Oneida County has spent $50,000 since 2009 trying to decide whether to pursue a controversial mining project in Lynne Township.
Whether that’s too much depends on who you ask.
“I think it’s a lot of money, (and) they should cut their losses,” Dave Schatzley, the Lynne town chairman said. He recently vowed the town board will scuttle a mine project if the county board moves ahead with the project.
Then there’s Kennan Wood, executive director of the Wisconsin Mining Association, who believes $50,000 over three years is not unreasonable.
“I think it’s incredibly inexpensive from the standpoint that they’ve got a mineral deposit that they want to take advatage of and it’s appropriate that they do everything they can to make sure their ducks are in a row and that they can market it appropriately to outside companies and investors,” Wood said. “I think the county stands to reep huge benefits if the mine goes in.”
The Lynne deposit, comprised of about 10 acres in the western part of the county, contains silver, copper, lead and zinc.
Local mining opponents worry about the presence of sulfur in the deposit and its effect on local wildlife and waterways. Proponents cite job creation and hope to solicit bids from companies looking to mine the site.
Schatzley sits on the county’s Forestry, Land and Recreation Committee — he is a nonvoting member — which is grappling with whether to invite bids to mine the site. He is an opponent of the project, believes the committee is treating Lynne with disrespect and regards mine-related spending as a waste of money.
Wood, however, notes that the county must spend money to make money.
“Obviously, (a mine project) has to go through the permitting process and they have to make sure it is environmentally sound,” he said, “but there are large, rich deposits up there and I think it’s appropriate for a county to be investing in their economic future.”
Determining exactly how many hours have been spent on the issue by county employees and elected officials is next to impossible, but calculating other costs is much easier.
According to Margie Sorenson, financial director for Oneida County, a total of $49,391.48 was spent from 2009 through July 17 of this year on per diem payments, mileage, legal fees, and everything else associated with the project.
Per diem/mileage and legal fees are the biggest expenses.
Since May 7, 2009 — the date of the first Oneida County Mining Oversight and Local Impact Committee (MO/LIC) meeting — the county has paid a total of $13,509.53 for per diem, mileage and meals to board members addressing the issue.
The money has been paid to 12 supervisors who have been a part of the committee at one time or another.
The committee consolidated into the Forestry, Land and Recreation Committee earlier this year.
The largest expense accumulated over three years of debate is legal fees.
To help navigate a complex regulatory environment, the county hired William P. Scott of Gonzalez Saggio & Harlan, LLP which is based in Milwaukee.
Scott is both an attorney and a licensed professional geologist.
“Most of the expenses were related to updating the county’s mining agreements,” Dave Hintz said. He’s the adviser to the Forestry, Land and Recreation Committee and chairman of the predecessor committee during the time when Scott was used regularly.
Previous agreements dated to the late 1980s and covered such things as exploration prospecting with an option to mine.
Hintz went on to explain that the county was able to save money by allowing Scott to use the documents he helped draft when working with other counties.
“He gave us a reduced price if he’s allowed to take them to, say, Iron County or another county interested in using the documents,” Hintz said. “We had very favorable responses from the DNR on the quality of work he did and how he drafted the documents. It was a cost-saving step ...”
According to committee Chairman Gary Baier, the updated documents offer another financial advantage.
“In our contract, the way we wrote it, we get funded up front or we don’t do it,” Baier said.
What that means is that if mining in Lynne does go forward, whatever company is chosen would have to repay everything the county has spent on the issue before exploring the deposit.
Scott was most heavily used in 2011, when the county spent $34,000 on legal fees and other professional services.
Hintz noted the money spent was not completely made up of tax revenue dollars.
“It was money from the previous mining efforts in Oneida County that had been set aside from the 1980s and early 1990s in a fund to be used to benefit future generations,” Hintz said.
Baier insisted that, even if mining in Lynne is shot down by the county board and a reimbursement does not come from a mining company, the money has been well-spent.
“The money we had in there for future generations, yes we did spend it, but we spent it wisely to try to boost our economy and create more jobs,” Baier said. “I think this is an opportunity for us to be able to create some jobs.”
A resolution is set to go before the county board in August asking supervisors to make a final decision on whether Oneida County should continue to pursue the project.
“We, meaning the committee, do not want to spend anymore time, effort, or taxpayer money on the metallic-mining project if the full county board is not in favor of continuing to pursue the project,” committee member Jerry Shidell said last month. “In other words, it’s time for the county board to say if they even want us to go forward ... I want direction from the county board.”
Marcus Nesemann may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.