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November 14, 2019

10/17/2019 7:30:00 AM
Our View
For once, a wise decision

Perhaps it was the exception that proves the rule, but this past week the Oneida County Board of Supervisors made a wise decision - for once - when it rejected an outright prohibition on mining on county-owned lands.

Such a ban was exactly what supervisor Alan VanRaalte wanted to do, but supervisors opted instead to keep their options open and to consider any potential project on a case-by-case basis.

The proposed prohibition raises several important issues. For one thing, it is very troubling to us that Mr. VanRaalte, along with supervisor Steve Schreier, insisted time and again on misrepresenting the resolution by saying that the people had spoken in last November's mining referendum and the resolution was nothing other than listening to those voters.

His resolution was simply trying to codify the election results, Mr. VanRaalte said.

Here's how Mr. Schreier put it, after also citing the referendum's results: "It's not always about how I feel about something," he said. "It's often going to have to be about how the majority of the people who elected me feel about something."

All well and good, and the people did speak overwhelmingly last November, but in reality that referendum had nothing to do with the resolution put forth by Mr. VanRaalte.

Last November, the people, by nearly a 2-1 margin, said no to leasing county-owned land in the town of Lynne for mining and mining-related activities. But Mr. VanRaalte's resolution would have banned those activities on all county-owned lands, and that's a huge difference.

The voters never addressed that question, and the answer may well have been different, given that the Lynne deposit is very close to the highly sensitive and vital Willow Flowage, an outstanding resource water of the state. Not every area of the county is as vital, and voters know it.

What's most troubling is, supervisor Bob Mott pointed out this fact on the county board floor as the reason he could not support the resolution. If the resolution had indeed expressed the language of the referendum, Mr. Mott said, he would have supported it in a minute. Instead, it expanded the intent of a ban from the town of Lynne to the entire county.

While adequate safeguards might not be possible anywhere, Mr. Mott allowed that was not a foregone conclusion.

"It may be that it's impossible," he said. "But it also may be that there is a select site where people could mine in a responsible way that we could approve."

Yet even after the clear difference between the language of the referendum and the language of the resolution was established, both Mr. VanRaalte and Mr. Schreier insisted that the resolution was simply a codification of the expressed will of the people rather than any outright hostility to mining.

It's hard to believe that such misrepresentation wasn't intentionally dishonest, a trademark of the Left these days.

Other supervisors, such as Bob Metropulos and Jim Winkler, were more straightforward in their dislike for metallic mining, but equally exasperating.

Mr. Metropulos said it was time to shut the door to mining in Oneida County, adding that finding Mr. Mott's "magical" piece of land would never happen.

What an arrogant attitude, to think that no technological progress or change can ever make metallic mining safe anywhere in the county. It's the same kind of thinking that led many in the early 1960s to oppose space exploration because it would be impossible to send humans to the moon and get them back alive.

Some believe we never did, so we'll use another analogy: It's the same kind of thinking that could not envision an Internet 30 years ago, or an iPhone, and believed that cloning would always be pure science fiction.

In fact, there have been many major advances in mining since the time of the proposed Crandon mining project, which would surely have been a catastrophe if it had proceeded as it was proposed in the 1990s.

Mining companies these days are not your parents' mining companies, by any means.

Indeed, so-called Green Mining has employed technologies to make major changes in tailings storage, changes that make them less volatile and more compact. Chemical reagents in tailings now can be recycled along with the water; the need for evaporation ponds has generally been eliminated, while new technologies remove phosphorus from water and waste heat from mining to generate steam and power and decrease the carbon footprint.

The advances of drones and robotic drilling have made mining safer for humans, and advances in long-hole stope mining and decline tunnels have minimized excavation environmental hazards.

None of this is to suggest that even these technologies would make it possible to mine the town of Lynne site tomorrow. The Willow Flowage is too precious to risk.

But other sites may well be mined safely, and some that can't be today might be tomorrow. We should never shut our minds to the hope and expectation of progress - that's the progress in progressive, by the way - and what human beings might create if given freedom and opportunity.

To deny progress is to throw up our hands in classically Luddite fashion and condemn all of us to a lower standard of living and a different way of life. Perhaps that is what many anti-mining activists really want.

After all, as supervisor Jack Sorensen said, if we could levitate the ore out of the Lynne site tomorrow with no impact whatsoever to the environment, there would still be those opposed to it.

Some of those people were in the room when he said it.

Finally, some suggested that we should just pass Mr. VanRaalte's resolution because, well, we could just change it later if a specific project that showed promise came along.

Well, that begs the question of why pass it in the first place if it really means we are just going to continue to be site-specific after all, but it was disingenuous because the resolution would prevent any kind of exploration or assessment of any specific project from the get-go.

That was the purpose of the resolution - to make sure no specific project could show promise.

There are other problems with an across-the-board ban. Supervisor Bill Liebert expressed the national security implications of having adequate access to precious metals within our own borders. That's true, and there's also the "not in my backyard" mentality inherent in such bans, even while mining opponents hypocritically continue to wallow in precious metals every day of their smart car lives.

For now the county chose wisely. But we must remain vigilant because the Luddites will always be with us, lurking in the room with doomsday scenarios, cringing at human progress and potential.

In the meantime, the rest of us must move forward. Yes, protect the Willow Flowage. Yes, make any prospective mining companies prove it before they mine anywhere. But let's leave open our doors to prosperity and progress. Let's leave open the doors to human potential.

Who knows? Our openness might just take us to the moon and Mars and beyond. And to safe and prosperous mining in Oneida County and throughout the Northwoods.





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