Local candidates share opinions on Oneida County exploratory drillingSubmitted: 06/23/2020
Dan Hagen
Dan Hagen

Local candidates share opinions on Oneida County exploratory drilling
SCHOEPKE - Badger Minerals is nearly done drilling into the ground in southeast Oneida County. The company is hoping of finding precious metals like gold or silver for an eventual mine.

Democrat Ed Vocke opposes the drilling, while Republican Mary Felzkowski does not. Both are vying for Tom Tiffany's old district 12 state senate seat.

Tiffany left for Congress earlier this year. But his presence is still felt - without his 2017 pro-mining legislation, the drilling in Oneida County never would've happened.

Prior to 2017, Wisconsin's "Prove it First" law required mining companies to prove they could operate and mine without causing acid drainage. The law essentially stopped sulfide mining.

But in 2017, then state senator Tom Tiffany introduced legislation to repeal the law. That has led to exploratory drilling in southeast Oneida County by Badger Minerals.

Ed Vocke is looking to fill Tiffany's now vacant seat and reinstate the "Prove it First" law. He said there has never been a high-impact sulfide mine that did not do damage to groundwater.

"Once you expose the elements to oxygen, it essentially turns into battery acid, which leeches into the larger aquifer and will damage people's lakefront properties, property values, and drinking water," said Vocke.

Rep. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma) responded to an interview request with the following statement:

"I am aware that exploratory surveying has begun in Oneida County. This is the first of many preliminary steps that are taken before discussion of a mine would even take place - at which point, protections are in place to allow for public comment periods in addition to local control measures. The surveying is being done on privately owned property, with consent of the owners, to safely determine whether or not there are any minerals below. As I've stated before, my office is here to assist any constituents who have concerns or questions, and my staff and I are available to help facilitate any conversations with the Department of Natural Resources regarding the permit." 

In 2017, Tiffany originally pitched his pro-mining bill as a job creator. But assembly district 34 candidate Kirk Bangstad said sulfide mining would devastate Northern Wisconsin's tourism industry - the area's largest job creator. He also said the jobs that would come wouldn't go to local people.

"Mining doesn't bring good jobs to an area," said Bangstad. "Mining brings people who know how to mine who aren't local people. So you're going to bring out of state talent to mine. Mining only lasts three to four years. And then they've raped our land and then they go."

Badger Minerals plans on finishing its drilling by the end of this month. Between 2010 and June of 2012, Tiffany received $74,915 from mining interests.

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