tv Fault Lines Al Jazeera February 24, 2015 7:00am-7:31am EST
>> we are in the farthest north reaches of wisconsin, in america's midwest, 200 miles from the nearest major city. it's home to the chippewa people, native american tribes who've lived here for generations alongside farmers and miners. but today, tourism is among the primary industries. >> right now we are on the coast of lake superior, which is
frozen over solid. thousands of people have come to see some ice caves that are just around the corner here. you can see a line of people just as far as you can see. >> it's a pristine landscape but underneath the natural beauty lies a coveted resource: two billion tons of iron ore. >> a mining company called g-tac is planning to dig what could be one of north america's largest open pit mines. it would start with a four and a half mile open pit, and could eventually stretch twenty-two miles. >> it would be upstream of a massive wetland that feeds lake superior, part of america's great lakes, which make up 20% of the world's surface fresh water. >> fault lines has come to wisconsin, where corporate interests have set off a battle for the very soul of the state
pitting those who wish to extract natural resources against those who wish to preserve them. >> we're on our way to meet democratic state senator bob jauch who represents this area. >> he wants us to meet at one of his constituent's house to sit around the kitchen table and talk to some of the families that actually live right here by the mine and see what they think about it. >> nice to meet you. >> good to meet you. >> it is amazing out here, huh? >> it is incredible country and you begin to understand the conflict between this intensely challenging project and people who live here. they're not some sort of tree huggers. they care about the place they live. >> but can you show me where the mine would be from here. >> the mine would be in the
backside here. >> okay. that's the hill line right there. >> that's the hill there. >> before gtac, other companies abandoned plans to mine here. they determined that it would be too costly to extract the rock which is less than 20 percent iron and would generate an enormous amount of waste. >> so this is back in 2010... >> when gtac first bought the mineral rights, they approached senator jauch for advice on how to work with the local community. >> i said look you need to understand one thing in particular and that is that the people who live up there love the area. they're passionate about protecting the resources. i gave them the advice, and they ignored all of it. >> has the company come out to reach out to you? >> no, no, no, are you kidding? >> i'm not anti-mine by any means. my grandfather came from cornwall england and worked in the lead mines in southern wisconsin. but this mine is totally
different than the underground mines. this mine totally destroys the area. >> gtac would use a technique called open pit mining. they'd blast the mountain top and dig a half-mile wide trench that could eventually stretch 22 miles through the wilderness. >> we have trumpeter swans nesting, we have wolves, we have loons, we have our deer population, i mean it's just a beautiful, beautiful area that you can't just, um, ya know take this area here and we'll say okay we will make this place we'll put the water here. i mean you can't replace an ecosystem. >> what's at stake for you? >> for me? um... i guess it's just the morality of it. i find it immoral to destroy something like this.
>> in nearby hurley there's a long history of mining and greater support for gtac. leslie kolesar is the chairwoman of the mining impact committee. >> both of my grandfathers, six of my uncles worked in gogebic range iron mines. ya know people forget that these gogebic ranges mines we built america. we helped win world war one and world war two. >> why is it important for this mine to go forward and what are the stakes and why are you supportive of it? >> if you look at our local economy we have the highest unemployment rate in the state. thirteen point three percent unemployment and the people who are working here, those tourism jobs are paying seven dollars and twenty-five cents an hour. can you support a family of four on that? of course not. >> what have you been promised in the way of what the mine will bring economically to the community?
>> ...they've estimated at 700...good family-supporting jobs with benefits, retirement health insurance, uh, paid vacation, sick leave, things that most of your tourism jobs don't offer. >> the estimate of 700 jobs comes from a study commissioned by gtac. those jobs would be created over the course of 35 years, the first phase of g-tac's mine. >> this land and its vast waters once belonged to the chippewa tribes. through 19th century treaties they gave it to the united states, but retained certain traditional rights to hunt and fish. their very culture and sustenance is threatened by the mine. >> there is a lot of dangers involved in putting a gigantic hole right here.
>> phoebe kebec is a lawyer for the bad river band of the chippewa. she's helping to devise a legal strategy to fight gtac. >> which way does this water flow? >> this water travels north, and there could be toxins loading from the mine site here and traveling through the waterways. >> the toxins concerning phoebe would be caused by acid mine drainage, a danger confirmed by numerous geologists. sulfide minerals in the waste rock would mix with rain and water causing acid runoff. there is a serious risk that the acid and dissolved heavy metals like mercury would contaminate the water, fish and the wild rice on which the tribes depend. >> where does the wild rice grow? >> up in this area here. the reason we're in bad river is because of the wild rice. through a series of prophecies were told to move inland to the
place where food grows on the water and the food that grows on water is wild rice. maybe somebody could say why don't you stop eating the fish or wild rice and first of all our community is very poor and depends on these foods to survive and most importantly these are foods that the spirit told us that we would have. >> the bad river and the kakagon sloughs represent about 40 percent of the wetlands for coastal lake superior. >> the chippewa tribes set up harvest camp at the edge of the mine site about a year ago as part of a strategy to stop the mine. they invited the public to come here and learn firsthand about the land. >> you get lead, arsenic mercury... >> over 5000 people have visited the camp, learning the dangers posed by the mine and cataloging the environment before gtac starts digging.
>> slap it. come on. give me five. oh, there we go. >> paul demain of the lac courte oreilles tribe is one of the people who first set up harvest camp. tribal members and supporters lived there through a harsh winter to demonstrate their resistance to the mine. their effort garnered press and support for their cause. >> how close are we to the mine site, to where they want to do the mine site? >> about uh, about a mile, straight this way. if you look up here you can see that uh, ridge up there. >> uh huh. >> paul sees this struggle as history repeating itself. mining companies and white settlers way back in the 19th century clashed with native americans over this very same land. >> ... people come in and say, you're just a bunch of dumb, hostile indians. you don't, you don't know how to exploit what's up there in a
good way. you'll probably just live on it and collect maple syrup and, ... hunt for venison and fish and do all these other things when these mining companies will know what to do with that land a lot better and, and produce, uh, something out of it. >> i think the community here appreciates the fact that we've given voice to them...it's an interesting coalition of people who i think understand that this project is way too much risk in its present form... a lot of people up here are survivors just like we are. >> watch more "faultlines" on demand or visit aljazeera.com/faultlines.
destroy their livelihood. >> this farm has been here since 1926. five generations have been on this farm. my great grand father bought this barn, or the wood from the tannery and tore down the building and moved it up here and built this barn. so the wood in this barn is probably one hundred and fifty years old or better. >> what kind of cows do you have here? >> holsteins primarily. everybody's got a name. >> yeah >> that's pearl right there. there's root beer. opal. >> can you call them by name? >> yeah >> they know their names? >> yeah >> and there is some that would follow you wherever you want to go. you don't really want to do that. >> yeah ha ha... >> how close are we to where the mine would be? >> approximately a mile, uh, from the west end of the mine site. right over the hill. >> so were talking a mile up the road here.
>> when they first start mining the first that's going to happen is we're going to lose water because our well is only one hundred feet deep and they are talking a one thousand foot hole. they're going to put in high capacity wells to create a cone of depression, as they call it in the water table. to drain down the water table so they don't have to deal with it. when they pull that much water my well's going to run dry because it's all out of the same aquifer. >> fault lines has spoken to three geologists who have studied the area around the mine site. while they can't say for certain that the well would go dry, they agree that the o'doveros are right to be worried. >> has gtac come and talk to you about that? >> no they have not. >> no never. >> i know this may be a dumb question, but how important is the water, that well, to your operation. >> it's the most important thing we have. >> i guess i was just wondering if you in living up here if you
ever realized you were ever vulnerable to what seems to appear to be a very small company. i mean gtac has a handful of employees and then an ultimate owner that lives in florida. >> we never knew that we were so vulnerable by our legislature... we were sold by the republicans in this state. >> in february 2013, republicans in the state senate passed a bill that loosened restrictions on iron mining. >> no mine! no mine! >> opponents of the bill were outraged by the way it reversed 15 years of environmental regulation. >> fact of the matter is mr. president, that this bill is nothing more than a wholesale sellout of wisconsin public policy to a west virginia coal company. >> from the very beginning, it is clear that this company had a plan to change the state law so that they could have complete control.
>> the bill that governor scott walker signed gives gtac and other iron mining companies permission to put waste in rivers, ponds and streams near the mine so long as they pay for mitigation projects elsewhere in the state. it limits the regulatory power of the department of natural resources. and most offensive to mine opponents it allows gtac to obtain an exemption from any requirement in this law it objects to. >> bob seitz is gtac's chief lobbyist and spokesperson. >> would it be fair to say that gtac wrote the bill? >> no. i think, uh, the bills are, in wisconsin are written by the legislative reference bureau. you, anybody can have access to that or have, um, you know input into that process. >> but gtac did not write this bill? >> the bill had to be written by the legislature. no bills are written by other
folks. >> then, do we have that... so this is scott fitzgerald, and he says on this that, well, you can see for yourself. >> so he says, no, they wrote it. and scott fitzgerald, as i understand, is a conservative republican that voted for the bill. >> yeah, but you'd have to look at the, uh, the draft of the bill that comes out comes from the legislative reference bureau. >> how important was the money spent on lobbying to getting the bill passed? >> i mean, i lobbied on the bill, i think that uh, i'd like to think that i had a, had an impact in it. >> to ensure passage of the mining bill that gtac helped write and lobby for, the company's allies spent almost $900,000 on tv spots alone to defeat jessica king, one of the mine's opponents in the state senate. >> ... mine, and 3000 high-paying jobs.
>> the money spent to defeat king made it the most expensive wisconsin state senate race of 2012. it also secured the majority gtac and its allies needed to pass the bill. >> it's a wholesale effort to buy government so they can own government, and get it to do what they want. >> this company has done everything they can to attack anybody who had legitimate questions. so a few weeks ago when a geologist found asbestos in the rock, the reaction by the company was to attack the geologist.... >> we went up to the mine site to meet tom fitz a professor of geosicences at northland college he talked to us about the asbestos he discovered there. >> we're in the iron formation and you can see the bedding coming across like this. >> you can see the crystals in there, and the issue is that if this rock were to be broken up
during blasting or excavating that the small crystals could become airborne and they are a health hazard because they can become lodged in our lungs. >> the asbestos dust created by mining can get into the air and could cause lung cancers like mesothelioma. it's especially hazardous for workers. >> so at this point, do you know if there are asbestos-like minerals there? >> you know there are, are there elongated minerals in that area? yes. is that asbestos? we don't think so. >> gtac, the company that bob seitz represents, is a subsidiary of a much larger company, cline resource and development, a coal company based in west virginia. >> gtac, it's part of a larger group. can you tell us about the larger group that it's a part of. >> cline resources has been
mining uh, coal, they got a lot of operations in southern illinois. i think the cline group's got a, got a culture that's been very successful. >> but they've also run into a lot of problems, like they've had over 900 violations in the last 15 years and over 2000 safety violations in the last 10 years. >> i can't really, i, i don't work for cline. i don't, i mean, that's not my that's really not my area. i don't know- >> but you see the, the issue, though, if gtac says, well, we come from a long mining culture, but if you look at the mining culture and say, well, there are 900, you know, uh, environmental violations and 2,000 safety violations in the last 10 years in that culture, people in wisconsin might have some reservations about saying well, that's not the culture we want here. >> i think if you stack up cline, um, with other mining companies, uh, you'll find that they, that they are well respected and that their process is good. >> watch more "faultlines" on demand or visit aljazeera.com/faultlines.
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>> gtac has begun the what's called "bulk sampling". they are extracting rock from the site and hauling it to a testing facility in minnesota. this is an important step forward for the company. >> so people from local community and local tribes have come out to demonstrate today, they've broken up into two
groups and they are walking the roads that go along gtac's property, here. they tell us that they want the mining company to know that even though this process is beginning, that they're not going away. >> i was talking to my daughter this morning and she said, why are you going out there mom? and i said, baby i'm going out there so you can drink water when you're 25. that's why i'm here. >> we ask for strength and wisdom, and courage, as we take on one of the most powerful forces uh, on the globe. but this uh, this uh this mine it's not going to happen. it is not going to happen. >> if i remember right off the top of my head, the chairman of the iron county board of supervisors was elected into office with something like 26 votes. and ran unopposed, you know. and so we need to begin lifting
people up at the local level while we do all the other things we have to do. >> at harvest camp paul demain is promoting a strategy to recruit candidates for the iron county board election. >> this thing is being won on all fronts. ok, the surveys show that a majority of people in iron county don't want it. >> the board has the power to pass ordinances that could slow down gtac's efforts. >> you know the chairman i think of the iron county board of supervisors, he said it's his job to help facilitate this mine. well, let's find 27 people to vote against him and get someone in there that's got at least the gall to ask a few questions. >> several citizens, like dick thiede, took up paul demain's call to run for election to the iron county board. >> hi mike...you know i'm running for the county board right? >> oh yeah. >> well first of all they're hardly ever contested, i mean for the past probably 40 years they've had to go out and ask people, don't you want to be on
the county board, because there was no, no candidates. i mean it's a thankless job. >> i'm saving a stamp by handing it to you. >> ah, ok. >> in a race where candidates typically only spend about a hundred dollars on a couple rolls of stamps, dick found himself in the crosshairs of americans for prosperity, an organization founded by billionaire libertarian activists, the koch brothers. >> americans for prosperity's wisconsin office happens to be in the same building as gtac's lobbyist, bob seitz. in fact, seitz lobbies for them too. dick thiede was overmatched. >> we ended up with 44 votes. the opponent got 135 votes. >> the mining dispute had attracted money from out of state to a tiny county election. i asked dick how that felt. >> i had a really wonderful homeroom teacher and history
teacher at shorewood high school. his name was otis sweiger and one of the things he said is that democracy is fragile. it doesn't take much. >> what happens to the town here and to the people here if this mine doesn't go through? >> we need our community to exist. and if we don't get something here, our community going to continue to decline and you're gonna see, continue to see an area of high poverty. >> mm-hmm. >> nobody wants poverty, nobody. >> five generations are here. my great-grandfather started it,
you know, i ain't going to let it go. >> we ain't leaving. >> if this place were ruined because of the water, could you just pick up and go somewhere else and do this? >> hell, no. it's all here. it lives with us. we live with it. it lives in us. it's, it's not, it's not like you can take me from this farm and put me in another farm and it's going to feel the same. it doesn't. >> it's just not there. your roots are your roots. >> despite growing opposition, the company is on pace to file for a mining permit before 2016. >> a movement is starting and that's what's going to stop this. >> somewhere in the future there may be lives saved because you
stood up here for your community and the generations that have handed you this community to save. >> what we're in for is a long struggle. it's the future of our children and our children's children and their ability to live in this land and drink the water and survive and prosper. >> we pray for the children in the womb >> a divisive issue >> god is life , so it's his to take >> see a 10 year old girl who's pregnant, and you tell me that's what god wants... >> a controversial law >> where were you when the babies lives were being saved? >> are women in texas
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