Why Mining’s Return is Critical to One NE WI County

While the environmental left continues to argue against the mining moratorium repeal proposed recently by two Republican lawmakers, Wendy Gehlhoff, Director of the Florence County Economic Development, shared new insights on why mining could be extremely beneficial to Wisconsin.

Adding to what Ladysmith City administrator Al Christianson said to Media Trackers last week on the success and little environmental impact of the Flambeau mine, Gehlhoff argued in a letter to us that Northern Wisconsin is in need of the economic growth the mines could provide. In an editorial to Media Trackers and others, Gehlhoff wrote:

To Southern Wisconsin residents this may seem inconsequential.  Many think tourism jobs are enough to sustain the economy. Unfortunately, the seasonality, low wages and boom and bust nature of the Tourism industry are not enough to sustain vibrant communities. Northern Wisconsin needs a balanced economy to stem the exodus of young people and to have opportunity available for the next generation. Mining could provide the necessary spark for industry and population growth in the Northwoods.

Along with using the Flambeau mine as an example of success, Gehlhoff also pointed to Michigan and Minnesota, specifically the Eagle Mine in Upper Michigan, that employs hundreds and has an economic impact of $2 billion. The Eagle Mine is also unique in its integration of the the Community Environmental Monitoring Program (CEMP), which is an independent program run by community organizations that monitors the mine’s environmental performance. The website for the mine also boasts it’s responsibility to protect the environment and support the community, and even hosts public tours of the facility.

Along with pointing to the success of other mines, as the former five-year chair of the Northwoods Rail Transit Comisson, Gehlhoff also argues that reopening mines could revitalize the freight industry as well. She said:

I strongly believe that rail service is critical to the survival of existing businesses and communities in northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula.  However, over the last five years, it has become very difficult for manufacturing businesses to find affordable and reliable freight service.  It is less and less profitable for rail line operators to maintain and service our light density rail line network.

She continued: Mining would provide long term freight contracts that would compel rail line operators to restore and upgrade rail lines in our region, or lease the lines to a short line operator who is interested in doing so.  This would reduce transportation costs for businesses, including our forest products and paper industries, and would make our region more attractive for other manufacturing businesses looking to expand or relocate to our area.

Gelhoff becomes the latest local official to challenge the environmental argument that Wisconsin needs to choose between tourism and mining in the north woods of Wisconsin. Further, she argues it’s not only possible but essential to the region’s economic survival.