HURLEY - The Iron County Comprehensive Planning/Land and Zoning Committee unanimously approved a conditional use permit for Gogebic Taconite Thursday, allowing the company to begin bulk sampling at the proposed iron mine site near Upson.
The approval is contingent on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources approving a stormwater permit regarding the company's plan.
More than a dozen residents spoke about the permit application, some saying the language of the bulk sampling ordinance could cause potential lawsuits against the county.
"This is a big step for the project and by doing it in the dead of winter, we will have less impact, and we feel good about that," Bob Seitz, G-Tac spokesman, said. "It's important to move fast."
Some of the language may be revised, and many residents urged the committee to "think things through," and wait until after the language has been revised and the DNR makes its decision.
"I feel like we're putting the cart before the horse," Aileen Potter, of Montreal, said. "If they jump through all the DNR hoops, they (G-Tac) are going to get this permit. Why don't you wait until they get back everything from the DNR before you rezone everything and redo the permit? Table this until they have done their homework and do everything they are supposed to for the state."
At the state level, G-Tac is waiting for decisions on the stormwater permit from the DNR.
The DNR does not provide a definitive answer related to bulk sampling plans, but only provides applicants with specific permits that will be needed to move forward with bulk sampling.
G-Tac was required to apply for a stormwater permit, air permit exemption and a final plan for cutting timber on or near the site.
The DNR has requested more information on the stormwater permit.
"It's probably very close for a decision on that," Seitz said. "The DNR understands that the impacts are less when you go in the winter."
According to Tim Myers, engineer for G-Tac, the overall plan of the bulk sampling is to gather rock to run through mineral labs to see what machines will be needed for the mill.
"We're going to pick up some rocks, and put them in a truck," Myers said.
There are three bulk sampling sites in Iron County. Two are previous bulk sampling sites from U.S. Steel in the 1960s.
Depending on the number of trucks used to haul the rocks to Minnesota, the collection could take up to six weeks.
G-Tac will go a "couple of feet" down, according to committee member Jim Lambert, of Mercer, and the company will regrade the areas of collection to avoid drop-offs.
Some residents spoke against the bulk sampling plan, saying they feel "stepped on" by G-Tac, and that things are not always as they seem.
"The old mines around here are gopher holes compared to this," Russell Buccanero, of Upson, said. "This is supposed to be one of the largest iron ore mines in the world... Only a few people will benefit from this. We need jobs, but we don't need this job."
Part of the approval also includes conditions for the company, set up by the county and town of Anderson. All 11 conditions were approved by the committee to place with the conditional use permit.
Some residents are pleased to see the project advance.
"I love it up here," Steve Schurtter, of Montreal, said. "Why would I want to live anywhere else? I would like to see some prosperity coming in, done correctly.
"It would be nice to have my neighbor boys have a job to go to if they were qualified. Let's find out first what's in the ground; what's in there, how much is in there, and then decide to move forward or have them move to another location to put their pit in the ground," Schurtter commented.
The motion to approve the permit was made by committee member George Nasi, of Pence, seconded by Gerald Luke, of Springstead.