Damakant Jayshi

A group of Marathon County residents will gather Tuesday to formally oppose a permit for exploratory gold mining at the Easton Reef Deposit, while requesting testing to gauge the impact on the environment.

The group will gather at 2 p.m. Tuesday outside the Marathon County Courthouse. A joint meeting of Marathon County’s Environmental Resources and the Metallic Mining Committees is scheduled at 3 p.m. the same day. On the agenda is an “informational presentation” from GreenLight Metals, Inc., the Canadian company that has applied for a permit for a metallic mining exploration at the Easton Reef Deposit.

“Citizens from the region are very concerned that groundwater will be placed in jeopardy of contamination,” Nancy Tabaka Stencil said in a statement on Monday. “Without access to clean drinking water many aspects of everyday life will become burdensome and unhealthy.”

Stencil told Wausau Pilot & Review that residents will rally around to speak to the media before the ERC-MMC meeting begins.

Tabaka Stencil is one of a number of residents who oppose the exploratory drilling without first determining its potentialimpact on groundwater. One particular point she raised that drilling tools emit toxic fluids when they advance downward. GreenLight is exploring the potential for an open-pit gold mine.

Some residents have attended Marathon County committee meetings and requested that elected representatives deny the permit. On July 12, Ho-Chunk nation, one of 11 federally recognized Native American tribes in Wisconsin, formally opposed proposed exploratory drilling for gold, saying the site is too close to the land in their jurisdiction and that the drilling could impact the quality of air, water and natural resources, among others.

In her press statement, Stencil, Chair Emeritus of Marathon County Democratic Party, said that the chemicals on the list of Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources “have not been tested to confirm the accurate content of toxic compounds,” especially pointing to PFAS.

“Without pre-testing prior to use, the DNR lacks the evidence…to confirm the use of these chemicals is not a source of PFAS contamination to groundwater,” Stencil said, adding that the groundwater at the site is roughly 20 feet below the surface

PFAS contaminants, called ‘forever chemicals’ due to their longevity in the environment, have shot to the limelight in Wausau, Marathon County and elsewhere in the state as concerns grow over the potential health impacts involved.

DNR Environmental Chief of Integration Services Benjamin Callan said at this time the agency does not have any specific information what GreenLight Metals intends to do with its license.

“Without that additional information, we cannot comment at this time on the concerns or questions raised,” Callan told Wausau Pilot & Review.

He said the company’s state-wide license was renewed for a year, beginning July 1. The license expires in June every year, regardless of when it was issued. It was first issued in February 2022.

Callan said the company will need final approval from the DNR after officials submit a “Notice of Intent.” That document must detail all aspects of a proposed drilling operation, including restoration and reclamation plans, said Callan. After submittal, the DNR will examine whether the plan complies with environmental and regulatory aspects, among other issues.

The DNR official said he is not aware how the company intends to address concerns from various jurisdictional bodies – from the federal, state and county levels. The company applied for a permit from Marathon County’s Department of Conservation, Planning and Zoning.

The application is on hold at present, reportedly due to incomplete application materials.

After the exploratory drilling, if the company wants to move ahead with the full-fledged gold mining, Stencil said “there would be other concerns of groundwater quality and environmental impacts that would need to be addressed.”

In May, when asked about safeguards, CPZ’s Land Resources Manager, Shad Harvey, said that Marathon County “is working closely with GreenLight Metals, Inc., the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and other regulatory partners to better understand what impacts the exploration may have on the environment.”

GreenLight Metals has billed the project as clean energy.

,“Wisconsin has a unique opportunity to create a framework for sustainable, clean energy mineral development across the Penokean Volcanic Belt (PVB), and GreenLight looks forward to helping build a green energy economy that meets the increasing demand for clean energy minerals in the U.S.,” Dan Colton, President and CEO of GreenLight Metals said in a statement to Wausau Pilot & Review in May.

Last week he said GreenLight Metals looks forward to helping the state “be a leader in domestic development of our critical minerals.”

But Stencil questions the idea of a “green economy,” and calls the claim unsupported.

The manufacturers of smart phones and computers confirm there are only trace amounts of gold in their products and they are moving away from the mineral, she said.

Stencil also launched a petition against the project on Change.org three weeks ago. At the time of writing, 112 people have signed the petition, in which Stencil warns that the potential sulfuric acid mineral exploration drilling will affect more than one municipality and not just the Town of Easton, the likely site of gold mine.

“There should be no assumption that the citizens of the region are willing to live in a sacrificial zone whereby they surrender their access to clean drinkable water, their enjoyment of the natural environment, or any aspect of their personal value or cultural heritage,” Stencil said.