MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Wolf River Headwaters Protection Purchase Proposed as Final End to Crandon Mine Controversy in Wisco

Published by MAC on 2002-06-20

Wolf River Headwaters Protection Purchase Proposed as Final End to Crandon Mine Controversy in Wisconsin

For immediate release, June 20, 2002, 9:30 am

Text available here

CONTACTS:

Ken Fish, Menominee Treaty Rights and Mining Impacts, 715-799-5620

Zoltan Grossman, Midwest Treaty Network/ Wolf Watershed Educational Project, 608-246-2256

George Rock, Trout Unlimited-Wolf River Chapter, 715-882-4800

Chuck Sleeter, Chairman of Town of Nashville, 715-484-8166 (office), 715-490-4211 (cell)

Liz Wessel, Wisconsin's Environmental Decade, 608-251-7020

Dave Blouin, Sierra Club-John Muir Chapter, 608-233-8455

An alliance of environmental, conservation, local and tribal governments, who long have been concerned about the impacts of development of the proposed Crandon Mine, today released a detailed proposal designed to permanently end the controversy over permitting the Crandon mine.

The proposal states "At this unique moment in Wisconsin's history we make a uniquely Wisconsin proposal -- public acquisition of all of the property (nearly 5,000 acres of land and mineral rights) owned by Nicolet Minerals Company (NMC) in the vicinity of the proposed mine site as a conservation area devoted to sustainable land management practices, tribal cultural values and tourism suitable to this environmentally sensitive area. This will be the Wolf River Headwaters Protection Purchase."

Beginning in December 2000, the broad-based alliance to protect the Wolf River began demanding that BHP Billiton (the owner of Nicolet Minerals Co.) withdraw applications for mining permits and to open a dialogue with state, tribal, and local governments to negotiate a turnover of the mine site to the public. Recently, BHP Billiton communicated to the alliance a willingness to consider a public purchase of the site. The alliance has responded with the proposal sent to Governor McCallum and legislative leaders today.

"The State of Wisconsin has an exciting opportunity to end the state's most controversial environmental issue by helping to acquire this pristine and environmentally sensitive site," said Chuck Sleeter, Board Chairman, Town of Nashville. "Our proposal will support low-impact sustainable development instead of destructive mining in the headwaters of the Wolf River. We want to protect natural and cultural resources and grow our economy wisely instead of endangering it with risky, short-term mining."

"This proposal is a winning plan for the State of Wisconsin," said Dave Blouin, Sierra Club-John Muir Chapter Mining Committee Chair. "Some may ask whether this is a payoff or a buyout of the mining company. It most certainly is not. We will not support a public bailout of this company's bad investment. The public has spoken loud and clear about their desire to protect the Wolf River and this purchase proposal honors their wishes. Not only does this purchase end the potential for mining in the Northwoods, but the public will gain almost 5,000 acres of land that future generations will cherish for its natural and cultural resources."

The groups identified four principles to guide the Wolf River Headwaters Protection Purchase:

1. Guarantee a permanent and inclusive solution that rules out the future resurrection of the Crandon mine proposal.

2. Safeguard the natural and cultural resources of the site into the future, with control of the mine site by an integrated board of state, local and tribal governments, and other organizations.

3. Ensure that the State of Wisconsin and other potential buyers pay a realistic price for a mine site that is unlikely to receive permits, and allow for a mix of public and private funding.

4. Offer the mining company a dignified exit from Wisconsin, and enable sustainable development to replace the mine proposal.

The proposal specifies that only a reasonable price based on fair market value of the property for conservation use be paid by the State or public support by the groups may be withdrawn.

The groups in support of the proposed purchase are also open to additional sources of funding to help reduce the cost to the public.

The proposal offers conditional public support for a purchase of the Crandon mine properties and mineral rights using a mix of public and private funding. The proposal details conditions leading to control of the mine site by multiple stakeholders to ensure access to the site for the public and tribes. The purchase would result in a protected conservation area devoted to sustainable land management practices, tribal cultural values and tourism suitable to this environmentally sensitive area of the headwaters of the Wolf River.

The groups called for a "permanent and inclusive solution that rules out the future resurrection of the Crandon mine proposal." Zoltan Grossman of the Midwest Treaty Network's Wolf Watershed Educational Project noted that the Exxon mining company withdrew from the site in 1986, after a decade-long permit battle only to return in 1992 to reapply for a permit. Grossman explained, "Simply defeating the mine permit is not enough, unless the land is permanently taken out of the hands of mining companies.

We do not want to repeat history and fight another 10-year battle." Grossman asserted that "exclusive control by a sole owner, such as the State, would not permanently end this threat. We need either a mix of land ownership within the property, or an integrated board representing state, tribal and local interests. The only way to safeguard the natural and cultural preservation of the site is with a partnership that includes as many jurisdictions and legal powers as possible in defending the land." He pointed to the Kickapoo Valley Reserve Board as an example of a state-tribal- local partnership that protects natural and cultural resources. Lisa Waukau, Chairwoman of the Menominee Indian Tribe stated:

"For 10,000 years the Menominee have been stewards for over nine-and-one-half-million acres of northeastern Wisconsin. It is Indian philosophy. Humanity is charged with protecting life, including the environment. We as Menominee, indigenous to what is now known as Northeast Wisconsin, encourage and praise the thought that the State would follow suit as stewards of the pristine headwaters of the Wolf River. A Crandon mine purchase makes sense so that future generations, whether Indian or non-Indian, will enjoy the clean water, natural resources and a pristine environment just as we and our ancestors have enjoyed."

The Menominee, Mole Lake Sokaogon Chippewa, Forest County Potawatomi and other area tribes have stressed the protection of wild rice resources downstream from the mine site, air and water quality issues, burial sites within the site, and tribal religious access to the site.

"Many local and tribal governments downstream from the mine site are deeply opposed to development of a mine, said George Rock, Vice president of Trout Unlimited's Wolf River Chapter.

"BHP Billiton can demonstrate that it is responsive to local communities' concerns about potential problems with its proposed mine by agreeing to allow the nearly 5000-acre site and mineral rights to be purchased.

"This alliance will launch a new grassroots campaign to help ensure the success of this proposed purchase," said Liz Wessel, Executive Director, Wisconsin's Environmental Decade.

"We will ask our supporters to contact the Governor, elected officials and political leaders and ask them to support the proposal. We believe that leaders of all stripes can support this exciting purchase that protects the headwaters of the Wolf River."

Sleeter summarized: "The Crandon mine battle has been a life-and-death struggle for the local Native and non-Native communities. This proposal is not just for another land acquisition, but a way to prevent potentially expensive damage to the Wolf River and the northern tourism industry. This proposed buyout is the end result of a huge broad-based grassroots movement of local residents, tribes, environmentalists, sportfishers, unions, students and many others. It is a historic opportunity in the Crandon mine controversy, and a way to heal the divisions of the past quarter-century."

The groups that signed the principles are:

(*For identification purposes only)

For more information:

Mining company

Mine opponents or here

For text of the conditions, principles and background on the growing weakness of the Crandon mine project

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