HURLEY — The Iron County Comprehensive Planning/Land and Zoning Committee approved a motion to changes and additions of sections to the zoning ordinance, in relation to both ferrous and nonferrous mining after a public hearing, Monday, in Hurley.
The motion was to approve the language and have it sent to the Iron County Board of Supervisors for final approval during tonight’s board meeting.
Changes were made to sections 9.4.4 through 9.4.11 in relation to ferrous and nonferrous mineral exploration with uses “authorized by conditional permits” in the rural residential, agricultural, commercial, industrial, forestry and non-shore-land resource conservation districts.
Under these changes, “no more than five exploratory borings may be drilled per acre per year, no more than 10 per acre every five years, in which case further exploration shall be a conditional use.”
The major focal point of the meeting was on adding sections on both ferrous and nonferrous mining in Iron County.
According to the ordinance, in order to do bulk sampling in ferrous mining and prospecting nonferrous minerals, a conditional use permit must be approved by the county.
Both processes required an application form from the county and a fee of $10,000. With bulk sampling, a bulk sample plan must be submitted with the application, and with prospecting, a prospecting permit application must be submitted.
Both the plan and permit must be “deemed complete” by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and according to the ordinance, the county will consider a variety of factors in the approval process including dust, fumes, noise limits, hours of operation, financial assurance for reclamation and truck routes and weight limits.
The nonferrous mining section does not pertain to the proposed iron ore mine through Gogebic Taconite, according to Iron County Zoning administrator Tom Bergman. The section was added for future prospects.
Engineer Tim Myers, of G-Tac, spoke to the committee about what bulk sampling is. He said bulk sampling will entail gathering rock samples, putting it in trucks and having it shipped to either one of two labs in Minnesota for extensive testing.
The purpose of bulk sampling is to design the mill equipment on site, and samples will be gathered from previous bulk sampling done at the site over 50 years ago.
“We’re not re-blasting, we’re just picking it up,” Myers said.
Samples will be collected from three sites in Iron County, with a fourth possible site being used in Ashland County. Forty tons will be collected out of each site.
“We’re working through the DNR process right now, so we know this isn’t going to happen over night,” Myers said.
Many residents who spoke during the public hearing focused on the $10,000 fee. Leslie Kolesar, chair of the Iron County Mining Impact Committee, spoke about the fee being too high, and said that $5,000 or less would be “more reasonable.”
However, Terry Daulton, of Mercer, said the fee seemed “too low” and while working as a consultant on similar projects, she saw fees of $15,000-20,000.
“This is a billion-dollar project, so $15,000 to $20,000 isn’t too much,” Daulton said.
Jeff Wilson, also of Mercer, said the fee is to “protect citizens from mistakes the mining company may make.”
“Ten thousand dollars is nothing,” Wilson said. “If a mistake were made, you would be working with the attorney at $300 an hour. In a week, you’ve already went over $10,000. We need a strong law and fee to protect us.”
Hurley resident Maureen Matusewic spoke about the language in the ordinance to avoid future trouble, and asked the committee to “please be specific.”
She called the language “vague,” and wanted to “tighten the language so we know what exactly you are looking for.”
Kolesar and Kelly Klein, of Oma, both spoke about the “over regulation” in the ordinance.
“Don’t over regulate,” Klein said. “Why is Iron County regulating where the DNR is already regulating?”
Kolesar “urged” the committee to not have the county become a regulating authority on mining through the ordinance, and to “leave it to the DNR.”
Eileen Potter, of Montreal, questioned mineral rights on private property, and said the ordinance isn’t clear on how it should be handled. Potter said the ordinance made it seem that if any private property owner didn’t own the mineral rights to their property, it could be open to bulk sampling.
“It makes it seem as if the entire county is open to bulk sampling,” Potter said.
Committee member Gerald Luke also questioned what rights property owners have if they don’t own the mineral rights to their land.
Tom Bergman said the property rights would have to be clarified, and that he would look into the matter.
The committee approved the language for the ordinances, pending clarification on the private property mineral rights, and to have the language sent to the full county board for approval.