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Northern Wisconsin Candidates Voice Support, Skepticism of Mining Project

Natalie Jablonski

Candidates for northern Wisconsin’s 25th state Senate District and 74th Assembly District sparred this week at a debate held in Mercer. Much of the debate centered around a proposal for an iron mine in the Penokee Range.

Democratic Representative Janet Bewley of Ashland is competing against Republican Dane Deutsch of Rice Lake…for a seat that has long been held by retiring Democratic Senator Bob Jauch.

At a debate held in Iron County, several audience questions addressed the looming prospect of a nearby iron mine.  Representative Bewley said Wisconsin’s current iron mining law doesn’t offer enough environmental protection or local control.  And she said it’s not the only option for creating jobs.

“We need to make sure we have a diversified economy, so that you don’t put all of your hopes and dreams in one area. Northern Wisconsin is filled with potential, but we seem to only believe in one thing.”

Meanwhile Deutsch said there were plenty of protections in place to regulate a mining project, and said his candidacy offers clear support for responsible mining.

“So the key is, we need to stop fear-mongering and scare tactics. We need to get down to how are we going to provide jobs. It’s because we care about the people. And this is not the only thing – but mining is one of the things that is going to help our economy.”

Bewley also emphasized the need to change the way the mining company would be taxed.  Instead of a net proceeds tax based on the company’s profit, she said it should be a tonnage tax on the ore that comes out of the ground.  Deutsch said he’s in favor of local communities sharing in the profits, but said he's not sure of the best tax approach.

Iron County residents also had a chance to get to know candidates running for the 74th Assembly District.

It includes Iron County and Lac du Flambeau, as well as parts of parts of Price, Ashland and Bayfield counties. 

Republican candidate Jamie Francis of Hurley is facing Democrat Beth Meyers of Bayfield. 

In a debate held in Mercer this week, Meyers said when it comes to an iron mine proposed for northern Wisconsin, her primary concern is the freshwater resources of Lake Superior.

“So if mining is going to take place here, we have to make sure that we have everything in place to safeguard the environment, and most importantly the water.”

Francis said he is pro-mining if it can be done responsibly, and expressed confidence that the mining company Gogebic Taconite would act to minimize environmental damage.

“GTAC has a financial interest in making sure this project is done 100 percent responsible. The cost to mitigate a wetland today is anywhere between 20 and 50 thousand dollars. Yes, they want to mitigate wetlands. Are they? Well, they’re trying to stay away from it.”

Candidates also addressed education and economic development issues like how to incentivize expansion of broadband services.  

WXPR will broadcast a recorded version of the full debate on Sunday, October 26th.  

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