The Willow River, pictured, flows through the town of Lynne alongside land where county officials are considering allowing mining. Opponents of the mine say the sulfuric acid created by the mining process could flow into the river and severely damage the body of water. The river also connects to other bodies of water in the area that could also be damaged. (Marcus Nesemann/River News)
6/14/2012 7:30:00 AM Panel wants mining bids, public vote
The Oneida County Forestry, Land and Recreation Committee will forward two resolutions to the county board seeking permission to advertise for bids for mining proposals and to hold a referendum in November to gauge public interest in moving forward with mining in the town of Lynne.
The bids would be for "exploration, prospecting, and mining lease agreements." The committee, according to the resolution, "feels that it is necessary for the lease agreements (to) be put out for bid in order to garner valuable information from the mining companies, which will in turn lead to a better assesment of public reaction at the time of the informational meetings that the committee is required to conduct pursuant to county policy."
Those meetings, not to be confused with now-canceled public-information meetings, are required by the Oneida County Metallic Ore Prospecting and Mining Policy, which calls for them to be held "prior to entering into any mining agreements to asses public reaction."
The committee voted 2-1 Monday to send the resolution to the county board. Jack Martinson cast the dissenting vote, saying he believes the county board instructed the committee to hold the public-information meetings first.
However, committee members Jack Sorensen and Jerry Shidell disagreed. They said the board merely instructed the committee to consider holding the meetings.
Corporation Counsel Brian Desmond concurred, stating there was no directive to conduct such a meeting.
Committee Chairman Gary Baier and Tom Rudolph were absent.
Dave Schatzley, whose voting privileges were revoked earlier in the meeting (see related story), said he would have voted against moving forward with the bids. His vote would have killed the motion.
The goal of the public-information meetings was to educate people while also gauging their interest in mining.
Proponents of the meetings, including Martinson and Schatzley, said they are needed because the public does not have enough information to make an informed choice.
However, Shidell and Sorensen said such information would emerge during the process of putting lease agreements up for bids.
They also noted that once the board is able to review and approve the bid packages in closed session, the packages would then be made public.
County Board Chairman Ted Cushing, who was not at the meeting, said the release of bid packages is vital.
"I think that's the only thing they can do," Cushing said. "If we don't know what's there for sure, and what kind of mining would take place to determine if it can be done safely, that's the only way you can make an intelligent decision.
"If we keep saying let's hold more public hearings ... what's the point of having a public hearing if you don't know the answers to the questions?"
Mining in the town of Lynne, located in western Oneida County, has long been controversial. The mine site contains a mineral deposit with an estimated 5.6 million tons of zinc and lead ore, as well as silver and gold, according to Noranda Minerals, a Canadian company that had shown interest in mining the deposit in the 1990s.
But opponents say the minerals cannot be safely extracted due to the presence of sulfur in the soil that, when mixed with water and air, creates sulfuric acid that could harm the nearby Willow Flowage. Opponents also fear contamination of wetlands throughout the area.
The resolution calling for a referendum passed unanimously and would require the committee to prepare no more than three questions "in order to gauge public opinion with regard to the proposed exploration, prospecting and mining on county forest lands."
It would be a nonbinding vote on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
Dave Hintz, who was the chairman of the now-defunct Mining Oversight/Local Impact Committee and works with the current committee in an advisory position, is pleased with the two resolutions headed to the county board.
"I believe it will get the county board discussing how to proceed," he said. "It gives them two avenues to proceed that are not mutually exclusive."
Board member Bob Metropulos, who attended the meeting, was critical of the committee's decision.
"It is just an absolute shame," Metropulos said, adding there are "requirements the county has to meet" before moving ahead with mining proposals.
Those requirements, he said, include rezoning land in the proposed mining site to industrial and manufacturing.
"These guys, they think because we're the county, we don't have to abide by our own rules," Metropulos said. "There's not another area of zoning that you can have for mining other than industrial and manufacturing and you can't have industrial and manufacturing in areas that have wetlands."
In addition, Metropulos said there is a process in place for the town of Lynne to block a rezoning initiative.
"If it's not going to be allowed .. why are we continuing?" Metropulos said.
Both resolutions are expected to be taken up at Tuesday's county board meeting.
Marcus Nesemann may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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