Damakant Jayshi

The Marathon County Board of Supervisors will submit a letter to Wisconsin’s governor and the legislature seeking a return of local government control over environmental matters related to metallic mining exploration, wind energy siting and farm runoff.

“Over time, through legislative and state agency action and preemption, local governments have become less adept to address challenges in their communities,” the draft letter says. “Marathon County asks that the State of Wisconsin return the tools necessary to exercise local control to the counties and municipalities best situated to address these issues.”

The draft of the letter to Gov. Tony Evers and the Wisconsin Legislature was shared at the educational meeting of the Marathon County Board of Supervisors on Thursday. The board will vote Tuesday, July 18 on the measure.

Earlier Thursday, the Executive Committee of the board approved the letter, following its approval by the Environmental Resources Committee on June 27. Both bodies passed the draft letter unanimously.

“I am concerned that the state decision-makers have created an environment where the challenges the Marathon County residents are facing in regard to the three areas that you see in that letter: metallic mining explorations, wind siting for projects above 100 megawatts, and farms with agricultural runoff cannot be adequately addressed with the state’s preemption of local authority,” said Supervisor Jacob Langenhahn.

Langenhahn, who chairs the Environmental Resources Committee, was initially opposed to approaching the state legislature, warning in October last year, “we can’t go more than what the state has and we can’t preempt the state.” Langenhahn and some other supervisors cited economic benefits that mining could bring to the county, an assertion dismissed by Jean Maszk, David Oberbeck and other critics on the board. Maszk, who is not a member of the committee, said that any jobs gain due to mining would be temporary since “mining is a short-term thing.”

At that time, committee members were debating a resolution brought forward by residents with the help of Supervisor Maszk opposing a permit for exploratory drilling at the Easton Reef Deposits sought by Green Light Wisconsin, a subsidiary of Canada-based Green Light Metals, Inc.

Some residents have opposed the exploratory drilling, citing the potential for groundwater contamination and environmental pollution.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources sought additional details from Green Light Wisconsin on their intent to drill for gold at the Reef Deposit but agency officials say they are still waiting for a response.

“Green Light Wisconsin has not responded to the DNR’s request for additional letter dated October 28, 2022,” DNR’s Metallic Mining Coordinator Molly Gardner told Wausau Pilot & Review. “If/when a response is received, the DNR will have 15 business days to respond to the exploration proposal or NOI with one of the following: an additional request for information if the submission is not complete, a conditional approval, an approval, or a denial.”

The resolution also sought a repeal of Wisconsin Act 134, that ended a moratorium law that had imposed stringent conditions on companies seeking to explore the state for minerals. The bill, passed by the Republican-led legislature and signed by then-Gov. Scott Walker, also a Republican, opened the state for mining exploration and effectively denied local government control over the matter.

County wants a say in wind energy projects

The letter also seeks local control over the how wind energy projects are sited in Marathon County.

The idea of wind energy has faced both support and opposition in the county, across the state and throughout the country. Along with solar energy, it has also faced a barrage of misinformation.

According to Renew Wisconsin, the state “has enough wind blow across our land every year to power the state four times over.” The organization, a nonprofit that promotes renewable energy in Wisconsin, says there are 445 wind turbines in Wisconsin.

Similarly, the Renewable Energy Institute says wind energy is cost-effective, clean, and sustainable form of energy and also creates jobs.

The federal Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewal Energy takes a more nuanced approach, listing both the advantages and disadvantages of wind energy, which has also faced backlash from people across the country from people who cite health concerns and its impact on wildlife.

On Thursday, Supervisor Tim Sondelski, voiced his opposition again. He said the “wind turbines will be very destructive to crop lands, farms, property values, humans, and animal health.”

The U.S. Geological Survey says the turbines do adversely affect wildlife, both directly, through collision and indirectly, via noise.

According to data compiled by Statista, the share of electricity generated by wind energy worldwide rose from 1.66% in 2010 to 6.59% in 2021. In the United States, wind turbines were the source of about 10.2% of total U.S. utility-scale electricity generation in 2022, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.

Local control over farm runoff also an issue

With local farmers expressing concern over state regulations on farmland discharge, the Marathon Board of Supervisors also wants to have a say in the matter.

Farm runoff includes animal manure, irrigation water, pesticides and fertilizers, among other wastes. Experts say runoff can pollute the environment and contaminate water. Wisconsin’s DNR says too much agricultural runoff can harm surface water, groundwater and wetlands.

The county’s draft letter to the governor and the Legislature says regulation of runoff from farm operations is often not supported by enforcement efforts because of state standards.

The result of these strict limitations, the letter points out, “is a collection of local ordinances that largely mimic the State’s standards but fail to address the problems they were designed to solve or adapt to citizen concerns and complaints.”

[To read the letter, click here, and go to page 100.]