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By James B. Nelson November 10, 2014

Rock singer Bob Seger says Gogebic mine would be built without government oversight

The proposed iron ore mine in far northern Wisconsin -- a project that’s attracted international attention -- has been debated and discussed in all sorts of places.

But not a rock and roll song.

Until now.

Rock legend Bob Seger offers up criticism of the mine in a song called "It’s Your World," a track on "Ride Out," his first new CD in eight years.

The song, which addresses climate change, includes this line: "Let's talk about mining in Wisconsin, let's talk about breathing in Beijing."

In an Oct. 12, 2014 interview with the Detroit News, Seger expanded on his concerns about the Wisconsin project. Gogebic Taconite hopes to build the $1.5 billion mine in the Penokee Hills in Iron and Ashland counties in far northern Wisconsin.

The article quoted Seger as saying: "The governor, Scott Walker, passed a bill through the state Legislature on a weekend that there will be no environmental oversight, 'we want this mine.' Well, the mine is right by a river that runs into Lake Superior, which is some of the cleanest fresh water in the world.

"But sorry," Seger added, "according to Scott Walker, there isn't going to be oversight, we're going to build this thing, and it's going to be nine miles long."

We attempted to reach Seger through his label, Capitol Records, but received no response.

Size claims

Since we’re checking Seger, who has his own deep catalog of hits ("Night Moves," "Against the Wind," etc.), we decided to start with our own backlist of size-related mine claims:

  • An Al Jazeera documentary aired in 2014 claimed the mine site is "just up the hill" from Lake Superior ice caves at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. It’s more like 54 miles. We rated the claim False.

  • State Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee said the mine would be larger than his Assembly district, which is among the smallest in the state (True). And state Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber, D-Appleton, said the mine would be two-thirds the size of Lake Winnebago (Mostly False).

To be sure, in terms of its size and the length of time it would operate, the Gogebic mine  would be one of the most enormous undertakings ever seen in Wisconsin.

Critics say the mine poses threats to surface water and groundwater resources in the Bad River watershed, which flows into Lake Superior. The Department of Natural Resources says it will not approve a mining permit if environmental studies show the pit and related operations will cause substantial harm to the watershed,

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Gogebic Taconite is at least a year away from filing an application for a permit with the state. A "pre-application" report filed with the state says that the size of the iron ore deposit that Gogebic has the rights to could be 21 miles. But it’s not known how much of that deposit can be mined.

The company says the first stage of the project would be two pits. Each would be two miles long. The first phase of mining would last an estimated 35 years. And then the company would have to seek another permit to mine the remaining deposit.

So we’re not even half way to nine miles.

No oversight?

The second part of Seger’s claim, that the mine would be built without "no environmental oversight," is also problematic. State law gives the Department of Natural Resources authority over the mine from start to finish, including exploration, sampling, mining and reclamation of the site.

That oversight is already under way.

The DNR’s web site devoted to the project shows 15 entries, including correspondence between the company and the state, regarding Gogebic’s plans to take bulk samples from the site. There are nine entries in another section regarding the company’s application for a stormwater permit, and more than two dozen entries under Gogebic’s application for an exploration license.

"This is a multi-year, multi-million dollar process before an application can even be submitted to the state," said Bob Seitz, a spokesman for Gogebic Taconite.

The next major step for Gogebic is an application for a mining permit. Expected to come in 2015, that application must include the company’s plans for mining, reclamation of the site and details about how the company will handle waste rock.

The most important document will be the company’s environmental impact report, which the DNR says must include the "anticipated environmental and socioeconomic impacts of the proposed mining project and analysis of project alternatives." The impact of the mine on the area’s air, geology, groundwater, endangered species, wetlands, aesthetics and socioeconomic issues are among the matters that must be addressed.

Once the permit is received, the state has 420 days to review the application. That time frame includes a public hearing and public comment period.

"Ferrous mining projects are extremely complex and their regulation involves a host of administrative codes, including but not limited to those regarding wetlands and waterways, air pollution, waste and materials management, wildlife and fisheries, and endangered and threatened species," the DNR’s website says.

Additionally, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will consider the mine’s impact on the Bad River watershed under the federal Clean Water Act. And the impact of the project on the nearby Bad River band of the Lake Superior Chippewa -- already on record opposed to the project -- could stir legal challenges.

Our rating

Seger criticizes the proposed Gogebic mine, saying it would be nine miles long and operated with no government oversight.

But the size, initially, would be closer to four miles long -- two pits, each about two miles long. And the project will be subject to regulation and oversight on several fronts.

We rate his claim False.

Editor's note: This item was updated to clarify that the distance from the proposed mine to the Lake Superior ice caves at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is 54 miles.

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Rock singer Bob Seger says Gogebic mine would be built without government oversight

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