Gogebic’s formal request for iron ore mine to be delayed – by Lee Bergquist (Milwaukee – Wisconsin Journal Sentinel – August 26, 2014)


Company won’t finish all environmental fieldwork this year

Gogebic Taconite’s plans to submit an application to develop a $1.5 billion iron ore mine will be pushed back from the spring of 2015 until at least the fall of next year, the company says.

The company won’t finish all fieldwork this year and will be forced to conduct additional environmental work next year, according to Bob Seitz, a spokesman for the company.

The delay comes after the company and supporters said state regulators needed to be more time-conscious of big capital-intensive projects, and they pushed lawmakers to make changes in state law to speed up the review for the massive mine.

“We were kind of hellbent for leather to get past the research phase this year, but we realize that we are not going to be able get that done,” Seitz said.

Southern Wisconsin may still be in the grips of summer, but leaves are beginning to change in the far north. That’s prompting Gogebic to wrap up some fieldwork already.

On a hillside along Highway 77, the company wants to transform forestland into a mine and processing plant that would produce taconite to make steel. Preliminary core samples show significant deposits of iron ore.

The inability to get all of the work done means additional work before the company submits an environmental impact report and formally asks for permission to construct an iron ore mine in Ashland and Iron counties.

A controversial iron mining bill signed into law in March 2013 gives the Department of Natural Resources 420 days to do an environmental analysis and make a decision. There are provisions for the company and DNR to seek a one-time 60-day extension.

Until passage of the new iron mining law, there was no timetable for the state to make a decision. Regardless of the outcome, all parties agree that litigation would be the inevitable next step.

Critics of the legislation say regulations weaken many safeguards to protect public waters affected by the project. Supporters said there are adequate safeguards and more certainty for a company risking tens of millions of dollars in upfront capital.

Court documents unsealed for a brief time on Friday showed that Gogebic Taconite made $700,000 in contributions in 2011 and 2012 to the Wisconsin Club for Growth, a group that supports Gov. Scott Walker, who backed the mine and legislation to speed up the review process.

The biggest factor in not completing environmental work this year involves analyzing groundwater flow where two open pit mines would extend over about four miles, according to Seitz.

The company has drilled five monitoring wells on the hill where it owns an option on mineral rights. One well plunges 1,000 feet to the base of the proposed mine. Four other wells measure the flow of groundwater at various depths, Seitz said.

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