G-Tac Nov. 25 Bulk Sampling Application and Dec. 2 Stormwater Permit Comments

To: Larry Lynch, WI DNR

Dear Mr. Lynch,

 

This is being posted publicly as an open letter. I urge you to share these comments with colleagues and halt G-Tac’s attempt to do bulk sampling with inadequate preparation and precautions in place.

I am writing to express my extreme concern with Gogebic Taconite’s bulk sampling plan and storm water permit application, as well as the DNR’s decision not to require an air quality permit. I will start with the permitting process itself, then address the decision not to require an air quality permit, and finally detail the problems that should kill G-Tac’s stormwater permit application.

 

Bulk Sample Plan Process

First as to the process, I understand that in accordance with Wisconsin Statutes 295.45(4), you have 30 days to determine the completeness of G-Tac’s stormwater permit application; since this was filed on December 2, the deadline to request more complete information is January 1. If the application is determined to be complete, according to 295.45(9) you have another 30 days from the time of this determination to approve or reject the permit, or until January 30 at the latest.

This timeline is completely unacceptable to interested members of the public that you serve. Gogebic Taconite’s Bulk Sampling Plan submitted on Nov. 25, 2013 is 246 pages long. The stormwater permit application submitted on Dec. 2 is 350 pages. It is certainly unreasonable to expect the general public to digest 596 pages of permitting documents in 60 days or less, especially given that the company’s Bulk Sampling proposal has drastically changed twice. Prior to the passage of Act 1, Prospecting (now called Bulk Sampling) required a full environmental review process with at least one public hearing and comment period. I understand that Act 1 was explicitly designed to curb public input into ferrous mining projects to the greatest extent possible; however, you still have leeway as professional state employees to make judgement calls as to whether the process allows you and the public fair time to evaluate the company’s proposal. During the debates on AB426 and Act 1, the bill’s supporters and G-Tac representatives repeatedly stated that if you, the DNR professionals, could not in good conscience make a determination in the given time frame, you had the flexibility to deny the permit. Now would be the time to invoke their advice: please deny G-Tac’s stormwater permit, if for no other reason than to give the public time to fully understand and evaluate what they are proposing.

Further, the nature of the documents submitted by the company seems designed to obscure the vital information contained within them. It is important to communicate the information contained in these documents to the public, as that information may have significant implecations for the environment and public health. The bulk of the content submitted is superfluous to understanding the gist of G-Tac’s methodology and conclusions. Therefore, a summary document consisting of the most relevant pieces of the Bulk Sample Plan and stormwater permit application along with a few basic maps and graphics should be prepared by the company for public consumption as a requirement before any permits for bulk sampling may be approved.

 

Air Quality Permits and Asbestiform Grunerite

Secondly, I am disappointed with the DNR’s decision not to require an air quality permit from G-Tac given the documented presence of asbestiform grunerite in the mineral deposits the company intends to exploit. I urge you to reconsider this decision. I understand that G-Tac no longer intends to use their Sites 3 and 4, where samples of asbestiform grunerite were found by two independent scientists. In a public forum in Iron County on December 5 (see video at http://www.indiancountrynews.com/index.php/tv/indian-country-tv-com/13949-live-from-the-penokees-grunerite-and-penkee-geology), Northland College geologist Dr. Tom Fitz pointed out that just because asbestiform grunerite has not yet been found at the other Bulk Sampling sites does not mean that it is not present in those places or others on the eastern side of the mine site. Fitz cited the 1929 report by Henry R. Aldrich, “The Geology of the Gogebic Iron Range of Wisconsin,” which identifies grunerite as present in outcrops along the Tyler Forks River, on the far east end of the mine site and close to G-Tac’s Bulk Sample Site 5.

G-Tac’s continued claim that “asbestiform material is unlikely to be present in the reserve” (Nov. 25 G-Tac letter to DNR, page 1) in the face of overwhelming confirmation of its presence by yourself, Dr. Fitz, and UW-Madison geoscientist Dr. Joseph Skulan, in and of itself, should trigger denial of any permits for bulk sampling on the basis that the applicant has knowingly provided objectively false information in their application materials. If any permits are granted, they will be granted upon the basis of a lie. Further, while G-Tac states that blasting will not be “the primary method for collecting a bulk sample,” blastingwould be employed if enough material is not found on the surface at each bulk sampling site, potentially resulting in the emission of asbestiform particles if grunerite is in fact present at the sites. Further, the applicant states that “dust control measures will not occur for the blasting activity” should it take place (page 23). This decision in advance to not control dust that may be laden with asbestiform fibers is shocking and irresponsible, particularly in light of the company’s public statements of concern for the safety of their workers used to justify legislation closing the area to the public during bulk sampling activity.

From my personal visits to all three intended bulk sample sites, I highly doubt that the company would be able to pull 800 tons of surface material from Site 2, and it may or may not be possible at Sites 1 and 5. Remember also that these are U.S. Steel’s leftovers—i.e., what they didn’t want or didn’t think was useful, and therefore may not be adequate for G-Tac’s pilot plant testing even if there is enough quantity.

In light of these facts, please inform me as to the justification for not requiring an air quality permit for G-Tac’s bulk sampling.

 

Comments on Bulk Sample Plan and Stormwater Permit Application

Third, I will do my best to make some informed comments on G-Tac’s Bulk Sample Plan and Stormwater Permit Application. These comments should be considered preliminary because, as stated previously, as a busy working person it is difficult to find time to get through nearly 600 pages of material within the DNR’s alotted time frame.

The first and most obvious part of the Bulk Sample Plan submitted on November 25 is the cover letter, in which G-Tac puts forward a few dubious claims. In addition to their denial of the presence of asbestiform grunerite cited above, the company claims that “no groundwater has been identified at the bulk sample sites” (item 12). It appears this claim is a response to your letter to Timothy Myers dated July 2, in the first item of which you ask, “Are any of the sites deep enough to intercept groundwater and if so, how will water such water be handled?” However, anyone familiar with the area in which bulk sampling will occur knows how wet it is and how close to the surface the water table lies. The applicant indicates on page 25 that their judgement that there is no groundwater rests solely on visual inspections of the surface at each site, and they did not even attempt to find the groundwater elevation at each site. They should be required to do so before making any claims about the presence or absence of groundwater. As you are aware, groundwater was intercepted at G-Tac’s test drilling sites over the summer (2013) quite close to the surface, so close that at one site the groundwater bubbled to the surface beside an improperly capped well for several weeks after drilling was completed.

On the Stormwater Permit Application, G-Tac makes a claim on Page 8 (Attachment A - Construction Erosion and Sediment Control) that “no local agency has authority to review” their stormwater permit plan. In fact, Iron County has in place a Ferrous Metallic Mineral Bulk Sampling ordinance (http://www.co.iron.wi.gov/docview.asp?docid=13742&locid=180) requiring a conditional use permit for bulk sampling activity, which stipulates that impacts to surface water are to be considered in the decision of whether to grant the permit (Section H(5)). G-Tac must therefore have a determination from Iron County that they are in compliance with the county’s ordinance before the DNR can make a permit decision.

Also in the stormwater permit application and bulk sampling plan, G-Tac stipulates that they will use straw bales as erosion barriers. These bales were used during the company’s exploratory drilling, and imported invasive grasses into the sites where they were placed (I previously sent you photos of this, and am happy to re-send the photos should you have need of them).

Finally, as a professional Cartographer (M.S. University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2013), I will provide some comments on the maps included with the stormwater permit application. First, I appreciate that G-Tac’s wetlands delineation consultant, Wetlands and Waterways LLC., took the time and effort (following your request) to actually download the Wisconsin Wetlands Inventory data and overlay it on aerial imagery this time, rather than submitting screenshots of the DNR’s Surface Water Data Viewer as their maps. However, it is also my understanding that Tribal conservation agencies and the Wisconsin Wetlands Association have been independently delineating and mapping wetlands in the area. G-Tac should have consulted with these organziations about their findings prior to submitting a permit application, rather than taking an aggressively oppositional stance and attempting to bar independent scientists from the area (as they did with an August 22 letter to the Bad River Band of Ojibwe, later deeemed to be spurious by the Ashland County District Attorney—see http://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/810066/letter-from-ashland-county-da-to-gtac-attorney.pdf). In fact, unmarked wetlands scattered throughout the area are clearly visible on the aerial photo used as a basemap for the Wisconsin Wetlands Inventory Map (page 63). The absence of these wetlands from the Inventory does not mitigate against their presence in reality.

Only one map of the area submitted with the stormwater permit application—Figure 2 on page 18--actually includes thewaterways that stand to be impacted by any stormwater runoff from bulk sampling sites. Neither the wetlands delineation maps nor the Barr Engineering site maps show which waterways could be impacted. This seems a major oversight, given that the sites lie within the drainages of Javorsky Creek and the Tyler Forks River, both designated trout streams. In fact, although runoff from bulk sample site 1 is indicated to flow west and north toward Javorsky Creek, only “unnamed tributaries to Tyler Forks River” and “Tyler Forks River” are named as nearby waterbodies in the Water Resources Application for Project Permits (page 5). (Here: http://www.wnpj.org/pdf/PenokeeSurvey_small.pdf is my own map of the area, which remains incomplete in that it does not show all existing wetlands, but nevertheless it gives a more accurate overall picture of where runoff from each site and the planned mine waste piles will go).

Further, the Barr Engineering maps are large-scale and appear to show in detail the direction of flow and runoff control measures at each site, but do not include any metadata that would allow for a determination of their overall accuracy. The maps included in the bulk sampling plan do not include contour lines; the maps in the stormwater permit application do, but there is no indication of how this topographic data was acquired. The runoff arrows on these maps do make more sense with the contours included than without them, but this is still a topographically complex area with steep slopes that require care and accuracy in planning. Sediment runoff from these sites could have significant consequences for the health of downstream ecosystems.

 

Conclusion

Finally, I will conclude my comments with the most important reason to deny G-Tac’s stormwater permit and any other permits or exemptions connected to bulk sampling. Simply this: the people living in the area do not want this mine. A survey conducted by UW-Superior researchers released in September (2013) found that 62% of residents of Ashland and Iron Counties oppose the mine (69% oppose in Ashland County, 54% oppose in Iron County). The Bad River Band of Ojibwe, whose reservation and wild rice beds lie downstream of the proposed mine, is strongly and unwaverly opposed to the project; Bad River Tribal Chairman Mike Wiggins has gone so far as to call the project a form of “genocide.”

At the very least, the Tribe’s concerns have been ignored and looked down upon by G-Tac and their supporters, despite the Tribe’s good stewardship of the area for over a century prior to ceeding their territory to the U.S. and the fact that they retain hunting and gathering rights in the area through the cession treaties. The company has used the Tribe’s opposition to try to divide the communities they will be impacting and reduce organized opposition to the project. Nevertheless, those communities have banded together in opposition, as many non-Tribal people in the area are rightfully concerned about the negative impacts of mining on the agriculture, forestry, and tourism sectors of the economy, which are currently growing in importance for the livlihoods of local residents.

The applicant is quite clear that the sole purpose of bulk sampling is to characterize the iron deposit to determine what kind of mill machinery is needed to process the mined ore. It has no redeeming scientific value other than as a necessary step on the road to an unwanted and environmentally disastrous open-pit mine. There is no statute or rule that requires the DNR to grant a stormwater or any other permit, even if everything in the permit were sound and in order. You have the leeway to make a determination based on what is best for the environment, public health, and the economy in the impacted areas. Please make the correct determination and deny G-Tac the permits they require to move ahead any further with this project.

 

Sincerely,

Carl Sack

Madison, WI

Map of mine site showing G-Tac's bore holes, bulk sampling sites and project area outlines.