MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Groups ask state to buy mine property - Land purchase would stop Crandon mine

Published by MAC on 2002-06-21

Groups ask state to buy mine property - Land purchase would stop Crandon mine

By John Dipko

June 21, 2002

Green Bay Press-Gazette

Madison -- The battle over a proposed copper and zinc mine in Forest County could be coming to an end.

More than a dozen groups, including environmentalists and American Indian tribes, want the state to buy almost 5,000 acres of property eyed for the mine.

The proposed Wolf River Headwaters Protection Purchase would thwart plans for the mine and be made possible through a mixture of private and public funds, including the state Stewardship Fund, they said.

They did not know what the price tag would be when they unveiled the proposal Thursday in Madison.

"This purchase is a winning plan for the residents of Wisconsin," said Dave Blouin, mining committee chairman for the Sierra Club-John Muir Chapter.

"Not only does the purchase end the potential for mining in the Northwoods, but the public and tribes get 5,000 acres of land."

Blouin said the land would be set aside for its conservation and cultural purposes.

Nicolet Minerals Co. President Dave Alberts issued a statement saying the company would consider a purchase offer if it were in the best interests of parent company BHP Billiton, the global mining giant that bought Nicolet Minerals in 2000, and if it reflected the value of the mining project to company shareholders.

Nicolet Minerals is seeking state and federal permits to remove 55 million tons of zinc and copper from the mine, south of Crandon and near the headwaters of the Wolf River.

A state Department of Natural Resources assessment on the environmental impact of the project is expected by the end of the year."

The company continues to pursue all necessary state and federal permits to construct and operate a mine at its property," Alberts said.

The price tag for the land and its mineral rights would be determined through independent appraisals that reflect the fair market value of the land for conservation use and the mineral rights in their undeveloped state, according to a letter the groups sent Thursday to Gov. Scott McCallum and legislative leaders.

The letter asks the governor to direct Administration Secretary George Lightbourn to prepare a letter of intent to buy the site. McCallum called the proposal an "intriguing idea."

"It is my intent to meet with the parties involved and begin a meaningful dialogue so that all issues can be addressed," he said in a statement.

"Before making any commitments, I would like a thorough explanation of the environmental consequences and the impacts to the local economy and the state budget."

The site would be controlled through a partnership of state, local and tribal representatives and provide tribal access for use of the cultural and natural resources, the group's letter said.

"For a thousand years my people have taken seriously their job as stewards of the land, not for what they can get out of it today but what it might bring years down the road," Menominee Indian Tribe Chairman Lisa Waukau said. BHP Billiton has been divesting itself of its copper assets in recent years, said

Zoltan Grossman of the Midwest Treaty Network's Wolf Watershed Educational Project.

The Stewardship Program was created in 1989 to preserve environmentally sensitive areas and expand outdoor recreational opportunities. The DNR uses Stewardship funds to buy or develop property and to make grants to local governments and nonprofit conservation groups.

The largest acquisition through the program was the 32,000-acre purchase called The Great Addition in 1999 in Iron, Oneida, Vilas and Lincoln counties.

A $1.1 billion state deficit threatened to cut back bonding power for the Stewardship Program, but the power was restored fully through a legislative committee compromise earlier this week on it and more than 250 other items.

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