New Oneida County mining ordinance, referendum passed
By Naomi Kowles
For the Antigo Times & Star Journal
The Oneida County board discussion lasted more than five hours June 19, but in the end the board approved a rewrite of the county mining ordinance which had been on the books since 1989. The document brings the county code into alignment with Wisconsin Act 134 passed in 2017, which removed the metallic mining moratorium in Wisconsin.
The board also approved a referendum for the November election with only one dissenting vote, which will ask voters whether Oneida County should allow leasing of county-owned lands in Lynne for the purpose of mining. Although the referendum is legally non-binding, chairperson Dave Hintz said he will personally go by the results of the referendum.
By 9:30 a.m., the county board room had filled to standing room only. For two hours, various environmental activists, members and representatives for the Lac du Flambeau tribe, property owners, and other members of the public voiced opposition to either the ordinance or the proposition of any mining in the county. Although a few who attended the recent public hearing for the ordinance had supported mining in the Northwoods, everyone who took the opportunity to provide comment on Tuesday was categorically opposed to the issue.
Zoning districts were the most critical aspect in the new ordinance, Karl Fate noted, an environmentalist who has been active in protecting the Lynne deposit for many years. He advocated that forested district 1A be removed from the ordinance. As it was passed on Tuesday, the ordinance will allow metallic mining in districts zoned for forestry, manufacturing and industrial, and general use. He added that he believed somebody was threatening the county board to act on the issue.
During the county board’s discussion of the ordinance, Assistant Corporation Counsel Michael Fugle said that to limit mining to districts zoned manufacturing and industrial would only account for less than one-tenth of one percent of the land in Oneida County. Based on that, mining companies could make an argument that mining was practically restricted, he explained.
Tom Jerow, a retiree from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), said that he opposed the new ordinance but was in favor of the moratorium on bulk sampling, a resolution that was later passed which will prevent bulk sampling in the county for eighteen months. He advocated for a two-thirds instead of a simple majority for approving mining permits, since a two-thirds majority is required to re-open a permit according to the ordinance.
Amendments that would address both concerns of zoning and majority voting did not gain sufficient traction to garner majority approval. An amendment to call for a two-thirds majority rather than a simple majority vote of the county board to approve mining permits, as well as another to prevent mining on any forested land, were voted down, with the former failing on a slim 11-10 vote. Supervisor Sonny Paszak was not present for the meeting.
Some members of the public present at the meeting called for the old ordinance to be left alone, which would effectively leave an unenforceable ordinance on the books according to Fugle. He said that because state law had repealed the moratorium, the greatest danger would be a prohibition on mining in the event that the county was taken to court.
“Very clearly, the legislature spoke that mining is permitted in Wisconsin,” he said.
Prior to the meeting, members of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa gathered outside the courthouse in a drum circle. According to Tribal Council member Brooks Big John, the demonstration was an expression to their creator and spoke to their opposition to mining.