A commentary by
State Sen. Frank Lasee
As you probably know, the legislation that would have made important changes to Wisconsin's iron mining laws was defeated in the State Senate by one vote. One vote was enough to say no to the first jobs in a Wisconsin iron mine since the Jackson County Iron Company closed down in 1983.
People want an iron mine in northern Wisconsin; they want a new opportunity, a chance to provide for their kids in an area of the state where it has become increasingly hard to do.
Iron County has an unemployment rate of nearly 11 percent. A new mine in Wisconsin will create 700 mining jobs with an average wage and benefit package valued at around $80,000. These jobs are expected to create another 2,100 other jobs at restaurants, hardware stores, auto repair shops, construction companies and would have gone a long way in bringing down the unemployment rate.
Minnesota and Michigan have been mining iron since 1884, and 95 percent of all the iron produced in the United States comes from Minnesota and the UP. Wisconsin has plenty of iron, our problem is, Wisconsin also has too much uncertainty in our permitting process.
The mining companies want specific timetables where they would get a yes or no answer from the Department of Natural Resources in a reasonable amount of time, and an assurance that provided they followed the rules set in place, their permit would be approved.
Michigan has specific timetables, which is why G-Tac, the company who wanted to mine in Wisconsin, is now exploring iron deposits in the UP, where there is a more favorable climate for mining.
G-Tac is exploring these iron deposits in Michigan, and mining companies don't invest in exploration to make a point. There is plenty of iron in the UP, and Wisconsin may have missed the boat.
It's like building a house. There are certain codes and requirements you have to meet to get your building permit approved, and if you do those things you're going to get your permit.
What the mining companies desire is certainty that if a mining company follows the rules, they will get their permit without endless court battles or indecisive bureaucrats.
That's a reasonable thing to ask for.
In addition to DNR rules that protect the environment mining companies must meet EPA and Army Corps of Engineer standards and permits.
For some reason most people in Minnesota and Michigan think iron mining is just fine. They have been doing it for more than a century and American manufacturing needs iron. The people in northern Wisconsin need jobs.
Passing a reasonable mining bill will help northern Wisconsinites and have a ripple effect throughout our state.
I look forward to hearing from you about the issues of concern to you. Feel free to contact me, Sen.Lasee@legis.