DNR grants early permit for exploratory drilling in the Penokee Hills
May 31, 2013
On Thursday, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources approved a plan for the Cline Corporation’s Gogebic Taconite to drill eight exploratory holes in the Penokee Hills. The company’s original plan was to drill in 13 places; however that plan would have included sites that were located in wooded wetlands. The five nixed sites would have triggered heightened scrutiny under the wetlands protection of federal and state law.
With the news about the approval of exploratory drilling, what must the people of the sovereign nation of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa think about the advancement of a plan to destroy this sensitive, water-rich area upstream of their homeland? The mine proposed is a 4-mile long, 1.5-mile wide and 1,000+ feet deep crater to be blown into the Penokee Hills. Snow and rain from the Penokee Hills feed the headwaters of the Bad River, the Kakagon Sloughs, the Ojibwe’s sacred wild rice fields and Lake Superior, the largest surface freshwater lake in the world. The Sloughs are 40% of all the wetlands in the Lake Superior basin and are globally important. In this area, (says MEA's Kim Wright in today's Wisconsin Public Radio story) there is water everywhere and the ecosystem needs stronger protections from core or bulk sampling and the devastation an open-pit mine would bring.
But recently passed legislation that exempts mining companies from Wisconsin’s long-cherished environmental protections rolled back the science-based, thorough reviews our DNR agency uses to protect such valuable natural areas. We were in the midst of the debate around the passage of this destructive legislation, but most people around the state don’t know the backstory of how the law was passed. Written by Gogebic attorneys and paid for by special interests that would profit from easing our state’s regulations (to the tune of $15.6 million in campaign contributions), Wisconsin is now more like Appalachia in terms of a weakened regulatory agency and the wholesale undermining of both the state laws designed to protect our health and the rights of citizens to participate in decision making that impacts our water and land.
Department of Natural Resources staff appears to be asking good questions about the initial environmental impact the mining company would have, even in exploratory drilling. But it is disappointing that the DNR issued the permit for exploratory drilling prior to the deadline for review, especially in light of Gogebic’s obscure and incomplete responses to DNR professional staff’s questions. Short deadlines and incomplete information curb the public’s right to know and ability to weigh in on the first step leading up to the permitting of what would be the most destructive enterprise ever proposed in Wisconsin.
Without gutting legal protections for our natural resources, the Penokee Hills would remain untouched. This place is too important to disallow science as the basis for decision-making through an industry-purchased law.