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Can Mining Be Environ-friendly? A Geological Perspective

T Fitz

Multiple forces are colliding as the Legislature again grapples with Wisconsin’s mining standards.

A resolution cannot come soon enough for people hungry for the jobs a new iron-ore mine in northern Wisconsin could create.

The complexity of generating work and protecting the environment is not lost on Tom Fitz.

He teaches geosciences at Northland College – a short drive from the potential mine in the Penokee Hills.

"It's really very much wilderness. There's the big ridge of the Penokees, of course, is really outstanding with great rocks on the top of it and then on the south side there's a lot of wetlands and just some beautiful bogs out in there. It's a great area to go exploring."

The region serves as a perfect classroom for Fitz's students.

"Mining technology has come a long way, but so has our environmental understanding and so as our ability to monitor and study the environment. So one of the things I'm looking at with my students is how the laws can balance environmental protection to limit environmental impacts and still provide resources and a thriving economy."

Fitz provided a condensed geology lesson for WUWM Environmental Reporter Susan Bence, to illustrate the site management likely required.

Credit T Fitz
Brownstone Falls is situated below the proposed mine in Copper Falls State Park.

"Iron mining is generally done a really large scale, so even if you had lots of engineering controls on controlling the waste rock and the runoff, inevitably there would be a really big hole in the ground and that definitely affect the hydrology."

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.