Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Mine Application Moves Forward Despite Continued Debate

Pete Rasmussen

Debate continues over a proposed iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin.  The state legislature paved the way earlier this year for Gogebic Taconite to apply for permission to build the mine.

Last week, the state Department of Natural Resources held a public hearing on the first, exploratory, step in the proposal.  WUWM Environmental Reporter Susan Bence attended the hearing in the far northern town of Hurley. 

She reports the majority of people at the hearing spoke against the proposed mine.  One of the leading opponents chose not to attend.  Mike Wiggins is Chairman of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.  Speaking from his office on the reservation, Wiggins rejects  the argument that mining is the best solution for a job-starved region.

"The real question of sustainable jobs and real jobs and real projects that are gonna enhance and infuse communities with the good life still needs to be addressed," he says.

While most people at the hearing spoke against the proposal, a vocal minority spoke out in favor, including Rhonda Olkonen. Her husband is a driller who has had to work as far away as Iowa and North Dakota to find work, and she says he is "one of several family men living this way.

"It's tearing our family apart and I feel that you should be listening to the Iron County residents and 85 percent of them were for opening the mine," she says.

Kelly Klein is also in favor of the mine, and spoke at the DNR hearing in Hurley last week. Klein leads the Iron County Development Zone Council. 

"The community at large questions, 'Why are we so concerned here? Today we have very strict regulations and yet when we mined before we certainly didn't ruin anything,'" he said, back in January. "We don't want to ruin anything here, yet we want to make the business climate friendly to the industry."

Klein says mining in the Penokee Hills would create not only those jobs, but also jobs associated with the industry throughout the state.  Klein says a mine would encourage more businesses to invest in the community.

Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.