Mining bill passes after long Assembly debate, removal of gallery

Mining bill passes after long Assembly debate, removal of gallery

By the Associated Press and the WTMJ News Team. CREATED Jan 26, 2012 - UPDATED: Jan 27, 2012

MADISON - Republicans in the state Assembly have passed a sweeping bill to help a Florida-based company open an iron mine in northwestern Wisconsin.

The bill passed after a contentious four-and-a-half hours of debate, where the gallery was removed after some members became rowdy.

That bill calls for state regulators to approve iron mine applications within a year and eliminates challenges to permitting decisions.  The measure is designed to clear the way for Gogebic Taconite's plans to open an iron mine near Lake Superior.

The company has claimed their project will create hundreds of jobs, and majority leader Scott Suder cited that economic impact.

"This bill and the mine is going to result in the creation of 3,000-plus construction jobs.  It's going to be a $2 billion short term impact in Wisconsin's economy.  It's also going to create between 2,800 and 5,600 long-term mining jobs and $600 million to $1.2 billion annual impact on Wisconsin's economy," said Assemblyman Scott Suder.

Conservationists, though, fear the mine will pollute one of the most pristine regions in the state and hurt the tourism industry, and Democrats voice those concerns.

"The people of Wisconsin support mining.  The people of northern Wisconsin support mining in general, but it needs to be done in a responsible way that protects our communities not only financially, but the public health of our communities and the natural resources that we depend on," retorted Representative Nick Milroy.

Republican lawmakers are looking for ways to deliver on campaign promises to create jobs.

The measure passed on a 59-36 vote. It now goes to the state Senate.