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Flambeau Mine Certificate of Completion

— Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians’ challenge to the Flambeau Mining Company’s request for a Certificate of Completion of Reclamation for the Ladysmith Flambeau Mine.

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Recently, Wisconsin Resources Protection Council, the Center for Biological Diversity and a private individual took Flambeau Mining Company to Federal Court for continued violations of the Clean Water Act (Midwest Environmental Advocates was not involved in the litigation, but monitored the case closely due to our past interest and the issues involved). They successfully proved that copper contamination from the closed mine site was entering a nearby stream that flows into the Flambeau River. This decision echoes the song that pollution from mining sites  can enter the environment for many years after mining operations have stopped. The decision is available in the Resources section below.

Case Summary

In 2007, Midwest Environmental Advocates represented the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians in a challenge to Flambeau Mining Company’s request for a Certificate of Completion of Reclamation of the Flambeau Mine, near the town of Ladysmith, Rusk County, Wisconsin.

Following years of controversy, the Flambeau Mining Company obtained a permit in 1991 to operate a metallic mine near Ladysmith. They removed copper and gold from the mine until ceasing operations in the late 1990s. Wisconsin’s mining laws required the Flambeau Mining Company to return the mining site to its original natural state. This is called “reclamation” and under Wisconsin law and the permit the DNR gave Flambeau Mining Company, the open mine pit was supposed to be filled in, plants re-established, and the waters surrounding the site left uncontaminated.

Although the Flambeau Mining Company filled in the pit, restored vegetation to the site, and put in some trails, this type of superficial reclamation did not satisfy the law. There is evidence that Flambeau Mining Company contaminated groundwater and surface waters, but the company claimed they need not clean up these waters under their reclamation plan. They prematurely petitioned the DNR to give them a Certificate of Completion of Reclamation and asked the state to return 80% of an $11 million dollar bond the DNR was holding in the event Flambeau Mining Company failed to reclaim the site.

The Lac Courte Oreilles challenged the DNR's decision to grant the Certificate of Completion in a contested case hearing (an administrative trial). The Lac Courte Oreilles' concern was to protect the waters and land impacted by the mine, which was adjacent to the Flambeau River. Not only are these waters important recreational and aesthetic resources, they are also part of the “ceded territory” in which the Lac Courte Oreilles and all Ojibwe bands have hunting, fishing and other treaty rights.

Midwest Environmental Advocates submitted briefs to the judge arguing that the administrative review hearing should include a review of whether the mine has polluted ground and surface waters.   A public hearing was held in May 2007 and very soon thereafter, Flambeau Mining Company agreed to a binding stipulation in response to the Lac Courte Oreilles Band and other opposing parties’ concerns regarding the issuance of a Certificate of Completion of Reclamation for the Flambeau mine.

The stipulation denied a Certificate of Completion for the portion of the mine site that has shown considerable copper contamination and requires the mining company to clean up all existing contaminants in the streams and waterbodies on the site and wait three years before petitioning for another Certificate of Completion. The agreement also required surface water, soil and sediment sampling for contaminants at the site for five years.