EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
Al Gedicks, a professor of sociology emeritus at UW-La Crosse, speaks on the potential hazards the proposed Back Forty sulfide mine could bring to the environment Wednesday night at a special committee-of-the whole meeting of the Menominee City Council.
EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
Al Gedicks, a professor of sociology emeritus at UW-La Crosse, speaks on the potential hazards the proposed Back Forty sulfide mine could bring to the environment Wednesday night at a special committee-of-the whole meeting of the Menominee City Council.
MENOMINEE — An enthusiastic crowd attended the special committee-of-the-whole meeting of the Menominee City Council Wednesday, where they heard Al Gedicks, a professor of sociology emeritus at UW-La Crosse, speak to the potential hazards a sulfide mine could bring to the environment.

While approximately 130 people attended the meeting, missing were six of nine city council members.

Mayor Jean Stegeman, who invited Gedicks to speak at what was originally supposed to be a joint meeting with the Marinette City Council and a representative of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, sat at the table at the Menominee High School lecture hall with Councilmen Frank Pohlmann and Steve Fifarek and City Manager Tony Graff.

When Joe Maki, U.P. District geologist with MDEQ, said he would not attend because Gedicks would be there, the Marinette City Common Council also withdrew. Several of those council members did attend the meeting, sitting in the audience.

Stegeman told the audience the meeting would go ahead without the full council.

“It is obvious we do not have a quorum,” Stegeman said of the missing six council members, and added that Council member Nick Malone had indicated he would be delayed by his job, and may not make it. She said Malone would be excused. “The remaining councilmen had a conflict.”

The EagleHerald called the other five missing council members after the meeting ended Wednesday evening to ask why they did not attend.

While Council members Josh Jones and Doug Robinson said they were unavailable for the meeting, Robinson did say it would have been better if the MDEQ geologist Joe Maki had been at the meeting as originally planned.

Council member Dennis Klitzke had no comment.

Council member Heather Nelson said she had no intention of going to the meeting after it was changed from an informational meeting with the MDEQ to a meeting focusing on just one side of the mining issue.

“The meeting was set up to have a neutral party, the MDEQ, come in to have the answers to our questions. The mayor changed the agenda (by inviting Gedicks) without anyone’s knowledge or input, and it should have been a neutral party.

That’s why the Marinette Council stepped out,” said Nelson.

She said no one has a problem talking and listening to both sides on the mining issue, but that was not being offered Wednesday evening.

“There’s a lot of unanswered questions,” she said. “Risk management is a huge issue, and we needed to have answers on that from a (regulatory agency).”

Her concerns were shared by Council member Bill Plemel, who said, “it was originally billed as an informational meeting with the city of Marinette and the city of Menominee and Maki from the DEQ. Then Jean invited this professor, who is anti-mining, and I decided I would not attend an anti-mine rally.”

Plemel said he told Stegeman he doesn’t believe the city of Menominee has any control over the mine issue, which has been discussed at three public hearings in the county. “I said it is up to the DEQ and it is out of our hands.”

At the meeting Wednesday, Gedicks gave a power point presentation about the size of the Back Forty Project in relation to the Flambeau sulfide mine in Ladysmith, Wis. After he completed his presentation, Pohlmann asked him several questions about how the DEQ weighs public opinion in reaching its decision on granting permits and whether the jobs that would come with a mining operation would benefit the community or skilled workers from outside the area.

Pohlmann also asked Gedicks who would have oversight on employee safety and water quality.

Gedicks told Pohlmann that the DEQ does not “take into account opinions from the public, but whether the application meet the conditions” of the state mining act. He also said that there are 1,000 skilled miners out of work in Marquette, Mich., who would be looking for jobs at the Back Forty Project.

“The 200 jobs may or may not materialize,” said Gedicks, who added any job creation would be lost by the negative impact of the mine on fishing, wildlife, recreation and tourism.

As far as oversight, Gedicks said “The company would be doing the water testing and send it to the DEQ, which will not have the ability to do their own testing.”

Fifarek asked why Wisconsin was not involved in approving a mining application for something located along boundary waters.

Gedicks said it appears if MDEQ says the application meets the requirements, Wisconsin DNR will go along with it, even though that state has stricter laws regarding sulfide mining. He said Wisconsin would be unlikely to step in to stop the Back Forty project, since legislators there were trying to overturn its stricter sulfide mining standards.

Stegeman did not ask any questions, and opened the floor for public comment, which allowed a number of people to make up to three-minute statements. Everyone who indicated they wanted to speak was allowed to come forward to the microphone, and the meeting wrapped up at 8:25.

Tomorrow: The EagleHerald will have an in-depth story about what was said by Gedicks and members of the public.