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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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County Board To Consider Stricter Mining Provisions

Issue Date: May 24, 2018

Ordinance revisions to make metallic mining a prohibited use in all zoning categories unless allowed by a local agreement is among items on the agenda for consideration at the Marinette County Board meeting on Tuesday, May 29. If the ordinance revisions are approved, any future non-ferrous metallic mine in the county would need to be approved by County Board and the municipality in which it would be located.

Recommendation to change the zoning ordinance was unanimously approved at a special meeting of the Development Committee on Monday, May 21, and replaces a recommendation made on May 8 to put an 18-month moratorium on all metallic mining in Marinette County.

Metallic mining has been a particularly controversial issue in Marinette County because of strong opposition to development of the Aquila Resources plan to develop the Back Forty Mine near the banks of the Menominee River in Menominee County, Michigan. The proposed mine site is just across the river from the Marinette County towns of Wausaukee, Wagner and Amberg in Wisconsin.

County Administrator John LeFebvre assured committee members prior to their action that there currently are no metallic mines operating in the county, nor are there requests from anyone wanting to develop one.

The County Board's newly organized Development Committee at its first regular meeting on Tuesday, May 8 had agreed to recommend the metallic mining moratorium to give them time to come up with a workable ordinance to regulate mining before the state's "prove it" moratorium on sulfide mining ends on July 1.

Approval of the moratorium recommendation was contrary to advice from Wisconsin Counties Association (WCA) and from County Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison as relayed to the committee by LeFebvre, but in accord with sentiments strongly expressed by the 16 speakers who had addressed them at a public hearing at the start of that meeting.

Only two items were on the agenda for discussion and action at the special meeting on May 21. The first was to rescind the moratorium recommendation, and the second was to approve amendments to three sections of Chapter 17, which is the county's Zoning Code. LeFebvre explained that the ordinance changes will be less likely to encounter legal challenges and are a more effective way to deal with any future mining proposals.

The county has only three zoning districts - Forestry, Recreation and Unrestricted. If County Board approves the committee recommendation, each use category will include a provision that states: "Notwithstanding any provision of the Marinette County Code of ordinances to the contrary, nonferrous metallic mining (as defined in Wisconsin Statute section 293.01(9) is a prohibited use and shall not be considered a part of the specified uses except as allowed by a local agreement entered into pursuant to Wis. Stat. sec. 293.41." Non metallic mines, with restrictions, are permitted in all Marinette County zoning districts. These generally are stone quarries and gravel pits.

Committee Chair Ted Sauve opened the May 21 meeting with an explanation that it had been called as the result of an e-mail from Committee Vice Chair Bob Holley in regard to new information obtained in telephone conversations with representatives of Wisconsin Counties Association.

Motion to rescind the moratorium resolution was made by Holley, seconded by Supervisor Bonnie Popp, and unanimously approved after considerable discussion and an explanation from Mattison as to why the zoning change is preferable.

Mattison, who had not been able to attend the May 8 meeting, explained that a moratorium is not really proper and could cause litigation. Subsequent to that meeting, she, LeFebvre, Holley, and County Board Chair Mark Anderson had a long phone conversation with WCA Attorneys Randy Phillips and Andy Risner and Executive Director Mark O'Connell. They were told WCA is putting together some legislation that basically would prohibit non-ferrous metallic mining unless there is a local agreement in place.

"That 45-minute conversation convinced me that a prohibited use is stronger language, and gives us more protection than a moratorium," Holley explained. He said they were advised that a moratorium could be overturned, but a prohibited use could not.

"If they challenge the moratorium and win, we have nothing in place," Popp commented.

Sauve asked who is the "local authority" that would need to have the agreement. LeFebvre said there are several ways it could be handled, ""but ultimately, any agreement will be subject to approval by the full County Board."

Sauve said he would have scheduled the special meeting just prior to the County Board meeting on May 29, but he wanted to get the work out in advance to the 16 people who had spoken at the May 8 committee meeting, "and the only way to do that was to hold this meeting today, so the information can be printed in this week's Peshtigo Times."

LeFebvre also advised holding the meeting in advance so the public can be informed prior to the meeting date. He said timing will be very close, and if County Board for whatever reason would not approve the ordinance change in May there would not be enough time for adoption and publication before the July 1 termination of the state's rule that currently has prevented sulfide mining in Wisconsin.

LeFebvre said the moratorium would have been only a temporary solution, which the zoning prohibition, which would allow mining only as an exception, and only with the local agreement approved, will be permanent. "We do not have to do anything more until we get a mining request," he said.

He added the agreement can include many things, including how and where the mine site will be situated, what process will be used to extract ore, reclamation plans, help for the local community to deal with population growth and increased road use, and more.

In other areas, local mining agreements have included payments to the local municipality, or funding for local improvements.

"If there's no agreement, there's no mine," LeFebvre said, but added they have to negotiate in good faith. They had considered allowing mines only in specific zoning districts, but the problem is a mine would need to be located where the metals are. "Requiring a local agreement allows potential owners to put a mine where it needs to be, but only if the local government approves," he said.

He added that WCA representatives want to make sure counties do not totally slam the door on mines, because by doing so they would be setting themselves up for the state to come in and set the regulations, as happened on many other issues. WCA advised, he said, "If you want to be in control, take that control and use it wisely."

Popp asked if other counties are doing this, and was told this is the WCA's preferred method, but Marinette County will be one of the first, "and they would like us to do this as soon as possible so they can point to us as a good example."

Supervisor Clancy Whiting, a member of the committee, objected to wording in a news report on their last meeting that said "the committee acquiesced to the requests of all 16 people who spoke in favor of it (the moratorium) and against sulfide mining in general during a public hearing that lasted more than an hour and a half."

The people who spoke at that time were vehemently opposed to sulfide mining in general, and to the Back Forty mine in particular, and the committee's vote was contrary to advice from LeFebvre.

Whiting objected to the word "acquiesced," and declared, "I've never acquiesced to anybody"I haven't been bullied by anybody"I don't think anybody here "acquiesced' to anything! we voted as we knew the information at the time!"

Sauve agreed, "At that meeting we acted in good faith on the information that we had."

"It was loud and clear that no one at that hearing spoke in favor of mining," Popp commented.

Committee votes then were unanimous to rescind the moratorium recommendation and approve the zoning prohibition as recommended by Mattison.

Ken Holdorf, one of the half dozen members of the public at the meeting, said he had understood the moratorium was intended to give the committee time to develop a permanent plan. He asked what time table they were looking at, and if and when they would be meeting with Aquila Resources to discuss an agreement.

"This has nothing whatever to do with Aquila or the Back Forty Mine," LeFebvre replied. "What Aquila or any other mining company does in Menominee, Mich., or Florence or Oconto counties is not a concern for Marinette County!"

LeFebvre added, as he had said before, "Right now we have no requests, and if we do, we will deal with them then."

Since several members of the audience had questions, Sauve asked the committee to suspend the rules so he could allow it. Vote in favor of that was unanimous.

Jeff Budish, who identified himself as a resident of Rehms Road in the Town of Peshtigo, asked what they could do to prohibit use of cyanide in Marinette County, and also to prohibit cyanide from being transported through the county. He described cyanide as "devastating," and said he has been told 16 million tons of cyanide will be used on ore at the Back Forty Mine. He suggested it would have to come through Marinette County, and without it they could not carry our their mine operation as planned.

Mattison and several committee members felt that would probably be a violation of Federal Interstate Commerce laws. Mattison cautioned committee members they could listen to comments and questions, but could not legally respond., particularly since this was not an agenda item."We received the comment," she noted.

The discussion ended and the meeting was adjourned.


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