MAC: Mines and Communities

Mole Lake Update: from Johannesburg to Wisconsin

Published by MAC on 2002-08-29

Mole Lake Update: from Johannesburg to Wisconsin

29 August 2002

The DNR (Department of Natural Resources) says proposed Crandon mine would pollute drinking water source

Two recent letters from agency create new setbacks for mining proposal

New concerns about pollution of groundwater and surface waters by the proposed Crandon mine have been raised by the Department of Natural Resources in two recent letters to the mine site owners, Nicolet Minerals Company, a subsidiary of Australian-based BHP Billiton.

This latest setback for the mining company is just another warning that their proposal cannot comply with Wisconsin's law," according to Gus Frank, Chairman of the Forest County Potawatomi Community. "Their plan does not protect the drinking water or the environment. The company still has not submitted a viable plan for a mine."

Chairman Frank said two recent letters from the DNR will likely cause further delays in the DNR's decision on the company's request for a mining permit. A decision before 2005 was unlikely even before the two new letters on groundwater pollution and on runoff were issued.

"The proposed mine is a threat to the only source of drinking water in the area surrounding it. This latest problem again shows the need for continued and vigilant scrutiny of the details of the mine application," according to Potawatomi Attorney General Jeff Crawford. "This is not a project that's ready to move forward."

An August 12 letter from the DNR to Nicolet Minerals Company says groundwater models predict pollution at a legal compliance boundary nearly a quarter mile from the proposed mine site. The DNR said the pollution may travel 22 times faster and reach levels five times higher than the company's predictions. The agency also predicts the pollution will affect the groundwater that provides the sole source of drinking water for the surrounding area.

"This pollution would continue for tens of thousands of years," Chairman Frank said. "It would be unforgivable to poison our drinking water for hundreds of future generations for a project that will last one generation at most."

The groundwater pollution would come from the underground mine shaft where mine wastes will remain stored after the 30 years on mining operations. Attorney General Crawford noted that mine waste facilities are not subject to the same legal requirements as other waste facilities in the state. "If this were a municipal landfill, the DNR would base its permit decision on compliance at 150 feet. Groundwater modeling for mining waste is at 1,200 feet," he said. "That's just one of the loopholes we need to close with the No Special Treatment for Mining bill."

Another recent letter from the DNR to the mining company says NMC has underestimated runoff from the Tailings Management Area into nearby wetlands and streams. The TMA is a proposed facility for mining wastes. It would cover an area larger than 200 football fields with 90 feet of mining wastes.

A July 29 letter from the DNR says, "(T)he existing analysis appears to have under-estimated runoff from the TMA area and potentially resulted in both inappropriately sized runoff basins and incorrect assessments of potential impacts on wetlands and other water bodies."

Crawford said the letter was an example of the project's design flaws. "The DNR is saying that up to four times more untreated runoff than the company predicted will run from the tailings dump into wetlands and then into Swamp Creek. Swamp Creek feeds the historic rice beds on the Mole Lake Reservation and flows into the Wolf River. It's one more example of the ways the mine would pollute the pristine environment at the headwaters of the Wolf River."

The two DNR letters are just the most recent events in a series of recent setbacks for the mining company. In May, the DNR rejected one of the example mines submitted by the owner of the proposed Crandon mine in its attempt to comply with the mining moratorium law.

The DNR said the Sacaton Mine in Arizona is "not acceptable as an example of a mine that has been operated or closed for ten years without resulting in significant environmental pollution." The company submitted the Sacaton mine as an example mine that satisfies both the ten-year operation requirement and ten-year closure requirement specified in the 1998 Mining Moratorium Law.

The mine proposal received another major blow the same week the United States Supreme Court upheld the right of the Mole Lake Sokaogon Chippewa to enact water quality standards that upstream activities - such as the proposed Crandon mine - must meet under the federal Clean Water Act.

Released on Aug. 29, 2002

For more information, contact: Bill McClenahan

Martin Schreiber & Associates
608.259.1212 ext. 4

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel version is at and also below.

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

Photos will be posted shortly.

Mole Lake Delegation to the World Summit on Sustainable Development

Monday September 2, 2002

Johannesburg, South Africa.

[From Midwest Treaty Council]

As the heads of State arrive in Johannesburg for the photo opportunities and handshakes in the final days of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, the Sokaogon Chippewa delegation heads home to Wisconsin. The delegation is expected to arrive in the United States Tuesday afternoon, around the time that Secretary of State Colin Powel will land in South Africa for a brief, largely symbolic visit.

One of the only world leaders who will not be attending is George Bush whose Administration has made daily headlines in South Africa for blocking efforts to agree on any timelines for implementing plans to address such vital issues as access to clean water, sanitation, poverty, global warming, renewable energy, biodiversity, or food security which were agreed upon at the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro 10 years ago. The headline for the Johannesburg Sunday Times reads "Summit Leaves USA Standing Alone". Delegates representing the other nations and NGO's express their disappointment that a country with only 7% of the world's population which consumes 25% of the world's natural resources annually and generates the most pollution is uninterested in any agreement to become less wasteful, more esponsible.

Sokaogon Chippewa delegate Ken Van Zile is anxious to return home at the start of the annual ricing season. "I feel we have done our part and I don't see any need to hang around and watch the fanfare. Frankly, I am miffed that my country, which is the richest and most powerful nation on earth, has shown such a blatant disregard for the rest of humanity. As Ojibwa, we have always been taught to share what we have. It looks like its all about money. I have been inspired by the countless small groups and communities from all over the world that have been represented here. We have met indigenous people from all over the world who are fighting similar battles. These are the people that will ultimately create a sustainable future. Being with them for this short time has reaffirmed my hope for the future of our people. Our Tribe is as committed as ever to protect our water, and wild rice. This is far better than cash in the bank. I can't wait to get back home for ricing.

Fellow delegate Robert Van Zile agrees. "Nothing has really changed. Corporations are now just using different language. Buzzwords like 'sustainability' are meaningless without the commitment to do things differently. It will take the work of visionaries within the corporations to make a real difference. This trip has strengthen my resolve to continue to oppose destructive mine projects such as Crandon and help other tribes and communities preserve their land and water. I realize how our struggle against the Crandon project is similar to many others around the world. I am heartened by international community's willingness to help us defeat this short - sighted, destructive mine."

On Friday, August 30, 2002, the Sokaogon Chippewa delegation along with their technical expert Roman Ferdinand and their lawyer Glenn Reynolds met with BHP Billiton CEO Brian Gilbertson and staff to discuss the Crandon proposal and the Company's recent suggestion to sell the project lands to Wisconsin. The meeting followed the unveiling of a three-year study of the international mining industry by an independent agency. The work was funded by the largest mining companies in the world and is called "Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development" (MMSD).

Glenn Reynolds, the Sokaogon Attorney who was involved in arranging the meeting was pleased with the outcome. "This was an historic event. Opening a dialogue with the community most impacted by a project is a key tenet of the industry's new vision of sustainable mining. We had a good exchange of views and potential remedies to resolve this controversy. Although no concessions were made, I think the Company executives could see that mining in this area is completely incompatible with the concept of sustainability and respect for the integrity of indigenous cultures. The Company appears committed to find a resolution that satisfies all parties. Mr. Gilbertson was courteous, inquisitive and generous with his time".

The meeting, which was supposed to last one hour continued for almost one and one half hours. It began with a prayer and a pipe ceremony conducted by the Sokaogon spiritual leader, Robert Van Zile. The "no-smoking" ban in the corporate boardroom was temporarily lifted to allow the ceremony to take place in which the BHP Billiton executives fully participated.

International Groups involved in the public release of the MMSD project encouraged the industry in the name of sustainability to recognize "no-go zones" or areas which because of high environmental sensitivity and the presence of indigenous communities should never be mined under any circumstances. "If there ever was a "no-go" zone, this is it," noted Reynolds.

Aside from higher mercury levels that come from air deposition, the water in Rice Lake and Swamp Creek is as pure as when the glaciers receded over 10,000 years ago. While the zinc and copper market is currently flooded with ore, there are no more ecosystems like the Wolf River or Rice Lake that are being produced. The temporary benefits accorded to a handful of people in the local area are not worth losing such a precious and irreplaceable resource. Roman Ferdinand reminded the Company executives that although the Crandon deposit is a rich ore body, the waste it will produce has one of the highest toxic chemical compositions of any ore in North America. "The only engineering solutions available to prevent heavy metals and acids from eventually washing downstream for the next ten thousand years is to pump, treat and mitigate forever. That is a terrible legacy for future generations".

"The Crandon mine proposal is a global issue," noted Robert Van Zile. This Project is a metaphor for this whole conference. "Water is necessary for life. Metals are needed for wealth. Which is more important? I will not sit back and let corporate greed rob our future generations of their rights to have access to pure water."

"We are actually lucky, said Ken Van Zile. "At least our lakes, streams and wild rice are still pristine. Some communities are not so fortunate."

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