MAC: Mines and Communities

DNR wary of pollution at Crandon mine

Published by MAC on 2002-08-29

DNR wary of pollution at Crandon mine

Concerns raised about possible runoff, tainted groundwater

By Robert Imrie

Associated Press

Last Updated: Aug. 29, 2002

State regulators have raised new concerns about possible pollution if a company is allowed to proceed with plans for an underground zinc and copper mine near Crandon in northern Wisconsin.

In two recent letters to Nicolet Minerals Co., the Department of Natural Resources said its consultants determined that potentially polluted groundwater from the mine may travel faster and be closer to the surface than the mining company's models predict, mining team coordinator Larry Lynch said Thursday.

That could threaten drinking water in the area.

The agency also said its modeling of water runoff from a gigantic pile of mine wastes suggests there will be more water flowing from the pile than the company believes, Lynch said. That means the company's assessment of potential effects on wetlands and other water bodies, including Swamp Creek and the Wolf River, may be incorrect.

Lynch said the letters provide further evidence that issues still need to be resolved in the process of determining whether the mine can be operated without harming the environment.

However, the letters did not identify the differences "as fatal-flaw-type issues, project-stopping issues," Lynch said.

"It is just a continuation of the process that has been going on for the last seven years where we have been identifying issues," he said.

Dale Alberts, president of Nicolet Minerals, was out of his office Thursday afternoon did not immediately return a telephone message for comment.

Nicolet Minerals, a subsidiary of global mining giant BHP Billiton, is seeking state and federal permits to remove 55 million tons of zinc and copper ore from the Crandon site. It applied for the permits in 1994.

Gus Frank, chairman of the Forest County Potawatomi Community, which opposes the mine, said the DNR letters provided "another warning" that the mine cannot comply with Wisconsin law.

"Their plan does not protect the drinking water or the environment. The company still has not submitted a viable plan for a mine," he said in a statement.

The letters are the latest evidence of disagreements between state regulators and the mining company.

In May, the DNR rejected one of the three mines that Nicolet Minerals submitted as examples of similar mines that operated without harming the environment. The company was required to submit those examples under the state's so-called mining moratorium law.

The developments come as the state is appraising about 5,000 acres of mining property, including 550 acres where the milling of ore would take place and mining wastes would be piled, to determine whether to buy it.

Gov. Scott McCallum said in June he would consider a proposal from a coalition of conservation groups and tribal governments for the state to in essence buy out the mining project.

The DNR expects to issue its draft environmental impact statement on the mine during the first three months of 2003, Lynch said Thursday in a telephone interview from Madison.

The main unresolved issue involves what will happen after mining operations cease and the underground shafts where ore was removed and then were refilled become flooded with water, Lynch said.

That water must be clean enough to comply with groundwater standards at a boundary 1,200 feet from the edge of the mine workings, and the compliance must be forever, Lynch said.

State consultants believe the water is going to move differently than the mine contends, he said. Also still at issue is whether the water will be clean enough to comply with standards.

[From The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Aug. 30, 2002].

For background on the Crandon mine in Wisconsin, see the Midwest Treaty Network

For background on the Mole Lake Chippewa delegation to South Africa, see

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