Among different symbols of Wisconsin state there is an «official mineral» – Galena. It was proclaimed in 1971 to promote awareness of state geology. Galena was chosen because of its abundance, economic value, and historical significance to Wisconsin. The mining of galena and other sulphide ores was the primary occupation of the settlers of early Wisconsin.
However galena, or the lead glance, is sulphide ore of lead, and thus bears the environmental risk associated with this metal. Galena also contains up to 2% of silver, also in sulphide form, and a bunch of rare and precious metals. Sulphide mining, once prosperous industry, was banned. While harmless in compact form prolonged exposure via inhalation pulverized dust is proved to be hazardous. The water contamination is also an issue to be considered.
The moratorium on galena and other sulphide mining was put in place in 1998. Twenty years later governor Scott Walker has decided that it“s time to put an end to it. Additional motivation to the decision comes with uncovering of gold deposits in near the Eau Claire River and the Dells of the Eau Claire Park .
The decision to abandon the moratorium was met the opposition. And while moratorium can end on paper the proposed regulation would make it virtually impossible to actually mine the ore in Wisconsin.
For example regulation adopted in Marathon County require a would-be mining company to pay a $50,000 application fee, to contribute $15,000 to a trust fund to cover possible well contamination. It is mandatory for the mining company to set up buffer zone between the mine and adjacent land, and cover any legal or equipment costs incurred by the county.
«Let’s make it almost impossible to do» — Jean Maszk from the Marathon county Land, Conservation and Zoning Committee said after the meeting.
«The Eau Claire Dells, that’s our jewel. We have to protect our beautiful jewel. If we don’t have a protected resource, water, air, land, we don’t have anything to pass on to our grandchildren.» – said Jean Maszk in interview with Duluth News Tribune.
However the positive economic impact of ore mining has also found its supporters.
Bob Quick, the executive director of the Natural Resource Development Association:
«Mining is both a necessary and noble endeavor. It serves our communities with taxes and economic growth. It serves our families with great primary wage-earner jobs, and it serves our world with the metals we need to be green.»
Dan Southworth, a supervisor for the Town of Easton:
«The advantages for the community would be strictly monetary, whether it be the roads, the churches, or the schools. It’s an all-around win-win. I’m in favor of it if the mine can be done safely.»
As for now no companies however have declared their interest in sulphide ore mining. It is clear that there will be some sort of competition among the state and county lawmakers. The business will await for the outcome of it to asses the risks and benefits of investments.