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County Committee Supports 18-Month Mining Moratorium

Issue Date: May 10, 2018

Despite advice to the contrary from Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison and County Administrator John LeFebvre, Marinette County Board's Development Committee agreed unanimously to recommend adoption of an 18-month moratorium on permitting or developing metallic mines in the county.

The moratorium idea had previously been supported by the Land Information Committee to give time to develop a local control ordinance

In agreeing to recommend the proposed moratorium despite the possibility that the county could be sued, the committee acquiesced to the requests of all 16 people who spoke in favor of it and against all sulfide mining in general during a public hearing that lasted more than an hour and a half. Many of the 16 who spoke at the public hearing vehemently cited what they believe are environmental hazards posed by sulfide mines in general, and particularly the controversial Back 40 mine near the banks of the Menominee River in Stephenson, Mich. That was unanimously opposed by Marinette County Board in 2016. Since then, Oconto, Brown, Shawano and several other Wisconsin counties bordering Lake Michigan and Green Bay have passed resolutions against the mine.

The Wisconsin Legislature last year adopted legislation that ends what had in effect been a state-wide ban on sulfide mining. The new state law goes into effect on July 1 of this year, and Marinette County people have said they do not believe they ave enough time to develop a new ordinance with local protections before that deadline.

Despite the committee recommendation, the proposed moratorium ordinance will go into effect only if it is accepted by the full 30-member County Board when it meets on Tuesday, May 29.

LeFebvre early in the discussion had asked the committee to delay its action in view of information that had very recently been received from Wisconsin Counties Association regarding possible ramifications of adopting the ordinance.

Tuesday's meeting was the first ever for any of the committees set up under County Board's newly reorganized committee structure.

The Development Committee is responsible for departmental supervision formerly provided by the Ag & Extension Committee, Economic Development and Tourism Committee and Land Information Committee. It includes six County Board supervisors and Farm Service Agency appointee Mary Noll.

At the start of the meeting, Supervisor Ted Sauve, long-time chair of the Land Information Committee, was elected to chair the new committee, and Supervisor Robert Holley was elected vice chair. Other members are supervisors Clancy Whiting, Penny Chaikowski, Tom Mandli, Bonnie Lee Popp and Noll. By virtue of his position as chair, Sauve or an appointee becomes a member of the Industrial Development Corporation Board of Directors, the Land Information Council, and Marinette County Association for Business and Industry.

The meeting proved to be long and arduous, starting at 9 a.m. and ending a 12:45 p.m. The agenda included two public hearings, one on the proposed metallic mining moratorium, and one on a proposed town owned and operated gravel pit (non-metallic mine) in the Town of Silver Cliff. Two people who own property near the proposed gravel pit spoke against it and expressed concerns over noise, dust and traffic it will cause.

Before start of the mining moratorium hearing, Land Information Director Greg Cleereman explained they are asking for 18 months in which to craft some kind of rubric for metallic mining that may be allowed to come in to Marinette County.

The hearing officially had nothing to do with the Back Forty mine.

Ken Holdorf, first of the speakers, praised the county for considering the moratorium. He said the state in its Act 134 legislation, had failed to protect counties environmentally and "opened the floodgates for sulfide mining to come into Marinette County." He said sulfide mines have "a near perfect record of failure," said no one has been able to point to a sulfide mine that operated without polluted discharge. He said the issue is not old versus new technology, and declared there is no new technology that works.

Several of the speakers described environmental disasters caused by mine failures in parts of the southwest and in Canada. Several described oversight by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency as "a joke," and criticized Sen. Tom Tiffany and Gov. Scott Walker for the legislation that puts much of the mine permitting process into the hands of local government.

LeFebvre said Mattison was not able to be there, but only once in the 30 years he has worked for the county has there been a moratorium, and that was in signage issues. This one could be perceived as interfering with the rights of property owners to do what they want with their own land, and could get the county involved in lawsuits. He asked the committee to delay action until Mattison could look further into the WCA recommendation, and repeated, "This is not about what is happening in Michigan. This is about Marinette County." He said the committee will need to consider what they want to do, perhaps strict zoning, or perhaps prohibiting the activity entirely.

Holley felt Mattison had plenty of time to study the moratorium ramifications, and said he didn't see the legal risk in adopting the moratorium for only 18 months. Popp suggested saying up to 18 months."

LeFebvre said WCA Legal Counsel Randy Phillips also shared the concerns about legality of the moratoriums that several counties are considering.

Board Chair Mark Anderson had heard the WCA discussions, but felt the legal advice on the issue should be for the entire board, not just the committee, He backed the idea of sending it along to the board, and if they don't like it, "they can send it back.

Holley said he is all for land owner rights, "but we have to protect them as well." He said it wouldn't be the first time County Board sent an action back to committee.

In the end, the committee members all voted in favor of sending the moratorium ordinance on to County board with a recommendation for approval.

The committee also approved the closure plan for the Town of Silver Cliff's non-metallic mine and approved a conditional use permit for an additional dwelling on a 40-acre property owned by Trout Haven Sportsman's Association LLC in the Town of Dunbar.


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