New rules could increase fees and off limit areas for mining in Wisconsin

November 9, 2020

Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources has proposed new rules that would establish minimum qualifications and standards for mining and exploration in the state and could lead to higher fees for permits and licenses for mining. If adopted, the new rules would also require detailed plans and would force mining companies to avoid certain areas listed as off-limits.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that the rules would be the first update to the state's regulations since the 1980s, according to department documents.

The fees for the permits, licenses and other fees could add up to about $502,000 per project and would apply to nonferrous mining for minerals other than iron, such as copper, nickel, gold, silver, zinc and lead.

Larry Lynch, an administrative rule-maker for the DNR, said the rules were proposed to line up with recently passed legislation, specifically Act 134, which opened Wisconsin back up for metallic mining in 2017.

Lynch was previously the main DNR employee in the mining department before he retired in 2017. He was asked to come back and help with drafting the new rules.

Among the impacts would be increasing the fees for drill holes while doing exploratory drilling, requiring more detailed plans for exploratory drilling, clarifying when licenses are needed and adding more detail to when they begin and end, Lynch said.

As for mining, the new rules require more detailed applications, add new financial assurance systems, and requires more detailed annual reports on how a mining project is progressing. New waste management rules were also proposed, creating water standards, detailing how projects are designed and constructed and adding design quality controls, Lynch said.

There were also several types of areas listed where mining wouldn't be permitted: wilderness areas designated by state statutes, wild and scenic rivers, national and state parks, areas with unique geologic features, wildlife refuges, state natural areas, properties of historical significance and habitats that house endangered species, according to documents.

At an Oct. 22 hearing for the rules, Lynch said seven people testified, mainly asking for better notification of when exploratory drilling will be conducted and asking that areas of special natural resource interest be added to the list of areas where mining is not permitted.

Lynch said that while there has been slight interest in exploratory drilling over the last several years, mines aren't all that common in Wisconsin. The last mine permitted was the Flambeau mine in 1982 in Ladysmith. Shortly after that mine was closed in 1997, the "prove it first" law was passed, effectively stopping metallic mining.

The law required the company to show an example of a mine that did not cause any harm in either the U.S. or Canada, operated for at least 10 years, and then was closed for 10 years without pollution. That law was overturned in 2017, though, and has brought renewed interest in mining back to the state.

Some exploratory drilling was done this summer near Rhinelander but was halted after the company didn't find sufficient amounts of minerals for a mine. A consultant for Badger Minerals said that while the four cores taken over the summer didn't prove to be fruitful, drilling could be conducted in other areas in the future.



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