4/17/2012 5:03:00 AM Oneida County mining meetings projected for mid-May Final committee meeting irons out details of public information sessions
Oneida County Corporation Counsel Brian Desmond
Marcus Nesemann of The Northwoods River News
While the question of whether or not to mine in the town of Lynne continues to rage across the Northwoods, the members of the Oneida County Mining Oversight/Local Impact Committee used their final meeting last Wednesday to shore up the details surrounding the public information meetings being planned.
The committee members discussed what to call the meetings, when where and how many would be held and what its agenda could look like.
In the end, it was decided that it would be called a public informational meeting, and would probably be held mid-May at two different locations on the same day.
Hearings vs. information meetings
Before any specifics could be agreed upon, the committee first needed to know what exactly to call the meetings being planned.
"At our last meeting, there were some people that said they should be public hearings and some people said public meetings would be better (because) we have more flexibility," Dave Hintz, committee chairman, said.
To the average citizen, the difference between the two is probably not evident. To clarify, the committee turned to Oneida County Corporation Counsel Brian Desmond.
"Public hearings are generally called for by ordinance or administrative code," Desmond said.
"They are usually some requirement in a permitting process or in some sort of legal process that ... someone is required to go through in conjunction with the government. A public informational meeting, which I think is what's actually called for in the policy - that policy, 54.87, that was adopted many years ago and then reaffirmed by the county board - I do believe the term they use in there ... is public informational meetings ... and I think that term is probably used, and probably most correctly used, because it is not any legally required hearing ... so my legal recommendation would be that it be termed a public informational meeting."
No matter what the meetings are called, Dave Schatzley, chairman for the town of Lynne and member of the committee, wanted to make sure the public would not only be allowed to speak and ask questions, but also be allowed to have those questions answered.
"The difference I see in it is whether you're telling people something and then letting them talk without responding or having an exchange - asking questions, giving answers, asking questions from the other side, from both sides, having an equal exchange," Schatzley said.
Desmond assured Schatzley that with a public informational meeting, the public would have their chance to communicate freely with the committee members and any presenters or experts that may be at the meetings.
"If you have a public informational meeting, I don't think that there's anything that would deny that ability between the committee, any of the presenters, and any individuals of the public," Desmond said.
"However, I would just strongly caution that whoever's running the meeting at that time would need to keep some tight reins on the information going back and forth. We could have debates over points for many, many hours and I don't know if that's going to move the meeting along any. But I do believe you can have that. Call it a public informational meeting, you can have that exchange and I think you can probably have more of a free-flow of an exchange under such a rubric."
With all committee members being satisfied with Desmond's explanation, it was decided that the meetings would indeed be public information meetings.
Where? When? How many?
With the specifics of what to call the meetings out of the way, it was time for the committee to decide where to hold the meetings, when to hold them, and how many there would be.
With the committee being consolidated with the forestry committee starting later this month, it was decided that any public meetings would have to be held after the make-up of that new committee is ironed out at today's, Tuesday, April 17, county board meeting.
The meetings would also have to be held after the new committee sits down to discuss the issue with the Lac du Flambeau Tribal Council.
Some on the committee - Gary Baier and Tom Rudolph - felt that the meetings should also be put off until bids for exploration were made and accepted.
They argued that without the information that would be gathered by the mining companies during the exploration, the committee wouldn't have a lot of new information to present to the public.
But Schatzley argued that these meetings were not supposed to be about how to go about mining, but whether the public wants mining in the town of Lynne at all.
"I believe the board tasked this committee to consider having public [informational meetings] so that we could judge the public's opinion on whether to mine or not," Schatzley said.
"I remember the board saying 'wait a minute, you need to find out what the public wants before we're going to move forward with this.' The purpose, in my mind, for these [meetings] now is to gauge whether or not we should do it at all ... it's the basic question of should we? That's what we're talking about now."
When the county board first instructed the committee to look into holding these meetings, the committee tossed around the idea of having a total of four meetings throughout the area.
But with time being of the essence, the committee decided to pare that down to two meetings - one in the town of Lynne and one in Rhinelander. The committee also decided that it would be prudent to hold the meetings on the same day, preferably a Saturday.
The committee is currently looking at either May 12 or May 19 for the meetings, depending on the schedules of the presenters and experts it wants to have in attendance.
Which brings us to the final point.
Right after the county board requested the committee to look into holding these meetings, Hintz quickly formulated a possible agenda for the meetings.
His agenda, at the time, included explaining various important aspects of the process to the public including the background of the Lynne Reserve, an explanation of county, state, and federal regulations, presentations from interested mining companies, and then time for public input, comments, and questions.
Each gathering would also have a survey passed out so the county can start getting hard numbers on who supports and who doesn't support mining to help aid its decision-making process.
The committee was in agreement with those aspects of Hintz's agenda, but also wanted to add a few things.
Instead of just allowing interested mining companies to give presentations, many on the committee also wanted to hear from environmental experts, the tribal council, and someone from the DNR.
They also wanted to again make sure that the public would be allowed to ask questions and then hear answers to those questions.
Finally, while everyone liked the idea of the survey, the committee also wanted to include a space for people to put their address so the county can get an idea of not only who supports or doesn't support the idea of mining in Lynne, but also from what part of the county that support is coming.
Marcus Nesemann may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.