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  • Inside Track
    July 18, 2011

    Mining proposals mean lawyers should prepare for issues

    A mining company is proposing to construct an open-pit iron mine in Northern Wisconsin but has asked the Legislature to rewrite the state's mining laws. The potential for future mining in Wisconsin means lawyers should prepare for the issues that could arise.

    Proposed mining in Wisconsin means lawyers   should prepare for the issues aheadJuly 20, 2011 – Even beyond the recent news generated as a result of proposed iron mining development in Northern Wisconsin, mining is a hot topic in the state.

    Increased commodity prices for metals, which drive demand for metallic resources, as well as high petroleum prices driving demand for “frac sand” found in the north central part of the state, have propelled unprecedented interest in mining in the state.

    In fact, a mining company is poised to construct an open-pit iron mine in the Penokee Range, which stretches approximately 80 miles across northern Wisconsin and into Michigan and holds rich levels of iron-bearing taconite covered by thick granite.

    But the company has stated publicly that it won’t proceed unless the Legislature rewrites mining laws that would delay construction. That could mean changes to the state’s mining laws in the near future, and increased mining in Wisconsin.

    Dennis Grzezinski, an attorney with Midwest Environmental Advocates, Inc., said recent proposals to change mining laws “need lawyers involved to ensure that proposals are weighed carefully, in light of the long-term impact mines have on communities.”

    Mining Law Symposium

    State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE will host a mining law symposium on Aug. 25 in Wausau to address the multitude of issues likely to impact Wisconsin lawyers in the near future.

    Click here for more information or to register.

    State Bar President Jim Brennan said lawyers who are already engaged in mining issues on behalf of big interests in mining and Indian rights, and general practitioners in the communities in which these mines are being proposed, “will need to be engaged in the issues as well.”

    Each one of the effected and nearby communities has a lot at stake in the debate over mining in the state, “and it’s not just about adding jobs,” Brennan added.

    “The development of mining in Wisconsin offers a lot of opportunities for legal services that have not been available to Wisconsin lawyers in recent history,” Brennan said. “Lawyers will play an important role in dealing with all the complex relationships and transactions that surround any proposed mining project, and need to be well prepared.”

    Current laws and lawyer engagement

    Current mining laws developed in response to serious environmental problems left in the wake of mines in other parts of the country, and “the desire to avoid the residents and taxpayers of Wisconsin being left with the burden of those kinds of problems,” Grzezinski said.

    But the issues surrounding mining are not exclusive to environmental concerns. Arthur Harrington, attorney with Godfrey & Kahn S.C. in Milwaukee, says mining “brings issues of real estate law, municipal law, environmental law, Indian law and governmental relations.”

    “This is a tough economy for lawyers, and we need to get out in front of the issues and ensure that we’re providing training for lawyers on the areas of law that are issues now,” he added.

    According to Harrington, opportunities for Wisconsin lawyers related to mining issues include:

    • Knowledgeable municipal attorneys are needed to address the permitting required from the town and county where mining is proposed.

    • Real estate attorneys are needed to assist property owners of the land and mineral rights involved extract maximum value for the rights sought by developers.

    • Adjoining landowners and other area residents who raise concerns about adverse impacts from the mining projects need skilled lawyers to provide effective advocacy for the complex permitting process required for these projects.

    • Mine developers need lawyers well-versed in the state, federal, and local zoning requirements.

    • Business interests that want to modify legislation need lawyers skilled in government relations to craft rule and legislative changes to accomplish their goals.

    • Environmental advocacy groups need skilled lawyers to assist them in protecting and reducing any impact from mining on the environment.

    To help Wisconsin lawyers prepare for the work ahead on the various mining proposals, State Bar of Wisconsin PINNACLE™ is hosting a one-day Mining Law Symposium Aug. 25 in Wausau.

    Deborah Spanic is a legal writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin.

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