by Dave Olson of The Lake is the Boss
Many of the folks who live, work, and play on the shores of Lake Superior don't realize that there is a bill in the Wisconsin legislature to gut the environmental protections offered by the state's mine permitting process. The bill was substantially written by Goegebic Taconite, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Cline Group, a mega coal mining concern based in Florida. They are the company that strip-mined coal in southern Illinois over the past several years. They want to create a gigantic iron mine between Hurley and Mellen in Northern Wisconsin. Whether you are for or against mining, the watershed always needs to be protected and the legislators need to pay attention to the science. The watershed that would be affected by this proposed iron mine is the Bad River and its tributaries, the largest watershed that flows into Lake Superior, just a few short miles east of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore--home, as we all know, to some of the finest paddling on this planet. The Bad River Watershed Association has been testing and monitoring streams and rivers in the watershed for years and will be in Madison for Canoecopia this year. Last year, due to their hard work and diligence, the BRWA won Lake Superior Magazine's 2012 Achievement Award. Clean water is critical to a number of species, including that staple of Native American diets and spiritual life. The wild rice beds at the mouth of the Bad River are some of the most productive and extensive in the world and are on the reservation of the Bad River band of Lake Superior Chippewa. The Bad River tribe and their extremely articulate chairman, Mike Wiggins, are vehemently opposed to anything that might compromise the water and the rice beds.
Since we don't quite have the advertising budget of GTAC or the Cline Group, it will take help to get the word out. People need to be aware of the mining threat to water quality and also the availability of the Bad River Watershed Association at Canoecopia. If paddlers would help spread the word we can increase exposure exponentially. We would like to encourage people to stop by the booth, take a look at the map, and become aware of the issues involved. At the very minimum a 'like' on Facebook for the BRWA would show support. A membership in the BRWA is dirt cheap--twenty five bucks--a useful amount of cash for a grass roots, volunteer organization. That's less than the cost of a couple of burger baskets and a pint of beer or two at most northern Wisconsin bars. The membership money will be used to sustain water monitoring to base line the resource. The DNR actually quit monitoring that area in the late 70's because it was 'too clean' (!!) and the budget funds needed to be spent on more problematic areas. Kayakers and silent sports folks in general have the reputation of heading to the water or the ski trail with $20 and a pair of underwear and not changing either. I' would encourage paddlers and fans of Gitchee Gumee to help dispel that perception and support the organization and the effort to hold GTAC and the legislature accountable as this process and the mining legislation evolves. This is not about whether or not there should be a mine in northern Wisconsin. It's about making sure that any type of mining activity complies with the environmental and water quality standards now in place. The bills proposed in both the Wisconsin House and Senate would bypass and eliminate many of these safeguards. This issue is not just a Wisconsin issue. Lake Superior has an international border and any deterioration of water quality will affect Ontario as well as Minnesota and Michigan. Anyone who lives, works, or plays on Lake Superior and values its uniqueness has a horse in this race.
This is not a small mine, a pit such as the ones seen up on Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula or in the Ironwood, MI area. If you superimposed the proposed mine on Chicago it would stretch from Navy Pier to about four miles west of O'Hare Airport. It would be as deep as the Two Prudential Plaza or the AT&T Corporate Center in downtown. That much rock and understory can't be moved without knowing exactly what will happen and how it will affect the watershed.
I keep a tin cup bungeed on the deck of my Explorer when I paddle Gitchee Gumee. If I'm more than a mile offshore on Lake Superior I drink water straight out of the lake. I have since about 1977 and never had a single problem. I remember when Reserve Mining was dumping taconite tailings into the lake up on the north shore in the early 70's and everyone in Duluth had to drink bottled water for a time. Not on my watch, and not on my part of the lake if I can do anything to prevent it. I hope you feel the same and will consider helping with the effort.
A few resources:
- Lake Superior Binational forum, a group of Canadian and US folks concerned about our favorite lake
- Good history and overview of the issue, including Native American / First Nation info
- The boots on the ground group above, BRWA. They will use any membership funds to ramp up and/or continue monitoring and base lining streams and rivers in the basin
- WLCV, an umbrella organization working the electoral process and providing information