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The size of the proposed Gogebic iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin dominated debate as a bill to relax state mining laws made it through the Legislature and to Gov. Scott Walker’s desk.
Supporters said the new law would maintain the state’s environmental standards while making it easier for the company to open a mine and create thousands of jobs. Opponents argued lawmakers were moving too quickly for a project of its size.
During the March 7, 2013 Assembly debate, state Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) noted the vastness of the proposed mine and tried to put it into context.
"The hole in the earth that’s going to be dug is bigger than my entire district," Goyke declared.
That raised some eyebrows in Madison … and sent us to the plat books and the calculator.
How big is this proposed mine? And how big is Goyke’s district?
The project is proposed by Gogebic Taconite, a division of Florida-based Cline Resource and Development. The company first proposed the iron ore mine in Ashland and Iron counties in 2011.
A bill sought by the company to modify state laws to make mine development easier died in 2012. A similar measure was approved in 2013 and signed by Gov. Scott Walker on March 11, 2013. The new law "relaxes environmental protections for iron mining -- but not other forms of mining -- and provides more clarity to the state process of reviewing an iron ore mine application," according to the Journal Sentinel’s report on the bill signing.
We dug into a similar claim once before.
Size of the mine
When it comes to the size, Gogebic and the state Department of Natural Resources officials have offered slightly different sizes.
Gogebic president Bill Williams was quoted byPolitiFact Wisconsinin 2012 as saying that the mine would be about four miles long and a half mile wide. Williams gave a rough estimate and said the mine would need up to 5,000 acres.Williams didn’t respond to a request for a more precise estimate.
A state DNR mine expert, Ann Coakley, said the mine might be 1.5 miles wide. At 4 miles long and at that width, the mine would be 6 square miles or 3,840 acres, according to a conversion calculator. And that’s before you add in access roads, rail lines, processing facilities and other facilities.
Size of the district
So what about the 18th Assembly District, which Goyke represents? The district lies within the city of Milwaukee, and it contains roughly the same number of people as any other Assembly district -- 57,480. But it’s far smaller, geographically, than most because it’s an urban district.
The 18th stretches from Capitol Drive to the north and roughly Interstate 94 to the south. The northern part is 14 blocks wide, between N. 49th and N. 35th streets, and it lies between 60th and 15th streets at the southern base.
According to the nonpartisan Legislative Technology Services Bureau, the 18th District is 3,609 acres.
Another way of visualizing the mine: It’s about 4.5 miles from Miller Park to the Milwaukee Art Museum. And the Menomonee Valley corridor is roughly a mile to 1.5 miles wide.
The mine wouldn’t be a rectangular swath -- plans call for it to wrap down and around a ridge in an area known as the Penokee Range, but you get the idea.
Let’s put the mine into the context of the North Woods. The vast 74th Assembly District that includes the mine site is 3.3 million acres. So, the mine represents about a tenth of 1 percent of it. Another yardstick: Iron County alone is 802 square miles, or 513,280 acres.
Let’s power down our calculators.
Goyke says the proposed Gogebic mine would be larger than his district.
Using the smallest size estimates, the mine would cover 3,840 acres, or 231 acres more than the 18th Assembly district.
Goyke got his numbers right. But he’s also got an advantage -- geographically, his densely populated district is the second smallest in the state, trailing only the 8th on Milwaukee’s south side. We rate Goyke’s statement True.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Upper Peninsula mine pit offers perspective on Wisconsin mine proposal,"Nov. 5. 2011
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Gov. Scott Walker signs iron mining legislation,"March 11, 2013
PolitiFact Wisconsin, "A proposed mine in Wisconsin is ‘about two-thirds the size of Lake Winnebago,’"Jan. 27, 2012
Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau Legislative District Almanac
Emails, Tony J. Van Der Wielen, Legislative Technology Services Bureau
GIS Manager, March 13, 2012
Emails, State Rep. Evan Goyke, March 13, 15, 2013
Email, Neil Martinko, GIS specialist, Iron County, March 14, 2013
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