Hundreds pack hearing on NW Wis. mining bill
By TODD RICHMOND, Associated Press
WEST ALLIS, Wis. (AP) — Supporters of a bill that would scale back the state's rigorous permitting process to kick-start a northwestern Wisconsin iron mine pleaded with legislators during a hearing Wednesday to pass the measure, calling the mine an economic god-send that will save the depressed region.
The Assembly jobs committee is considering a Republican bill that would revamp the state's permitting process for Gogebic Taconite, a Florida-based company that wants to open an iron mine in the Penokee Hills just south of Lake Superior. The company has promised the project will create hundreds of jobs, but environmentalists worry the mine will pollute one of the most pristine areas in the state.
The jobs committee called the first public hearing on the bill Wednesday at State Fair Park in West Allis, a Milwaukee suburb some 300 miles from the mine site. Environmentalists and other mine opponents from northern Wisconsin complained loudly about having to drive hours to be heard, but Republicans on the committee countered mining equipment manufacturers are based in southeastern Wisconsin.
Scores of people found their way to the hearing. They filled two rooms at the park pavilion hosting the hearing and dozens more stood in the hallways. Committee aides said at least 130 people had registered to speak.
One of the first was Shirl LaBarre, who runs a plumbing business with her husband in Hayward. She told the committee people in northern Wisconsin are desperate for work.
"I respect the earth. I respect the water. (But) we've got to have jobs. There's nothing now," she said. "It's relatively simple. It seems like you guys are making it more difficult."
John Senda, chairman of the Iron County Republican Party, called northwestern Wisconsin's economy "dysfunctional." He said the area is totally reliant on tourism, and those jobs pay next to nothing. He said mining is nothing new in northwestern Wisconsin and the environment hasn't suffered. Conservationists are resorting to scare tactics, he said.
"We still have trout and they don't glow," he said.
Marvin DeFoe is vice chairman of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior, whose reservation lies about 75 miles north of the proposed mine site. He told the committee he was speaking for the fish and the trees.
"My people would rather have clean water than a job," he said. "If we just focus on one element - jobs - we're going to miss the harm we cause."
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)