MAC: Mines and Communities

Indians Buy Crandon Rights - Reported Mine Deal to End Long Fight

Published by MAC on 2003-10-25

Indians Buy Crandon Rights - Reported Mine Deal to End Long Fight

By David Callender and Matt Pommer, The Capital Times (Madison)

October 25 2003

A deal that would end the nearly 25-year-old controversy over development of the proposed Crandon mine appears to be near, sources tell The Capital Times.

Sources said Friday night that two American Indian tribes have purchased mineral rights to the site in northeastern Wisconsin.

Details were sketchy, but legislative sources familiar with the negotiations said the Forest County Potawatomi and the Sokaogon, or Mole Lake, Chippewa have closed the deal with Nicolet Hardwood Corp.

As part of the deal, Nicolet Hardwood would own the timber rights to the site, but the tribes would own the mineral rights.

Sources indicated that the Potawatomi, who operate a large casino near Milwaukee, would provide most of the funding for the purchase in cooperation with the Mole Lake Chippewa.

The deal has been the subject of widespread speculation in the Capitol for the past few weeks.

Some lawmakers were briefed on the agreement late Friday but declined to comment publicly.

Rep. Spencer Black, D-Madison, a longtime critic of the mine, responded with an "I can't comment" to questions about the reported deal.

Gov. Jim Doyle's spokesman, Dan Leistikow, also said he could not comment.

The owners and managers of Nicolet Hardwood, Gordon Phelps Connor and his son, Gordon R. Connor, could not be reached for comment late Friday.

However, Gordon R. Connor told The Capital Times earlier Friday that a 200-acre portion of the site, known as Spirit Hill, had been the subject of negotiations with the tribes.

"We recognize it is of importance to them," he said, adding that there were "a lot of holdings near Mole Lake that are not part of the (mining) project boundary."

"For several months, we have indicated we would be willing to potentially sell" lands that would be of interest to the tribe, he said, but he said the two sides had not come to terms.

The proposed mine site encompasses more than 5,000 acres and includes land that was originally owned by the Connor family, which has run a timber operation there since the 1870s.

The mine was initially proposed by the Exxon Corp. in the 1970s, but its ownership then passed to a subsidiary and most recently to the global mining giant BHP Billiton. Nicolet bought the mine from BHP Billiton earlier this year.

From the very start, the proposed copper and zinc mine's location at the headwaters of the Wolf River and its proximity to wild rice beds on the Mole Lake reservation made it the target of opposition by environmentalists and American Indian tribes.

In 1998, the Legislature passed and Gov. Tommy Thompson signed a statewide moratorium on sulfide mining that has effectively blocked the mine's opening.

The law requires companies that want to mine in Wisconsin to show that a similar mine elsewhere has been pollution-free for at least 10 years, and that such a mine has been closed for a decade with no sign of pollution.

An arm of Nicolet Hardwood, Nicolet Minerals Corp. has continued to seek state permits for the mine.

Black said he believes the new owners have found the process more difficult than anticipated because of the mining moratorium law, the low price of copper and zinc, and the very difficult mining operation itself.

"It's in a place that really shouldn't be mined because of the high ground water table," he said.


Reporter Anita Weier also contributed to this report. updates from:

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