Ladysmith – During its four years of operation, the Flambeau Mine produced copper, gold and silver from a deposit that was relatively small, but rich. It closed in 1997, the last mine of its kind to operate in Wisconsin. That could soon change.
In a major policy shift for the state, a bill by Republican lawmakers would strike down restrictions on such mining, ushering in a new era of mineral exploration. The legislation is sparking a sharp political fight between environmental groups and business interests.
Environmentalists are highlighting the perils of mining rock from sulfide deposits, which have a history of leaching acidic material and polluting water. For months, they have anticipated the legislation and used their websites, social media and other forums to criticize changes in the law.
Supporters of the legislation are touting the economic advantages of mining. They’re also going on the attack, with one organization, the newly organized Natural Resource Development Association, using Twitter to highlight the conviction of a leading mining opponent for attempted arson and possession of a fire bomb at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Army ROTC building in 1970.
The Flambeau Mine plays a major role in that fight, with the two sides completely disagreeing on its life and legacy. One side argues the mine was a model of safe operation; the other argues it is still polluting the Flambeau River and groundwater. The former site stands 140 feet from the shoreline.