Assembly committee comes to West Allis for hearing on mining bill

    New mining legislation introduced by Assembly Republicans had its first public hearing at Wisconsin State Fair Park in West Allis this week.
    Hundreds of observers crowded into a meeting room with supporters of a proposed mine in northern Wisconsin touting the potential of new jobs and critics raising environmental concerns. Attendees spoke about driving for hours from northern Wisconsin to be able to attend the hearing.
    Rep. Barbara Toles, D-Milwaukee, said she understood the appeal of jobs in the area.
    “Do you think the economic impact outweighs any potential environmental damage?” she asked David Ward, who was hired to conduct an economic impact study on the potential mine.
    Ward, president of NorthStar Economics, said it would, noting that the mine would "generate approximately $1.4 billion in total state and local tax revenue over the expected 35-year life of the first phase of the mine.”
    However, opponents of the Assembly bill said it will make it easier to fill in wetlands with toxic mining waste.
    “Mining companies would be able to take high volumes of water from rivers and not be responsible for contamination or cleanup,” said Mike Wiggins, the tribal chairman of the Bad River Tribe of Lake Superior Chippewa.
    “We’re the ones who drink the water,” Wiggins said. “We’re the ones that have to live with the dangers. People in Hurley want jobs, but not at any cost. We can’t just give away our natural resources.”
    Representatives from the Department of Natural Resources were on hand, but were unable to answer many of the questions posed to them.
    “We haven’t had enough time to go through the entire bill,” said Ann Coakley, director of the Bureau of Waste & Materials Management. “We just received it recently.”
    Some legislators raised concerns over how the bill was drafted and what they called a lack of cooperation and discussion.

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