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Lynne County

An advisory referendum on Nov. 6 will ask Oneida County voters if county-owned land in the town of Lynne should be fair game for mineral mining. 

Just in time for a Nov. 6 referendum on mining in Oneida County, a University of Wisconsin-Madison economics professor released a report this week touting the benefits of tapping into state mineral resources.

The report, authored by Noah Williams, director of the UW Center for Research on the Wisconsin Economy (CROWE), says a hypothetical new metallic mine in Oneida County employing 350 workers would generate 700 jobs and add $243 million a year to the state’s economy.

The report comes two weeks before Election Day, when Oneida County voters will weigh in on a referendum asking whether to allow mining on mineral-rich county property in the town of Lynne.

Debate over allowing the land to be leased and mined in the economically challenged area dates back decades but was put on hold in 1998 when the state Legislature passed what amounted to a moratorium on mineral mining in Wisconsin. Lawmakers passed a law repealing that moratorium last year, which was signed by Gov. Scott Walker, who voted for the 1998 moratorium as a state representative.

The Oneida County referendum is non-binding, so the county is not bound by the results. County officials have said there are no operations actively seeking to mine the county-owned land.

CROWE receives funding from the conservative Koch and Bradley foundations, and Williams has been criticized in the past for publishing rosy scenarios for Walker’s initiatives, including a child tax rebate, seen by Democrats as an election-year ploy, and the economic gains from the controversial Foxconn plant in Mount Pleasant. He also served as an economic advisor for Walker during his failed 2016 presidential bid.

In the report, Williams says the repeal of the moratorium could “usher in a new era of mineral mining in the state, which has substantial deposits of iron, copper, zinc, gold and silver.”

If a mining operation were to open in Oneida County, Williams estimates that the average annual pay for a mine worker would be $72,568, 85 percent more than the current average pay in the county of $39,341.

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He says that in the short term, a $250 million expenditure on a new mine would create 1,274 jobs over two years and inject $200 million into the state economy.

The anti-mine group Protect the Willow says that the mineral deposit in the town of Lynne is under a glacial aquifer, with 50 feet of wetland soils on top. A mine would pose a high risk that acid drainage would contaminate the Willow Flowage Scenic Waters Area and the Wisconsin River, the group says on its website. In addition, the group maintains, the mine would damage county forests and pristine wetlands.

The Lac du Flambeau tribe has also come out in opposition to mining in the county. 

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Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.