What’s Involved in the Iron Mining Permitting Process?
The possible development of an iron mine in the Bad River watershed near Mellen brings with it a lot of questions: How will it affect the water, air, wildlife, local economy, and overall atmosphere of the region? How long will it take to permit and develop a proposed mine? What are some ways citizens can stay informed during this involved process? While there are many questions yet to be answered, here we provide an overview of the permitting process, how citizens can participate and stay informed, and where in the process the iron mining project is at currently.
Exploration: For a prospective mining company, the first step before beginning the permitting process is that the company must receive licensing from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to conduct exploratory drilling and file a drilling plan. Drilling and site reclamation are regulated and supervised by DNR personnel. After the exploratory drilling is complete, and if a company decides it wants to pursue mining an area, it then embarks on a permitting process with the State of Wisconsin and local governments.
Notice of Intent: The first official step to initiate the permitting process is the filing of a Notice of Intent document with the DNR. This document includes contact information for the applicant, project site maps, expected date of submission of the permit application, existing environmental data, a preliminary project description, description of the proposed method of extraction and processing, nature of the wastes produced, and estimated project schedule. The time frame for approving a permit from start to finish varies widely. It can sometimes take two and a half years, but may go on even longer depending on many variables.
Scope of Study: After reviewing the document, the DNR notifies the applicant regarding additional specific information it may require. In response, the applicant develops a Scope of Study report, which provides detailed information about the additional data required including type, methods used, and methods for data verification and quality assurance.
Public Hearings: One of the best ways for citizens to stay informed about the permitting process and have their concerns heard is by attending local meetings. Mandatory public hearings are scheduled to solicit input from the public, local government and other agencies. Here your opinions are heard and made part of the DNR’s official record of public input. This record of testimonial evidence is part of the Master Hearing process discussed below. Matters discussed at public hearings include environmental impacts and monitoring, assembling contact lists of those wanting updates of DNR actions, DNR verification of the applicant’s compliance with permitting requirements, and many other matters.
Environmental Impact Report: The applicant is required to submit an Environmental Impact Report documenting the existing physical, biological, and socioeconomic conditions in the proposed project area. This entails gathering a large amount of background information on the project area’s geology, hydrology, ecology, economy and demographics. These data are then used to formulate an estimate of the project’s impacts to the area.
Environmental Impact Statement: After review of the applicant’s submittals, the DNR publicly issues an Environmental Impact Statement. This extensive document discloses information on the proposed project including location, description of the ore body, developed mine structures and land footprint, processes and infrastructure involved, environmental monitoring, site reclamation requirements, duration of the project and anticipated environmental and socioeconomic impacts.
Master Hearing: The Master Hearing is an opportunity for further public comment. It is a formal legal proceeding similar to a trial, presided over by a Hearing Examiner appointed from the Wisconsin Division of Hearings and Appeals. At the hearing, evidence and testimony from the Public Hearing and all other permit and approval matters are entered into a formal record. On the basis of the record of the hearing, the Hearing Examiner decides if the proposed project is appropriate and in compliance with all applicable laws, or if further environmental impact data is required. Decisions reached in the Master Hearing are subject to administrative or judicial appeal if all parties are not satisfied.
For more information about the permit process: WDNR Overview of Metallic Mine Permitting