By Ryan Ekvall and M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — The last we heard, Gogebic Taconite LLC – the company that proposed a $1.5 billion iron ore mining operation in northern Wisconsin — was leaving the state.
“Wisconsin will not welcome iron mining. We get the message,” CEO Bill Williams said in a statement after the state Senate failed to pass mining regulation reform last March. “GTAC is ending plans to invest in a Wisconsin mine.”
But GTAC never really left Wisconsin. Its office doors remain open in downtown Hurley, and the phones still ring. It’s just that now no one from GTAC is talking.
With the contentious debate heard from Madison to Milwaukee to the Northwoods and back, perhaps it’s the company’s silence is expected, maybe even understandable. After coming to the Wisconsin in late 2010 and spending more than $100,000 lobbying legislators to change the state’s mining laws, GTAC found the political storm over mining regulations part of the political hurricane that was the Wisconsin recall elections of 2012.
The debate has been so mired in hyperbole that it’s difficult to discern the facts.
Republicans say Democrats aren’t serious about mining and the economic impact it would purportedly bring to portions of the state’s most economically depressed areas. Democrats say Republicans are selling out the people and their clean air and water for a quick buck.
These two intractable forces haven’t been able to meet somewhere in between.
But that’s not stopping Republican Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-led Legislature from predicting mining reform will be passed in 2013 and that GTAC will resume its interest in the operation.
“I think there’s no doubt that (the company) would come back if something similar to what was discussed and debated last session was passed,” Walker told reporters at a late November gathering of the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business lobby. “They’re still interested. If we passed this early in 2013, if the process could begin early in 2013, they’d start coming in and making their investment and taking the initial steps to move forward with a mine which would put people to work right off the bat.”
GTAC has spent $3 million or so already. Williams previously estimated the next phase of mineral exploration and environmental data collection could cost upwards of $20 million.
Wisconsin Reporter tried to contact Gogebic Taconite this week. On Friday, the company declined an interview with Wisconsin Reporter.
This is what we would like to ask GTAC. This is what we think the people of Wisconsin would want to know:
- Is GTAC still interested in building a mine in Wisconsin, the $1.5 billion operation for which mining legislation arguably has been written?
- GTAC has said it is really just interested in streamlining the permitting process and changing the timing of the contested case hearings. Beyond that, are you looking for taxpayer money to fund any part of the creation of the mine or its operation? If so, how much and for what use?
- If the Legislature passes a bill that is agreeable to you, would you begin work on the mine immediately? Would you sell the land to another company? Would you delay based on market conditions?
- How would GTAC prevent/limit environmental damage to some of the more pristine land in the United States?