Damakant Jayshi

GreenLight Wisconsin LLC, a subsidiary of Canada-based GreenLight Metals Inc. has submitted a notice of intent for exploration drilling at Easton Reef for which the company holds private mineral leases, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

The DNR said it received a Notice of Intent for exploration drilling from GreenLight Wisconsin on Oct 7. Agency officials say the Reef Deposit is a potential high-grade gold deposit located in the town of Easton, in Marathon County. According to Marathon County’s Department of Conservation, Planning and Zoning, the Easton Reef Deposit is “estimated to contain approximately 120,000 ounces of gold.”

Nine drilling areas were proposed across three private parcels. The state agency said the exploration drilling will include up to nine boreholes up to 650 feet deep. The drilling is planned to be conducted in two concurrent phases.

The company’s notice of intent says both drill programs will be undertaken at the Reef property during frozen ground conditions in the winter of 2022/2023. “In the event the ground begins to thaw, such that surface soils are likely to be disturbed by drilling operations and/or demobilization, all operations will cease and all equipment will be demobilized,” the letter reads. 

The company’s letter was submitted three days after a robust debate at the meeting of Marathon County’s Environmental Resources Committee where a number of residents and some supervisors opposed the drilling proposal, saying it would contaminate groundwater and damage the environment. Other supervisors, including the chair of the committee, were in favor of the plan. Those opposed to the drilling withdrew their draft resolution asking the County Board to deny the company’s request.

Some residents who oppose the proposed drilling have attended several meetings so far, asking elected officials each time to reject the drilling request. GreenLight says the fears over contamination are unfounded.

The company has applied for a drilling permit with Marathon County’s Conservation, Planning and Zoning department. Marathon County Corporation Counsel Michael Puerner has said that the county’s local ordinance requires that an exploration permit be issued by the county if the application complies with all applicable regulations and ordinance requirements. 

The current deposit, per DNR, was drilled and described by Noranda Exploration in the 1970s and 1980s and was estimated to contain up to 454,000 tons of high-grade gold reserves in scattered, shallow weathered sulfides and quartz breccias.

“GLW is contemplating additional exploration work on the Reef property,” GreenLight Wisconsin wrote in the Oct. 7 letter. “This document is both an exploration plan to conduct further diamond core and rotosonic drilling (EP) and Notice of Intent (“NOI”) to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) to implement the EP.”

Green Light Wisconsin acquired Aquila Resources, including their Wisconsin assets, in July 2021. According to DNR, Aquila Resources had acquired options on the mineral and surface rights. Green Light Wisconsin obtained a statewide exploratory drilling license in February 2022 and a subsequent license renewal in June 2022. 

In a letter to GreenLight Metals on Sept. 28, the DNR wrote that it accepted the boundaries for the wetland delineation as outlined in a report from Mergent Inc. that was prepared for the drilling site. The DNR told the company not to use an intermittent waterway in the northwest portion of the project review area, saying it is not navigable for the project’s purpose. It also asked the company to ensure that it is complying with the state’s Endangered Species Law.

Green Light Wisconsin’s mitigation standard document says it will avoid stream and wetland crossings, riparian areas when constructing temporary roads but adds the caveat “whenever possible.”

Supervisor Jean Maszk, who submitted the resolution against drilling to the Environmental Resources Committee on Oct. 4 and later withdrew it to allow residents work on its content, read a note from a resident and former county supervisor. 

The note that Maszk read was from John Durham, of Mosinee, warning about a potential loophole: “There is a serious flaw in our mining ordinance. It states that environmental remediation is the responsibility of the mining company or the companies but adds the phrase ‘when practical’ which could or would give an out to the mining company when it comes to remediation. It’s not too hard to foresee potential problems with that provision if mining actually takes place.” [The comment begins at the 1:29:40 mark of this video.]

With respect to water and wetlands, the company’s mitigation plan says “there will be no drilling or construction of sump pits or storage of fuel/drilling substances within 100 feet of perennial, intermittent, or ephemeral rivers and streams, ponds, lakes, seeps, or springs” when water, wetland, or floodplain resources are present within the Work Plan area.”

The source of water for all drilling operations, according to GLW, will be an unnamed creek that runs near the proposed drill sites. But it adds that “alternatively, water can be pumped from the Eau Clare River located several miles west of the property.”

The company says because of the location of the proposed exploration activity, minimum contact with the public is anticipated. “However, the WDNR will be given advance notification of any activity that could involve hazards to public safety and suitable action will be taken to protect the public as agreed to by GLW and the WDNR.”