The Bad River Watershed Association submitted the following press release to papers in Madison and Milwaukee, and in Iron, Ashland, and Bayfield counties in late December 2014.
Ashland, WI – During candidate debates, media releases, and robo-calls leading up to the November elections, it was erroneously stated that Act 1 (the iron mining law) does not allow for the filling in of area wetlands with mining waste and tailings. In actuality, the authors of the law intended to weaken protection of area wetlands, as is specifically stated in section 295.40(7). Of equal concern is the initial draft of the Iron County metallic mining ordinance within the Iron County Land Use Ordinance. Section 9.4.19(K) 'Metallic Mining or Industrial Planned Unit Development' proposed in committee this week, describes the uses and requirements for the development of a ferrous mine and defaults impacts to wetlands and navigable waters to Wis. Section 295 of Act 1.
The iron mining law known as Act 1, signed by Governor Scott Walker in March of 2013, states in Section 295.40 (7) – ‘that because of the fixed location of ferrous mineral deposits in the state, it is probable that mining those deposits will result in adverse impacts to wetlands and that, therefore, the use of wetlands for bulk sampling and mining activities, including the disposal or storage of mining waste or materials, or the use of other lands for mining activities that would have a significant adverse impact on wetlands, is presumed to be necessary.
Senator Tom Tiffany R-Hazelhurst, one of the authors of the bill, said in a March 2013 interview with the Capitol Times in Madison, “The bill reflects the reality of mining. There are going to be some impacts to the environment above the iron ore body. If the law is challenged and ends up in court, the judge needs to know it was the Legislature’s intent to allow adverse (environmental) impacts. That way, a judge can’t find fault if the environment is impacted.”
The Bad River Watershed Association (BRWA), is concerned that maintaining the exceptional health and function of the Bad River watershed will be jeopardized if adjoining and connected wetlands are filled with mining waste. Our organization testified in numerous hearings prior to the passing of Act 1, which changed existing law related to the mining of ferrous metals in Wisconsin. We asked that existing environmental protections not be exempted from the ferrous mining bill and weakened within the context of ferrous mining. Unfortunately, the majority of the legislators agreed that adverse environmental impacts were acceptable and that mining interests trumped concerns for the health of the Bad River Watershed. The legislation also stated that mining companies could in fact fill in wetlands with mining waste as long as ‘compensatory’ mitigation occurred anywhere else in the state. Our area wetlands are crucial components to the healthy function of watersheds and the Bad River watershed is no exception.
According to the Wisconsin Wetlands Association, "The Upper Bad River Watershed is functioning the way a healthy watershed should function. Wetlands capture the large snowpack and spring precipitation, 'slowing the flow' and providing cool water to downstream creeks and rivers throughout the year. These wetlands also collect sediment and nutrients, releasing clean water. The proposal to bury these wetlands under hundreds of feet of waste rock will most likely have watershed-wide impacts, potentially affecting the health of the lower watershed’s Kakagon-Bad River Sloughs estuary complex and its abundant wild rice beds."
BRWA voiced concerns about the provisions related to the wetlands at the time this legislation was being debated and continues to do so after its passage. We are calling on lawmakers and local policy makers to acknowledge that Act 1, by design has the potential to allow for the filling in of wetlands with mining waste and tailings. This is the reality of those specific provisions within the bill and the public should not be accidentally or purposefully mislead about those realities.