BY ROBERT IMRIE
Article courtesy of the Associated Press
November 3, 2001
WAUSAU, Wis. -- The state is appealing a federal court ruling
that grants a northern Wisconsin American Indian tribe full
authority to regulate water quality on its reservation downstream
from a proposed underground zinc and copper mine.
"The state feels this is an issue of sovereignty," Randy
Romanski, a state Department of Justice spokesman, said
Monday. "The state should not give up its right to protect
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago had ruled
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can allow the
Sokaogon band of Lake Superior Chippewa to regulate waters
on its reservation. The three-judge panel said tribal
members showed the waters were essential to their survival.
The state had argued only Wisconsin officials can regulate
water quality because the state owns streams and lake
In its appeal filed Friday, the state asked the appeals
court to reconsider its ruling and have all 11 judges
decide the case, Romanski said. A decision on whether
to take up the appeal could come within a month.
The tribe argues any upstream activity, including the
mine proposed by Nicolet Minerals Co. near Crandon, could
change the water quality on tribal lands. The tribe's
Crandon office could not be reached Monday for comment.
Nicolet Minerals, a subsidiary of Australia-based BHP
Ltd., is seeking state, federal and local permits to mine
55 million tons of zinc and copper ore.
Company spokesman Dale Alberts said Monday the company
has been designing the mine with the tribe's higher
water-quality standards in mind since 1995.
"We believe we can and will comply with the Sokaogon
standards," he said. "We have to make sure we don't
impact their water quality. Our scientific analysis demonstrates
clearly we can do that so that they have no change to
their water quality."
Opponents of the mine argue toxic chemicals from it
will damage the environment, especially Swamp Creek and
Rice Lake, which waters the tribe's wild-rice beds.
Swamp Creek runs through the mine's property before
reaching the reservation.
Mine supporters say it can operate without harming the
environment and will create much-needed jobs.
The DNR is expected to release its recommendations on
the project by next spring, Alberts said.