Leaders in northern Wisconsin stood in solidarity Monday against the proposed mining bills that are close to a vote in the state Senate and Assembly.
Supporters of the mining legislation say it will create much-needed jobs in northern Wisconsin. City and tribal leaders on Lake Superior's south shore, though, say the bills endanger future job creation. Officials from Ashland, Bayfield and Washburn — along with those from the Bad River, Red Cliff and Lac Courte Oreilles tribes — painted their communities as vibrant places with economies thriving on natural resources. Washburn Mayor Scott Griffiths says a mine in the Penokee Range would change that: "We don't need the extractive industries to solve the problems of our rural communities. Another ride on the boom/bust cycle is not what we need to see in northern Wisconsin."
Bad River Tribal Chairman Mike Wiggins says there will be a lot of job creation for lawyers if lawmakers sign off on the mining legislation, "Preparing to litigate in federal court is merely part of our effort to protect ourselves."
Wiggins says the legislation would have horrible implications for their groundwater, air quality and way of life. Tribes aren't the only ones who view mining as a threat. Ashland Mayor Bill Whalen says his city is dealing with its own $130 million cleanup as the result of pollution from industries long gone. "I would hate to think that 30 or 40 years from now there's a mayor of Ashland, Bayfield, Washburn and tribal chair dealing with a cleanup issue on Lake Superior and thinking to themselves, 'What were they thinking about when they passed this legislation?'"
Backers of mining legislation say the permitting process needs to be streamlined in order to attract mining companies to the state. They argue mining can be expanded in the state without harming the environment.