RHINELANDER - The rules for metallic mining in Oneida County now look completely different than they did for years.
On a 15-5 vote, the Oneida County Board approved an overhaul of its mining ordinance, closing the process just before a window in state law expired.
Critics of the new rules say it's now easier for a company to mine the rich ore deposit in the town of Lynne. Supporters of the changes feel they're following state law and avoiding legal trouble for the county.
"Clearly, in my mind, what's presented today is an improvement over what we have on the books now, which is unenforceable," said Oneida County Board Chair Dave Hintz.
The county was forced to inspect its mining laws after the passage of 2017 Wisconsin Act 134, which repealed the state's so-called mining moratorium. The law takes effect July 1, giving counties a short window to amend their local ordinances.
"The state, in all their magnanimous decision-making, has put us between a rock and a hard place," said Supervisor Ted Cushing.
The county board defeated each proposed amendment to the ordinance and approved the version passed by the Planning and Development Committee. An amendment calling for a two-thirds board vote to approve mining permits failed by a 11-10 count. A different proposal to ban mining on certain forest lands, including the Lynne site, also failed.
The vote came after two and a half hours of debate, which was preceded by about two hours of public comment. Out of the twenty-four people who spoke to the board, zero were in favor of the ordinance.
"Do you want this place to look like Hurley? Bessemer? Do you want every other house to be tumbling down?" asked John Schneider. "Or do you want to have sustainable development?"
Tom Neale lives near the Willow Flowage, which itself is near Lynne ore deposit.
"The Willow Flowage is a county and regional heirloom that must be cherished and protected," Neale said.
Several members of the Lac du Flambeau Tribe also attended and commented at the meeting. The tribe opposes mining in Oneida County.
"The tribe will vehemently take an oppositional stance to any open pit mining activity that occurs that close to the reservation," said tribal attorney Andrew Adams III.
Acknowledging the concerns from environmentalists, but also previous suggestions from mining supporters, Supervisor Jack Sorensen said the ordinance was on the right track.
"Maybe it's time to come to the conclusion we're right down the middle and we're doing something right," Sorensen said.
The five county board members voting against the new ordinance included Jim Winkler, Alan Van Raalte, Steve Schreier, Bob Metropulos, and Bob Mott. Sonny Paszak was absent for the vote.
In a separate 19-1 vote, supervisors approved putting a mining referendum on the November ballot. Voters will be asked whether they support mining on the Lynne site, but the county board won't be forced to follow public opinion.
Lance Krolczyk was the only supervisor opposed to the measure.