Penokee Controversy
Map of the proposed GTAC mine in the Penokee Hils. Map Courtesy of the Bad River Natural Resources Department.

Penokee Controversy

The Florida-based company Gogebic Taconite (GTAC) wishes to mine a vein of iron ore containing more than two billion tons of iron ore in Northern Wisconsin. In order for this to happen current environmental regulations on water quality, which have made mining in this area impossible since the 1970s, must be altered.

As controversy over the cultural, environmental and economic aspects of the mine has arisen across the state and nation, bluegrass band Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, from the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point has decided to throw a festival in May to raise awareness about the mine proposal and its possible detrimental effects.

Cultural Concerns
According to, “The first phase of the project will focus on approximately a 4.5 by 1.5- mile stretch of land located in iron country.”

The problem with this seemingly small piece of land is that it is located at the head waters of the Bad River watershed connected to the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians reservation.
“The Tyler Forks River is one of the most beautiful places in Wisconsin,” said members of Horseshoes and Hand Grenades David Lynch, Adam Greuel, Russel Pederson, Sam Odin and Colin Meltelka.

Within the Bad River Reservation are the largest wild rice beds in the state. Wild rice, known as “Manoomin” to the Bad River Band of Chippewa, has been a major element in the band’s history.

Environmental Concerns
“[It] is clear, based on available geologic and environmental information, that such a mine cannot be developed and operated using current mining technologies and practices without destroying the environmental quality, including the air, land and forests, wetlands, streams and rivers of the Bad River watershed, the Bad Water Indian Reservation and Lake Superior,” said a Black River Band statement released on December 13, 2011.

As a result of the mining process, the mine will fill with ground and rainwater, which must be pumped out. This results in a lowering of the water table on the north side and an increase in surface water (fresh from the depths of the mine) on the south side.

“Tampering with water levels has a huge affect on those lakes and waterways there,” said Horseshoes and Hand Grenades.

On the north side, the wild rice and trout-laden first order streams might be seriously affected. On the south side, heavy stream and overland flow will likely lead to increased erosion and other effects on the beneficiaries and inhabitants of the watershed.

Economic Concerns
“If we look at other communities who have entertained this exact same industry in exactly the same manner, there’s unemployment, empty business, empty Main Street, polluted rivers, inedible fish and poverty that’s worse than prior to the mine,” said Joy Schelble, a resident whose house is within five miles of the proposed mine.

The mine promises to create some seven hundred jobs. However, the number of jobs left for locals after the company brings in highly trained workers is unknown. As part of the mining operations, roads, infrastructure and schools need to be upgraded, which GTAC has planned to do.

According to the Black River Band’s statement: “If anything, iron ore taconite mining in the Bad River watershed near Lake Superior will probably destroy more existing local jobs in the tourism, forestry, fishing and natural resources sectors than it would ever create.”
For more information on the Penokee mine or the awareness music festival to be held at UWSP this coming May 5, 2012, in the campus’ athletic fields, check out a video interview with Horseshoes and Hand Grenades on our website.


Brian Luedtke

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