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The Other Side of the Penokee Mining Debate - Just Say No

S Bence

Yesterday, we heard from people for the proposed mine; today, hear from residents in far northern Wisconsin against it. 

Russell Ray Buccanaro is his full name, but his friends call him Buck. These days, Buccanaro says fewer people feel comfortable calling him friend.

“I’ll give you an example; I had a close friend; I asked him to come up and plow this driveway out last winter and he said ‘geez, I don’t know if I can come; someone might see me’ and that was one of my closest friends and he never came,” Buccanaro says.

Buccanaro is about as close to the proposed mine as you can get, a half-mile. He says ancestors emigrated here from Finland, “my grandmother was born across the street here in the year 1900; her family had been here since 1858.”

Buccanaro bought 40 acres from his aunts in 1990; and on a smidge of the parcel built this snug log cottage and sauna.

“This was my sanctuary it was a quiet place; you hardly ever saw a car; one day I spent four days here without seeing anybody go by,” Buccanaro says.

Credit S Bence
Buccanaro's view of the proposed mining site - Penokee hill in background.

Looking out his cabin window, you see the Penokee Hill that the company GTAC would take in the first phase of its proposed mine. Buccanaro says representatives from the mining company paid him a visit last September.

“Bill Williams (GTAC President) called me and said Russ, we’ll give you $10,000 a year and let you stay in your camp for 9 days a year for deer season," Buccanaro says. "I found that very insulting. I’m not going anywhere and this place is not going anywhere.” 

Bucccanaro and his wife live not far from here, in Iron Belt. They raised two sons and have two grandkids. He says his family has always gotten by – his wife working in a paper mill, him driving truck.

“I’ve never been poor in my life, me and my wife. If I can’t buy it, I don’t get it. We’re here, we stayed here all our lives, because of what it is – because of the clean air and water and we’re able to fish and hunt,” Buccanaro says.

He invites people to visit his 40 acres, to see what he believes could be lost – and what has already changed, due to GTAC rock and water sampling.

“There have been squad cars on the road and gravel trucks running up and down and people just want to bury their heads in the sand and say it ‘well it’s going to happen.' Well that’s not the case, if we all pull together and let our legislators know that we cannot see Lake Superior ruined. All of these mountains, springs come out of them and feed these creeks and everything runs toward Bad River and it’s eventually going to pollute the water in Lake Superior,” Buccanaro says.

Steven Spickerman and his wife moved to this region long after Buccanaro's clan - and what attracted them was its soil.

“A very narrow band of sandy loam about 600 feet higher than  [Lake Superior],” Spickerman explains.

The couple snatched up the parcel and named it, Hermit Creek Farm.

“Our farm was originally homesteaded in 1901 by a Finnish family and we bought it from the original family; but it hadn’t been lived on since 1938 – it was abandoned during the Depression and we sort of resurrected it,” Spickerman says.

Credit S Bence
Farmer Stephen Spickerman sets up at Ashland farmers market.

The fruits of the Spickermans’ labor surround him - baskets filled with giganto beets, greens of multiple hues and fresh cut bouquets. This is their Saturday routine – selling produce at the farmers market in downtown Ashland.

Spickermans also have a growing CSA business – families buy in and receive produce by the boxful – and nearly year round – thanks to greenhouses and root cellar.

“We have 150 members right now, we kind of project out that we’d like to have about 250 to 300. Onions, potatoes. cabbage, carrots that we can store so we keep selling right through the winter,” Spickerman says.

Spickerman believes there’s room to build small, highly productive farms in the region that create jobs.

He says, the movement is already starting. He points over his shoulder, to a young fellow arranging radishes and lettuce, a new farmer the couple mentored.

The 8 o’clock Farmers Market bell signals sales can begin, so this is not the time to talk “possible mine."

But Spickerman opposes it. He says crops and future farmers, need rich soil and clean water.

Credit S Bence
Spickerman mentored the young farmer (far left) for four years; now they sell their vegetables side by side at the farmers market.

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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