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Mining company pulls out of project, taking jobs with it

Within hours of the state Senate failing on a majority vote to pass the latest form of a bill to streamline permits for mining projects, a Florida-based company that prompted the legislation scrapped plans for its project.

Gogebic Taconite LLC, in a released statement Tuesday night, said that with the Senate’s 17-16 vote against Assembly Bill 426, the company would no longer pursue a Wisconsin iron mine in northern Wisconsin.

While Republicans hold the slight majority in the 33-person Senate, conservatives have been unable to persuade Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, to support the mining legislation, with Schultz being the lone Republican to vote against the proposal Tuesday.

According to The Associated Press, Assembly Republicans passed a bill in January that would require the Department of Natural Resources to make a permit decision within a year. But it also would wipe out contested case hearings, which are quasi-judicial proceedings conservationists and other members of the public can use to challenge DNR decisions along the way to final approval, the AP reported.

It also would allow mining companies to offset damage they may cause to wetlands by restoring or enhancing water bodies anywhere in the state. And it would limit lawsuits challenging permit violations and divide an ore sales tax 60-40 between the state and local governments; currently 100 percent of the revenue goes to local governments in mining areas.

Schultz has criticized the proposal from fellow Republicans because it doesn’t restore public challenges to permit decisions or protect the environment, according to The Associated Press.

Tuesday night, Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, who co-chairs the state’s Joint Finance Committee, released a statement criticizing Senate Democrats for failing Wisconsin refusing to see a clear need for jobs in the state.

Gogebic wanted to dig an open-pit mine in Iron County. The company has reported it would have created about 700 jobs with the first phase of the mining operation lasting 35 years. It said the average base salary of a mine worker would’ve been $60,000.

After the failed vote, Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald pulled the bill back for Republicans to continue working on the measure, but with the legislative session ending Thursday, legislators are running out of time to approve changes.

But then again, with Gogebic’s announcement Tuesday night, the legislators might not be compelled to seek a compromise on the bill.

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