Tensions flare between Wis. DNR, Gogebic Taconite

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Tensions between state regulators and a company that wants to bring an open pit iron mine to northern Wisconsin could be a signal of more conflict yet to come.

Gogebic Taconite and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources got into a public dispute last week over how much regulatory authority remains in the agency’s hands under a 2013 law that rolled back environmental restrictions to make mining easier. The dispute over what is and isn’t allowed under the untested mining law may be a preview of what’s to come when the company seeks a mining permit, the Wisconsin State Journal reported Sunday (http://bit.ly/1f3iUMp ).

Letters illustrating the tensions were posted on the DNR website last week. The company objected to a DNR research document that listed environmental hazards of mining, which the company considered biased, and it sharply criticized the extent of agency questions about Gogebic’s plans to dig up rock for testing.

“All of the tests and modeling we’ve done cost money,” company spokesman Bob Seitz said. “(Some studies cost) tens of thousands of dollars a crack. So this should be about what’s necessary and not what’s wanted to satisfy curiosity.”

Seitz said multiple rounds of questions from the DNR have delayed completion of its plan for collecting bulk samples from the site in Iron and Ashland counties.

Sen. Bob Jauch, a Democrat whose district includes the mine site near Mellen, accused the company of “bullying” tactics.

Gogebic Taconite’s tough tone will backfire if the DNR is forced to deny the company’s final mining permit because the company fails to provide needed data within the new law’s tightened timeline for decision by the state, Jauch said.

DNR officials said they will continue to ask questions that need asking to ensure that the environment is protected and to provide information to the public.

“I was surprised that they took it so hard,” said Ann Coakley, one of the DNR’s key managers for the project. “We will always be here with a smile and a ‘How can we help you?’”

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Information from: Wisconsin State Journal, http://www.madison.com/wsj

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