Duane Lahti - Retired Water Quality Specialist -"You could not find a more unsuitable area for a mine" 08.15.13

Read more analysis by Duane Lahti. 

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My name is Duane Lahti and I am a lifetime resident of Bayfield County here in northern Wisconsin.  I am also a retired DNR employee who worked in the Water program for 29 years in the Lake Superior basin and am very familiar with the location of this proposed mine in the Penokee Range.  Although I am commenting on the project as a whole, these comments are also applicable to the bulk sampling and pre-application phases of the project.

When I reviewed the limited information available for this mining project and the proposed location, I looked at it from the perspective of an environmental regulator, as I was just that for nearly three decades.   Basically, I asked the questions: Can a permit be issued for this project based on the physical and biological conditions at this location?  Will this project meet the public interest standards that have been in place in Wisconsin environmental law for decades? Can this project be completed without jeopardizing human health and safety and will it be in the public interest?

My conclusion was that due to the significant and severe adverse impacts to surface and ground water resources, wetlands, ephemeral ponds, streams, and air and terrestrial resources that would occur if this project were to be permitted, the project cannot and should not be permitted by DNR or any other regulatory agency.  You could not find a more unsuitable area for a mining site unless you would put the mine on the bed of Lake Superior itself.

And speaking of Lake Superior and the Kakagon Sloughs, which are on the downstream and receiving end of the surface runoff and effluent, and the repository for millions of cubic yards of overburden waste material, they are internationally recognized resources and priceless gems that the citizens of this state and adjoining states and provinces have strenuously protected for generations.  Protected for FUTURE generations, just like Article IX, Section 1 of our Wisconsin State Constitution has protected all of our state’s waters since 1848.

Well the mining company, GTAC, the governor, and the legislators who were pushing this proposal knew that if this proposal came before a regulatory agency under the existing mining law, which was designed to prevent environmental degradation and to protect human health and safety, it could not be permitted.  The solution-gut the mining law, and severely weaken the ability of the DNR to adequately regulate the mine and even to enforce permit violations.  Unconstitutionally remove surface water bodies from protection of the Public Trust  Doctrine that has its roots in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and declare that streams are no longer streams but trickles, and that lakes and ponds are “puddles” that do not deserve protection.  Also, limit the public’s ability to provide input and to legally challenge decisions made by the Department.

I was fortunate that during my career with the Department, our upper management consisted of natural resource professionals dedicated to our mission to protect our natural resources and environment for future generations.  Our mission statement did not say “open for business”.

I have the utmost respect for the DNR staff who work daily and have to make difficult decisions that affect all of us in the general public and are subjected to the political pressures that are today’s reality.  

 I know you will do the right thing. Resist the political pressure.  I always did.  Do a thorough and objective evaluation and I am confident that the project will be denied for the benefit of our citizens and for those that come after us.  Thank you.