining is essentially illegal and prohibited in Iron County because it is not addressed in any way in county ordinances.

After using four other counties’ ordinances as examples, including Ashland County’s, Bergman presented the draft to the committee and the hearing was held.

Many speakers spoke about Iron County protecting itself from “adverse environmental aspects.”

Jeff Wilson, of Mercer, Wis ., spoke about creating a strong ordinance to protect the citizens of Iron County. He also spoke about not being treated like a “second class citizen” through the ordinance.

“Don’t give me less that Ashland County, when it comes to this ordinance,” Wilson said. “Walk the walk and even make it stronger than Ashland County’s.”

Supporters of the mine spoke about slowing the process down and “doing things correctly.”

“Take your time and get it done right,” Jack Giovanoni, of Hurley, said. “But, we need jobs and we need them now. Don’t forget that.”

Dorrene O’Donnell, of the Hurley Area Chamber of Commerce, also told the committee to slow things down.

“Change is always difficult,” O’Donnell said. “You need to take a long, hard look at this, because this is one of the most important things you will do for your county and the residents you represent.”

Kelly Klein, member of the Iron County Mining Impact Committee and director of the Iron County Development Zone, spoke about the how the ordinance in its current form “discourages mining and economic development.”

He cited one provision that allowed Iron County to access unlimited funds throughout the life of the mine, and 10 years after it closes. The provision allowed for Iron County to receive $100,000 at the beginning of mining operations, and any time the fund balance went below $50,000, Gogebic Taconite was required to put $50,000 back into the account within 15 days.

“It’s an open checkbook, and what kind of business can run on that,” Klein said. “The ordinance was also described as a place holder that can be changed. Constantly changing creates uncertainty and will cause job loss.”

Klein asked the committee to find a compromise within the ordinance.

“Find a win-win for Iron County,” Klein said.

Committee chairman James Kichak, a supervisor from Mercer, told the audience the committee would not be making decisions on the ordinance during the meeting, and would have legal council sit with the committee and address the ordinance.

“We hope to have many more meetings like this to keep you all informed on what’s going on,” Kichak said.

A special meeting for the Iron County Board of Supervisors that was scheduled for today at 6 p.m. was cancelled since no decisions were made on the ordinance during the hearing.