By Raymond Neupert/South Metro Observer

WAUSAU, Wis – Marathon County’s proposed ordinance to regulate metallic mining in the county is headed back to staff for more revisions following a Thursday night public comment session.

Members of the Land Conservation and Zoning committee are asking staff members to take another look at that draft to address concerns raised by members of the public over the two-hour meeting in Wausau.

Recent changes to the state’s mining laws have lifted the moratorium on metallic mining in the state, and local governments have until July to put their own ordinances in place before mining permits will start to be considered by the state.

County corporation counsel Scott Corbett says the county has the ability to regulate mining operations in its borders through the use of a conditional use permit. That permit would regulate how any proposed mine operation would run.

“Plan for economic impacts, plan for impacts on well water, plan for impacts on roads and other infrastructure,” Corbett said.

The county is also looking to increase the amount of money that would be set aside in case of any environmental damage to the area surrounding a potential site, and to improve groundwater testing inside of a site.

What the county cannot dictate in a permit are regulations that are already covered by the state, like wetlands conservation and some other environmental concerns. County board chairman Kurt Gibbs says to do more than that could prompt action by state officials.

“There’s nothing that the county can do other than look at the areas in which is has authority, and hopefully that’s in this proposed ordinance,” Gibbs said.

Much of the public comment Thursday night addressed residents concerns over potential environmental impacts a mine could bring. And that’s important because Marathon County has a potential site for gold and copper mining not far from the Dells of the Eau Claire State Natural Area. That park is considered one of the jewels of the region, and many residents have expressed concerns that runoff from any facility on what’s known as the Reef Deposit could contaminate the Eau Claire River and the Wisconsin River downstream.

Residents have called on the committee to draft an ordinance that would make it either very difficult for a mining operation to adhere to a permit, or to make it cost-prohibitive for a company to start a dig site in the county.

Bill Davis with the Sierra Club says that the county has broad powers to determine how a mining operation is run through the permitting process.

“If they enter into a local agreement, you can negotiate anything,” Davis said. “So starting from as strong of a position as you possibly can is always going to be a good thing whenever you’re walking into negotiations.”

No company is currently showing current interest in the Reef Deposit, though Toronto-based Aquila Resources has done prospecting on the site in the past.

The proposed ordinance will come up for discussion again later this month at another meeting of the Land Conservation and Zoning committee.