Trouble in the Grotto (
by Steve Timmer
Jul 31, 2013, 1:00 PM

Trouble in the Grotto

Believers in the Miracle of the Immaculate Extraction gnash teeth, rend garments

Immaculate Extraction — the magic religious faith described here earlier, and to which DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr is apparently an adherent — holds that it is possible to mine minerals without mining sulfides.

Evidence for the existence of the Immaculate Extraction has leaned on the slender reed of the Flambeau mine, on banks of the Flambeau River near Ladysmith, Wisconsin — The Grotto of the Miracle of the Immaculate Extraction. The mine was touted as “extraction without pollution.”

As reported here before, however, the “reclaimed” mine is a polluter, just as every other sulfide mine there ever was, having been adjudged in 2012 of having violated the Clear Water Act several times. (Here’s the Grotto before it was filled and sodded over.)

flambeau mine aerial

But now, there is even more trouble in the Grotto of the Miracle of the Immaculate Extraction. And more proof that this guy was the real prophet.

grass over a grave

This is the late Roscoe Churchill, who served eight terms on Wisconsin’s Rusk County Board, including while the Flambeau mine was proposed and permitted. He was an implacable foe of the mine.

You can lay sod over a hole you filled up, but that doesn’t mean it’s harmless. And the hole is just a part of the footprint of the mining operation, anyway. It is principally waste rock, and tailings and “infiltration” basins that are the continuing menace.

Sulphuric acid and heavy metals leach out of waste rock, even little waste rock piles, like the ones off Spruce Road near Ely, Minnesota that were the product of some exploratory drilling over thirty years ago.

Spruce Road runoff

Spruce Road runoff (via

A common approach to try to address this problem is to catch the polluted runoff in an “infiltration basin” and treat it somehow. Here’s what the ones at the Grotto were supposed to look like. But surprise, surprise, surprise: they didn’t get built correctly and were probably inadequately designed to begin with.

Both in 2012 and 2013, these basins nearly overtopped the retaining berms, which would have sent highly polluted water into the surface water surrounding the mine. (These events were not even part of the Clear Water Act lawsuit referred to above.)

Don’t believe me? Here’s a photo from the Wisconsin DNR. You can see more photos at the link.

You can believe me when I say this water would kill the aquatic species, not only fish, but the invertebrates (aquatic insects, crustaceans, etc. on which they feed) for a long way downstream.

You can read the panicked emails between the engineering company and the Wisconsin DNR about the overtopping of the berm. [the link is broken]

The excellent website Flambeau Mine Exposed has covered the the Grotto extensively and it provides an excellent counter to Commissioner Landwehr’s assurances that “There can be dangers of sulfides from treatment of waste rock in mining, if done poorly. But that can be done well, also.”

Commissioner, it has never been done well.

Commissioner Landwehr is the hero in a Greek tragedy with the environmentalist chorus desperately trying to warn him. But he certainly sounds as though he’s made up his mind and headed for disaster for all of us.

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