Ojibwe Tribal Leader Warns of Proposed Mine

e-mail print By Jason Stein of the Journal Sentinel

April 12, 2011 12:10 p.m. |(22) COMMENTS

Madison -- Mike Wiggins Jr. delivered a warning about a mining operation proposed for northern Wisconsin in the annual state of the tribes of the address Tuesday.

Addressing the full Legislature at the Capitol, Wiggins said that he was concerned about effects of the mine in spite of its potential economic benefits. Wiggins is the chairman of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, which has its reservation near the proposed mine site, and also serves as the chairman of the Great Lakes Inter-tribal Council.

“Our lands and water define who we are as Ojibwe people,” Wiggins said, referring to the name by which Chippewa tribes prefer to be called. Wiggins also emphasized the importance of state, local and tribal leaders working together to confront shared budget deficits and unemployment in the state.

The tribes address is given by an American Indian leader in the state each year to a joint session of both the Senate and Assembly.

On Monday, representatives of the mine released a study showing it would employ 700 people and stimuilate more than 2,800 jobs in a 12-county area in northern Wisconsin. The mine would also generate an estimated $604 million annually for the regional economy.

The first phase when remain in operation for an estimated 35 years. A second phase is also under study, which could double the employment and economic impact of the project.

In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Monday, officials said the planning and permiting process would ensure that the mine – if approved – would not harm the environment.

Bill Williams, president of Gogebic Taconite. said the mine would have to meet air and water emissions regulation. Water, for example, used in the process of breaking up ore deposits would have to be cleaned by a waste water treatment system.

J. Matthew Fifield, managing director of the Cline Group, a privately held mining company in Palm Beach Beach Gardens, Fla., that owns Gogebic, said that officials hope to start in 2014, but only after completing an extensive environmental review and permit process. Fifield cautioned the date is optimistic, and said the process could take years longer.

Tribal leader Wiggins’ comments underscore the tribes’ interests in environmental issues. Last year, the Forest County Potowatami played a major role in lobbying controls in carbon emissions – legislation that did not pass. The tribe spent nearly $2 million on lobbying during the 2009 and 2010 legislative session, according to the Government Accountability Board. Climate legislation was among the tribe’s top priorities.