My preliminary fieldwork consisted of the following:
- Surveying online media including:
- Mining company informational website
- Discussion board of citizens opposing the mine
- Discussion board of citizens supporting the mine
- Newspaper editorials and reporting on public hearings
- Listening to a broadcast of a public hearing
- Listening to stakeholders
- Attending a public informational rally
- Site visits to:
- Proposed mine location
- Waterways that would be affected by the mine
- Former mining towns in the surrounding area
- Current mining towns in Minnesota
Based on that preliminary fieldwork I observed that people opposing the mine have identified the following primary threats:
- Degradation of the entire Upper Bad River Watershed which would result in the loss of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources “Outstanding and Exceptional” classification.
- Ground water contamination and depletion.
- Dumping of mine waste on private property.
- Re-writing Wisconsin mining laws with limited local community involvement.
- Contamination of ancestral wild rice beds located on the tribal lands of the Bad River Indian Reservation.
Supporters of the mine proposal mainly emphasize jobs. Ashland and Iron counties were mining communities from the 1890’s until the early 1960’s. Mining remains in the collective memory of local residents especially in towns like Iron Belt and Montreal, Wisconsin. The mining company promises 800 jobs and claims that they would last for an estimated 30-50 years. Some residents hope these jobs will prevent their children from moving away from the area. For a provocative response to the selectivity of that collective memory see The Best of Our Heritage.
At the state level legislators are interested in economic development in the hope to generate new sources of tax revenue. They have started a fast track legislative process that threatens decades of carefully constructed mining oversight. For a take on how this fast track legislation threatens not only the environment but also the foundations of our democracy, see Al Gedicks, A Call to Action.
My interest in this project begins with the recognition that the decisions being made now will have far-reaching consequences for many generations. At the same time that the process seems hurried there is also a lot of conflicting information and angry rhetoric on all sides. While this is no longer my primary place of residence, it once was, and remains a place that I cherish.