The company looking to build a $1.5 billion iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin has stopped the project until state lawmakers agree on a new set of rules for reviewing such projects.
State Sen. Robert Jauch, D-Poplar, said this week that Gogebic Taconite is turning its attention toward sites in Michigan and Minnesota after a bid to push through new legislation failed recently.
"I hear they would come back if there was a law in place," Jauch said. "I have told the company to shoot for getting a new bill in the fall session, which would give the public a full discussion on this issue."
J. Matthew Fifield, Gogebic's managing director, did not immediately return calls Wednesday, but according to the Associated Press, company officials have confirmed the project is on hold.
Gogebic proposed building the mine in Ashland and Iron counties in the Penokee Range, the headwaters of the Bad River, which flows into Lake Superior. A study commissioned by the company showed the open pit iron mine would support 2,834 jobs in a 12-county region of northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula and have a total economic impact of $604 million a year.
Gogebic wants to speed up the state review process, which it feels is onerous and costly.
Officials with the Department of Natural Resources have said the amount of time required to obtain a mining permit depends on a project's complexity. The shortest time, officials said, is about three and a half years.
A permit application by Crandon Mining to build a zinc and copper mine in northern Wisconsin, however, was under consideration for 10 years, costing the company some $70 million, before Crandon dropped its request.
Under a proposal pushed by Gogebic, which never made it to the full Legislature, the Department of Natural Resources would have had to make a decision within 300 days of receiving a company's application. That would not count the time needed to consider exploratory permits and other preparatory work.
"They tried to push that bill through as quick as they could," Jauch said. "That was the wrong way to go about it, and I told them that. It obviously bothered a lot of people."
Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, said the mining bill is "not dead by any means."
"We think it's a great jobs bill," he said. "It's going to create a lot of good, high-paying jobs especially in that northern part of the state that has really been hurt with this economy."
Fitzgerald said that with the Senate fully engaged with recalls, the Legislature will likely wait until the fall to take the measure up.