Summer of Outreach Starts with Front-Row Seats to Mining Debate

Me, Meredith Smalley, loving summer life in the northwoods of Wisconsin

by Meredith Smalley
Hello there!
I’m Meredith Smalley, and I’ll spend this summer writing about my experience working as the summer outreach intern and living at the University of Wisconsin-Trout Lake Station in Boulder Junction, WI. I hope I can use this opportunity to share what I discover during my short stay in the Northwoods and immersion in limnological research. As an incoming senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison majoring in journalism, I hope to incubate what I’ve learned thus far during my “Wisconsin Experience” and develop my writing in the natural science setting.
The six panel speakers and moderator Larry Konopacki during the June 5th forum on mining in the Penokee range
The six panel speakers and moderator Larry Konopacki during the June 5th forum on mining in the Penokee range

My summer started off with a bang, as Trout Lake Station’s first major event was collaborating as part of Science On Tap Minocqua to host a panel discussion regarding mining in the Penokee Range. The event on June 5th aimed to provide the public (nearly 400 of whom filled the room) with unbiased information to better understand what mining in the Penokees might entail. With a panel of experts from the fields of geology, engineering, economics, the environment and regulation, the discussion seemed to thoroughly cover many aspects of the mining process and its potential effects, but there was also hesitation by the speakers to make too many concrete statements about what this particular mining proposal could encompass.
“We’re going to need a lot of information in a very high-quality application that shows that there’s going to be very little impact on the environment in order to approve the permit submittals,” said Ann Coakley of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Watch the full forum here. Or check out a short “synopsis” video below:

While many audience members seemed eager for definitive answers to their questions regarding a timeline for the project, Gogebic Taconite, LLC, the mining company of subject, may have to wait 420 days after submitting their application to receive the DNR’s decision. According to representatives from GTAC, their application may not be prepared by next year, or the following year.
The day following the forum, I enjoyed joining in on a field trip to the Penokee Range organized by the people behind the forum. Cyrus Hester and Tom Fitz, two of the forum’s panelists, led a group of 30 curious citizens to several sites within the region where this mine would be established, if approved. After stopping at a beautiful overlook of the hills in the Penokee Range, we had a chance to touch exposed rock of the Ironwood Iron Formation and tour the proposed mine site with GTAC representatives.

Overlooking the hills of the Penokee Range during the June 6th field trip
Overlooking the hills of the Penokee Range during the June 6th field trip

With not much to see but trees, we could only envision what the area could look like in several years if the mining application is approved and the largest open-pit mine in Wisconsin history is opened. Exposure to the invaluable information from both the forum and the field trip has helped me better develop a well-rounded view of the proposed mine and consider the economic benefits in contrast with the environmental risks.
With such a positive response and strong turnout at both events, community interest in the subject is evident and I would encourage everyone to stay involved with updates from the DNR as this issue moves forward.
That’s all for now. Stay tuned as I start exploring the waters of Vilas County lakes, the forests of the Northwoods and the scientific research going on right here at Trout Lake Station.