MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Final End to Crandon Mine Controversy in Wisconsin?

Published by MAC on 2002-06-04


Tribal authority challenged denied

Monday, June 4, 2002

The Supreme Court today refused to invalidate a Wisconsin tribe's power to regulate water on its reservation.

The decision lets stand a federal appeals court decision which upheld the "treatment as state" designation for the Sokaogon Band of Ojibwe. The Environmental Protection Agency granted the status under the Clean Water Act to allow the tribe to define its own water quality standards.

The state was opposing the designation, saying it was a "dramatic expansion" of the tribe's inherent rights.

The state also has an interest in a mine operation located upstream from the reservation which the tribe might now be able to scuttle with strict regulations.

For background see Mole Lake Clean Water Case


The Growing Weakness of the Crandon Mine Project

The legal and technical challenges ahead for the proposed Crandon mine are numerous. Even without factoring in the technical hurdles to gaining mine permits, recent financial, legal and regulatory developments make it clear that the latest attempt to open a mine at this pristine site is likely to fail. The mine is proposed by the Nicolet Minerals Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Australian/South African mining conglomerate BHP Billiton--now the world's largest mining company.

It is time to face the obvious. Metallic sulfide mining at the headwaters of the Wolf River is unlikely to be permitted by the state or federal governments.

The proposed mine is opposed by the people of the area and of people from around the state who come to vacation, to fish, to canoe, to relax.

1. The Crandon Mine is an increasingly risky investment

Zinc and copper prices have reached historic lows in the last year. BHP Billiton reported a 33% drop in profits for its most recent quarter (Dec. 2001-Feb. 2002). Weak copper prices pushed earnings from its base metals division down by more than one half compared to the same period a year earlier.

BHP Billiton shut down its operating Arizona copper operations at the beginning of this year, and has recently begun significant cuts of copper outputs in its South American operations, including Peru and Chile.

Even if a Crandon permit were issued, the depressed state of metals prices has led to the closure of other mines around the world. The proposed Crandon mine is not economically viable.

The mining company wrote the project down to zero on its books in 1999, and in 2001 declared the project a "non-core asset." On June 19, 2002, BHP Billiton announced the sale of its only remaining operation in the U.S. (Wyoming's Smith Ranch uranium mine) "...as part of its planned divestment of non-core businesses."

2. The Wisconsin public increasingly opposes the Crandon mine

New public relations efforts to educate the public about the mine's potential impacts have reawakened the public, the media and public officials to the threats of the mine. NMC's inability or refusal to respond in kind to a statewide $250,000 ad campaign for the cyanide ban legislation is a strong signal that the project funding is unstable.

Statewide polling data proves that the longer the mine permitting controversy continues the more state residents oppose it and support mining law reform. Polling data from last summer showed the majority of state residents oppose the mine and strongly support mining law reforms such as the cyanide ban for mining and the closure of loopholes giving the mining industry special treatment. The numbers increased in northeastern Wisconsin, closer to the proposed mine site. http://www.alphacdc.com/treaty/poll.html

The state Conservation Congress, whose mission is to advise the Department of Natural Resources on policy issues, has twice voted overwhelmingly to oppose the use of cyanide in mining, and many local governments, conservation groups and unions have passed similar resolutions.

3. Recent legal and regulatory developments render the project more difficult

The DNR has rejected the mining company's single example of a mine that had been operated and closed for 10 years -- a requirement that must be met under Wisconsin's Mining Moratorium Law. The DNR's rejection of the Sacaton mine in an Arizona desert as a proof that mining can be conducted safely in a Wisconsin wetland environment is a major victory for mine opponents.

http://www.alphacdc.com/treaty/crn-mora.html

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of the Sokaogon Chippewa to adopt water regulations that have an impact on upstream, off-reservation activities - specifically the proposed mine. The right of the Chippewa to protect the resources of Swamp Creek and Rice Lake from the impacts of the mine creates tough new challenges for any mining applicant.

http://www.alphacdc.com/treaty/water.html

Although the cyanide ban and no special treatment bills were blocked in the Assembly Environment Committee, both bills were passed by the State Senate, and attracted widespread bipartisan support in the Assembly. Both bills will be reintroduced in the next legislative session.

http://www.alphacdc.com/treaty/cyanide.html

4. The mine as proposed will be unlikely to receive permits

NMC's most optimistic predictions show that the mine will violate state groundwater regulations when mining halts and the mine is reflooded with groundwater. NMC's own predictions show violations of state groundwater standards at the compliance boundary in all portions of the bedrock and groundwater. DNR-directed modeling of contaminates from the mine shows even greater contamination of the groundwater.

NMC's method for containing contaminants requires perpetual pumping of groundwater at the mine site. The contaminated groundwater would need to be treated at a wastewater treatment plant and discharged. The company assumes that contaminated groundwater can be pumped from the reflooded ore body forever.

State modeling of contaminates traveling from the Tailings Management Area (TMA) shows violation of groundwater standards at the compliance boundary (edge of the regulated mine area). These predictions assume that the TMA cap will be replaced approximately every 100 years forever. NMC calculations of TMA compliance with state groundwater standards unrealistically assume, among other things, that the TMA cap will be maintained and replaced forever. Air modeling by the state shows that NMC will be in violation of air standards for Total Suspended Particulates. The federal Environmental Justice Doctrine, as well as the fiduciary responsibility of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to protect cultural resources of American Indian tribes in the area create significant impediments to issuing permits for any mining applicant at this site.

Mine opponents have retained a cadre of expert witnesses that are first class in the following areas: mining, solid waste, structural stability, air emissions, groundwater/surface water, wetlands, urban planning, etc. These experts provide important "fire power" in raising technical and legal issues in the federal and state permitting cases.

For more information:

Midwest Treaty Network/Wolf Watershed Educational Project

No Crandon Mine links


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


Principles Guiding the Potential Wolf River Headwaters Protection Purchase

For more than a quarter-century, environmentalists, conservation groups and American Indian tribes have been fighting proposals by various mining companies to open the Crandon zinc and copper mine at the headwaters of the Wolf River, next to the Mole Lake Chippewa Reservation. The groups, along with the majority of the people of Wisconsin, feel that the temporary benefits of a mining "boom" are not worth the risk to our northern tourism industry that is dependent on clean water, or the damage to the local economy from a mining "bust."

The Crandon mine risks groundwater drawdown and the resultant destruction of wetlands and ancient wild rice beds, risks pollution from acidic and toxic wastes that will persist for eons, and risks the destruction of the beauty of the headwaters of a federal Wild and Scenic River. The Crandon mine is too big a risk--either for the people of Wisconsin or for the Nicolet Minerals Company (NMC).

The broad-based alliance to protect the Wolf River headwaters has consistently made two demands of BHP Billiton (the owner of NMC.). Numerous communications to BHP Billiton's London office have asked that Crandon mine permit applications be withdrawn, and that the company open a dialogue with state, tribal, and local governments to negotiate a turnover of the site to the people of Wisconsin. We reiterate this position here and add that we strongly believe that insurmountable technical issues combined with recent legal decisions make it clear that attempts to gain state and federal permits for the Crandon mine are now certain to fail. The current low metals market and falling company profits have recently forced BHP Billiton to cut back drastically on metallic mining projects

Wisconsin faces an extraordinary opportunity to permanently end this controversy, in an inclusive fashion that guarantees the natural and cultural preservation of the approximately 5000-acre Crandon mine properties. Environmental, tribal and conservation leaders propose that the State of Wisconsin, in partnership with other governments and private interests, acquire the proposed mine site in the towns of Nashville and Lincoln (Forest County).

If a buy-out of the mine site and mineral rights is to occur, certain principles must be specified, and certain conditions met. Ultimately, any possible purchase requires a guarantee that no mineral extraction will ever take place at the site, that critical stakeholders are not excluded from the process and projected outcome, that the purchase price is based on a realistic valuation of the site, and that the site be managed sustainably and inclusively for natural and cultural preservation.

1. Guarantee a permanent and inclusive solution that rules out the future resurrection of the Crandon mine proposal. It is tempting to suggest that NMC do what previous owners of the mine site have done - to simply give up and go away. However, our experience is that this or another company will eventually return and apply for a permit (as Exxon returned in 1992 after a six-year withdrawal). Frankly, we do not want to repeat history and fight this battle again. We want the threat of mining at this site to permanently end, and the only way to end the threat is to take the site out of the hands of mining companies.

During any buy-out process, whether or not the permit processes are suspended, we will continue to oppose mine permits. Without a denial or full withdrawal of state or federal permits, we will assume that permit applications are still active. We will support pending mining reform legislation even if the Crandon site is acquired.

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 private organizations.

The potential acquisition of the property is fully dependent on the inclusion of tribal and other local stakeholders in any negotiating process and in the outcome of any land acquisition. Sole control of the entire mine site by the State alone would not take into account longstanding local and tribal interests, nor would it permanently prevent BHP Billiton or its competitors from returning to the site. Full state control could also preclude other possible sources of funding for land acquisition, and additional legal tools for the natural and cultural preservation of the site.

We propose a permanent solution to the mine controversy based on control of the site by an integrated board of state, tribal and local governments and land trust organizations, which would develop a joint land use plan to protect the local watershed and cultural properties (such as burial sites). We base this partnership on the success of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve Board. This partnership would be established no matter what the mix and source of funding used in land acquisition, and no matter what the mix of property holdings and jurisdictions ultimately within the site.

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. The implementation of any acquisition is fully dependent on the valuation of the land. A mining company makes project investments fully aware of the risk and financial fluctuations in the market. We believe that the Crandon mine will not receive permits due to the difficulties associated with proposed mining at this environmentally sensitive site.

We also believe that current and forecasted zinc and copper commodity surpluses as well as historic low price make an already risky proposal extremely unstable. The mining company has already written the Crandon mine site off ts books (in 1999), and declared it a "non-core asset" in 2000.

We would reserve the right to conduct our own property appraisal, and to oppose any purchase that emphasizes the value of a permitted mine. We are open to additional funding sources to help reduce the cost to the public.

4. Offer the mining company a dignified exit from Wisconsin, and enable sustainable development to replace the mine proposal. BHP Billiton has a unique opportunity to turn a risky investment into a global public relations win. The Australian/South African company has long claimed that it is responsive to communities' concerns about its mining projects. It can now demonstrate that claim, by recognizing that a majority of Wisconsin residents (in a 2001 poll) have stated that they do not want this mine.

The company also has a unique chance to "lock up" the ore body against any potential competitors. In place of an unsustainable and uncertain mine proposal, a public acquisition would enable area governments to devise low-impact and sustainable development to support the local economy.

Crandon mine opponents have invested many millions of dollars, their local communities' economic well being, and many years of their individual lives to protect the Wolf River headwaters.

The organizations represented below are prepared to publicly support the process leading to the public acquisition of the mine site if it follows the principles outlined above, and to actively oppose any solution that does not follow these principles.

Signed by authorized representatives of:


Open Letter to Wisconsin State Government Leaders

Governor Scott McCallum

cc: Senate President Fred Risser and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala
Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen and Assembly Majority Leader Steve Foti
Senate Minority Leader Mary Panzer
Assembly Minority Leader Spencer Black
Joint Finance Committee Co-Chairs Senator Brian Burke and Representative John Gard

Leaders from environmental, conservation and public interest groups, local and tribal governments, and local and state mining organizations, who long have been concerned about the impacts of development of the proposed Crandon Wisconsin's Northwoods.

Now is the calm before the storm -- the last opportunity for thoughtful consideration of alternatives to the upcoming contentious battle over the Crandon Mine Environmental Impact Statement and mine permit Master Hearing. We believe the proposed Crandon Mine project faces many regulatory and environmental hurdles that may never be overcome.

We have dared to ask: What if the total energy and money likely to be spent by proponents and opponents of the Crandon Mine were instead diverted to a campaign for a sustainable economic and environmental future for Wisconsin's Northwoods?

At this unique moment in Wisconsin's history we make a uniquely Wisconsin proposal -- public acquisition of all of the property (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 and forest management practices, tribal cultural values, and tourism suitable to this environmentally sensitive area. This will be the Wolf River Headwaters Protection Purchase. This initiative should include a mix of public and private sources, including the State Stewardship Fund

We call on Governor McCallum to support this initiative with the full commitment of his office by directing Department of Administration Secretary Lightbourn to prepare a Letter of Intent with Nicolet Minerals Company to purchase the site. We call on NMC to support initiation of the purchase agreement process. We ask that our elected officials and candidates for governor join in thoughtful discussion of this proposal and not raise barriers to consideration of this unique opportunity for public acquisition of the Wolf River Headwaters.

We would support use of public resources to acquire NMC's proposed mine site based on the following conditions:

1. The cost of the acquisition to the public must be reasonable based on appraisals reflecting the fair market value of the property for conservation use and the mineral rights in their undeveloped state.

2. Mineral rights shall be held by the public and deed estricted to prevent development of the mine.

3. The State should pursue a mix of public and private funding sources (such as federal, local and tribal governments, and private organizations) as is common practice with Stewardship Fund projects. The State Stewardship Fund should not be the sole source for funding on this project.

4. Any cost to the State Stewardship Fund shall be spread over time after final payment of current obligations, preserve the priority of planned and scheduled purchases, and not bankrupt the program for this unique purchase.

5. The State shall consult with us and provide meaningful participation for our designated representatives during the negotiations concerning the acquisition of the property and mineral rights.

6. Subsequent management and control of the property will be developed through negotiations and legislative action patterned on a state-tribal-local partnership, such as the Kickapoo Valley Reserve Board. Management of the site must preserve the natural and cultural resources of the site into the future and provide tribal access for use of these cultural and natural resources. Resource management shall be carried out at the watershed scale to protect the high-quality water resources and habitat for game, non-game and endangered species while encouraging appropriate tourism development in an area that would otherwise have put these resources at serious risk.

7. The State shall ensure adequate financial and technical assistance to establish and maintain sustainable land and forest management practices and tourism suitable to this environmentally sensitive area. This will build on current local sustainable development efforts, such as Northwoods NiiJii Enterprise Community Inc.

8. Consistent with state and federal environmental laws and regulations, NMC and its parent company will remain legally responsible for any environmental contamination of the project real estate caused by NMC or its agents or employees.

Signed by authorized representatives of:

Mole Lake Sokaogon Chippewa Community
Clean Water Action Council of Northeast Wisconsin Inc.
ECCOLA (Environmentally Concerned Citizens of Lakeland Area)
John Muir Chapter of the Sierra Club
Menominee Indian Tribe
Midwest Treaty Network/Wolf Watershed Educational Project
Mining Impact Coalition of Wisconsin
Northern Thunder
Pickerel/Crane Lake Protection and Rehabilitation District
River Alliance of Wisconsin
Rolling Stone Lake Protection and Rehabilitation District
Town of Nashville
Wisconsin Resources Protection Council
Wisconsin Stewardship Network - Mining Committee
Wisconsin's Environmental Decade
Wolf River Chapter of Trout Unlimited
Bob Hudek, Wisconsin Citizen Action*

(*For identification purposes only)


Mining firm would consider land sale; Foes urge public purchase of Crandon site

By Lee Bergquist

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

June 21, 2002

Nicolet Minerals Co. said Thursday that it would be willing to sell the land and mineral rights at its proposed mine near Crandon - a move that could end two decades of debate about the project.

But details of any deal were sketchy, with questions going unanswered over who would buy the 5,000-acre parcel and how much it would cost. A group of environmentalists and Indian tribes that have opposed the project proposed a "public acquisition" of the property that Nicolet wants to use for an underground copper and zinc mine.

The most likely buyers would be the state and three tribes that are near the project. Gov. Scott McCallum called the proposal "intriguing" and said his administration wants to meet with Nicolet to talk.

Nicolet President Dale Alberts said the company would consider selling the property if it was in the best interests of its Australian parent, BHP Billiton Group, and was a good deal for shareholders.

A volatile issue The Crandon mine has been one of the most contentious environmental issues in Wisconsin in decades - a classic battle pitting economic development against the environment. While Nicolet says it could meet any environmental limits imposed on the company, opponents say they proposed the buyout because, although they believe the project faces an uphill battle from the Department of Natural Resources, they want to ensure that the land will not be purchased by another mining company.

"Simply defeating the mine permit is not enough, unless the land is permanently taken out of the hands of mining companies," said Zoltan Grossman, of the Midwest Treaty Network's Wolf Watershed Educational Project. Experts said the sale price of the land would hinge on how the value of minerals would be calculated. Although the site has been described as one of North America's richest ore bodies, its value hinges on whether the company could prove that it could pass regulatory approval.

Nicolet wants to recover 55 million tons of copper and zinc, and smaller quantities of lead, silver and gold at the Forest County site. But environmental groups have raised questions about the mine's effect on groundwater and its impact on the surrounding area, including the Wolf River.

The project has been marked by a series of delays and strong public opposition, including the passage of a mining moratorium bill in 1998.

Tribal water standards upheld Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower court decision that the Sokaogon (Mole Lake) Chippewa have the right to raise water quality standards on their reservation in northern Wisconsin so they are higher than the state's.

The mine would be next to the reservation and would use groundwater in its mining process. The decision meant Nicolet would have to return water to the same pristine quality as before it came into contact with the mine.

"That means you are essentially discharging distilled water and we don't believe they could have done it," said Dave Blouin of the Sierra Club.

However, Nicolet said after the decision was announced that it could meet stricter limits set down by the tribe.

Nicolet recently used a go-between to contact environmentalists and the Indians about a possible sale, both sides said, after opponents demanded more than two years ago that the company turn over the land.

Nicolet's overture comes at a time of weak prices for metals and as its parent company has sold off other mining assets. "I think what happened today caught a lot of people off guard," said DNR Secretary Darrell Bazzell.

Bazzell said he did not get wind of the deal until Wednesday night. Business group blasts proposal Several politicians who have been critics of the mine applauded Thursday's developments. But the state's largest business organization was hotly critical.

"The state's only role should be to either approve or reject the permit for the mine," said James S. Haney, president of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. "Wisconsin has a $1.1 billion deficit and the taxpayers shouldn't be forced to pick up the tab to buy out a project deemed politically unpopular."

Haney said environmentalists should buy the land themselves. The Sierra Club's Blouin said that private dollars could be part of the acquisition, "but our goal has been to make this a public property from the get-go." Funding from some Wisconsin Indian tribes is also possible, said Tina Van Zile, vice chairwoman of the Sokaogon.

As outlined by environmentalists and the tribes, the land would be a conservation area, devoted to sustainable land use, tourism and promoting tribal cultural values. Crandon Mine - Proposed Deal A coalition of environmental groups and Wisconsin tribes Thursday proposed a public purchase of the 5,000-acre site of a proposed mine in Crandon in northern Wisconsin.

If the purchase went forward, it would kill the project after two decades of debate. Nicolet Minerals, which owns the property, says it is open to the idea of selling the land.

Gov. Scott McCallum also said he will consider the proposal, although the cost is unknown.


State might buy Crandon mine site

June 21, 2002

Ron Seely, Environment reporter

Wisconsin State Journal

A proposal for the state to buy land that is being considered for a large zinc and copper mine near Crandon may signal an approaching end to one of Wisconsin's most bitter environmental controversies.

For the past 25 years, four major mining companies - Exxon, Rio Algom, Billiton Plc., and BHP Billiton - have tried to secure permits to mine the 60 million-ton ore deposit south of Crandon, in northeastern Wisconsin. The plan has been fought every step of the way by state environmentalists, largely because the mine is at the headwaters of the Wolf River, one of the state's most pristine rivers.

Thursday, Gov. Scott McCallum and officials with Nicolet Minerals Co. said they are interested in pursuing a suggestion from several environmental groups and state Indian tribes calling for the state to buy the almost 5,000 acres of land and the mineral rights from Nicolet.

"The proposal," McCallum said in a news release, "is an intriguing idea that deserves further consideration and discussion."

McCallum said he intends to meet with all the parties involved in the proposed purchase to discuss potential effects on the local economy were the mine not to be built. According to Nicolet, the proposed mine would be a $400 million construction project with an estimated economic impact of $1.5 billion. The mine would provide as many as 400 jobs over its 30-year life, the company said.

The purchase proposal brought cautious interest from Nicolet. In a three-paragraph statement, Dale Alberts, Nicolet president, said the company will continue to pursue permits for the project.

"However," Alberts said, "the company would be willing to consider an offer to purchase the property, if the purchase is in the best interests of Nicolet's parent company, BHP Billiton, and the offer reflects the value of this project to our shareholders."

The purchase proposal surfaced in the last month, according to David Blouin, who chairs the mining committee of the state's Sierra Club chapter. He said mining opponents have been discussing the idea with Nicolet's parent company, BHP Billiton, and that, recently, the company suggested through a neutral third party that it might be interested in selling.

Blouin said the timing is good for such a plan. He said BHP Billiton is divesting itself of what it calls "non-core assets," including the proposed Crandon project.

He said the company sold a western uranium mine Wednesday. But Blouin stressed that the proposal is not a payoff or a buyout. Instead, he said, the plan calls for using a combination of money from the state Stewardship Fund and private conservation groups to buy the land and mineral rights "for a reasonable price based on fair market value."

The proposal from the environmental groups calls for management of the site by an integrated board of state, local and tribal governments.

"We will not support a public bailout of this company's bad investment," Blouin said.

It is crucial, Blouin added, that mineral rights also be purchased. "We want to permanently end this controversy," he said. "Gaining the mineral rights would do that."

Not everybody was happy with the idea. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state's largest business organization, blasted the proposal. James Haney, the organization's president, called the proposed purchase a "taxpayer bailout."

"The state's only role," said Haney, "should be to either approve or reject the permit for the mine. Wisconsin has a $1.1 billion deficit, and the taxpayers shouldn't be forced to pick up the tab to buy out a project deemed politically unpopular." Haney said the environmental groups should buy the land themselves. Among the 17 tribes and environmental groups making the announcement Thursday were the John Muir Chapter of the Sierra Club, Environmentally Concerned Citizens of Lakeland Area, Mining Impact Coalition of Wisconsin, Menominee Indian Tribe, Mole Lake Sokaogon Chippewa Community, Wisconsin's Environmental Decade and the River Alliance of Wisconsin. Others praised the plan. Kathleen Falk, Dane County executive and Democratic candidate for governor, said she supports the use of Stewardship funds if the state "pays a fair market value and the companies are not enriched."

State Rep. Spencer Black, D-Madison, a longtime opponent of the mine, said Thursday's announcement signals an apparent end to the decades-long controversy. "The reality," Black said, "is that the mining company wanted out. For all practical purposes, it's the end of the mine."

Mine chronology

A history of the proposed mine near Crandon in Forest County:


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.


Candidate Young Applauds Wolf River Headwaters Protection Purchase

JIM YOUNG, Green Candidate for Governor

June 20, 2002

Contact: Young for Governor Campaign (608) 837-6987

Green Party candidate for Governor Jim Young supports the proposal to acquire the proposed Crandon Mine property and mineral rights, and pledges, as Governor, to secure financial resources to make it a reality.

The Wolf River Headwaters Protection Purchase would allow for public acquisition of all the property owned by Nicolet Minerals Company for the proposed Crandon Mine.

"This is the most significant movement in environmental justice that I have seen in my 16 years of working on Treaty Rights," said Young. "We are on the verge of a great victory for the people of Wisconsin that bodes well for people around the world."

"At the Indigenous Mining Summit this past weekend in Mole Lake, we discussed our vision for this site without a mine," said Young.

An alliance of environmental and conservation groups and local and tribal governments released a detailed proposal designed to permanently end the controversy over permitting the Crandon mine.

The proposal, called the Wolf River Headwaters Protection Purchase, 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."

The buyout plan has Young's complete support. "As Governor, I will ensure Wisconsin finds the financial resources to purchase this property in cooperation with Indigenous Nations," said Young, whose platform calls for the co-management of environmental resources by the state and tribal nations.

"I continue to oppose all new metallic mining projects and to support a ban on the use of cyanide in mining projects."

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.

Young recognized the work and dedication of those who are working to "I applaud the tireless efforts of the town of Nashville, the Menomonee Nation, Sakaogon and other Chippewa Nations, Forest County Potowatomi, the Midwest Treaty Network, the Green Party and the many environmental organizations and individuals to bring this idea to fruition."

Information on the Wolf River Headwaters Protection Purchase is available here

For additional information on Jim Young visit: http://www.young4governor.org.

(Statements by gubernatorial candidates McCallum, Falk and Barrett are here


Important Note on Action Alert:

When contacting the Governor, legislators and media, make sure that you support a "PUBLIC ACQUISITION" of the Crandon mine site, not simply a "STATE BUYOUT." We only need to look to the thousands of mineral exploration leases on State-owned lands throughout the U.S. (including Wisconsin) to understand that exclusive State control is NOT enough to protect the site for future generations. A mix of public and private funding for the site purchase, combined with integrated control over management of the site, will ensure that no mining company could ever return. Joint management by state, tribal, local and private agencies will guarantee not only that natural resources are protected, but also cultural resources (such as tribal burial sites, religious access, and harvesting access). Wisconsin has twice gone through decade-long battles over this mine (in 1976-1986 and 1992-2002). We don't want mining companies to return again for any more decade-long battles! We need a PERMANENT and INCLUSIVE solution to the Crandon mine conflict.

For background:

Wolf River Headwaters Protection Purchase

Action Alerts, Articles and Statements on purchase

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