Crandon Mine

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The Crandon Mine was proposed in 1976 after the Exxon Company found a massive zinc-copper deposit located in northern Wisconsin. For nearly three decades, the proposed mine became the center of intense debate and speculation over whether it was possible to effectively manage the project in a safe and responsible way. One major issue was the potential contamination of drinking water. In addition, the natural resources the community relied so heavily upon for their economy, traditions, and recreation were at risk.

Exxon History

In 1976, Exxon Minerals Inc. announced it had discovered a massive zinc-copper deposit near Crandon, Wisconsin and the Mole Lake Sokaogon Chippewa Reservation. After Exxon USA labeled the deposit one of the top ten metallic mineral sites in North America in 1976, Exxon began the long and arduous process of gaining approval from the state of Wisconsin. For almost three decades, Exxon faced heavy opposition from local residents including the native Sokaogon Chippewa Indians, who feared environmental impacts from mining would outweigh any potential benefits to the area. It was a unique opportunity for the native inhabitants and surrounding community to come together for a cause that mattered to both parties. Opposition to the mine increased until 1986, when Exxon decided to pull out of the project.[1]

In 1993, Exxon partnered with Canadian mining company Rio Algom, creating the Crandon Mining Company, in another attempt to jump start the controversial mining project. In one response, the community put together the Wisconsin Review Commission, which was responsible for conducting a review of the company’s past performances based on past projects and whether they had succeeded in protecting those environments.[2]

Of the Review Commission’s findings, perhaps the most damaging for Exxon was the Exxon Valdez oil spill, which dumped 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound off the coast of Alaska in 1989.[3] Exxon was criticized for its slow response to the disaster and became exposed for having outdated and inadequate equipment, which was needed to safeguard against potential spills. In addition, The Wall Street Journal wrote that in the years leading up to the spill, Exxon gradually reduced its safeguards and failed to build new ones it had previously promised to Congress.[4]

Rio Algom was also found to have acted irresponsibly while mining for uranium in Ontario in the 1950’s. They dumped untreated mine waste into water sources that emptied into the Serpent River. Years later, studies found that 18 lakes in and around the Serpent river system were contaminated and neither fishing nor swimming were safe as of 1978, when the study was completed.[5]

These findings, in addition to others, further fueled opposition to the mine. In 1998, Exxon sold its interests in the mine to Rio Algom for $17.5 million, however, retained a 2.5% royalty stemming from any future profits resulting from the mine.[6] Although the royalties would never come to fruition after the mining site and newly formed Nicolet Mining Company were purchased by the Mole Lake Ojibwe and Forest County Potawatomi for $16.5 million.[7]

Mining Laws and Regulations

The Wisconsin State Chapter 293, Nonferrous Metallic Mining, is the current Chapter for regulating Mining in the state of Wisconsin. But early on, it was a section of The Water, Ice, Sewage and Refuse laws known as Chapter 144. The earliest mentions of Chapter 144 are from 1925, these were found on the Wisconsin State Legislature archives website. Before the Mining Moratorium was signed into law, the Chapter that it was part of (144) was renumbered (293). In this section below lists Acts, Bills, and Laws relating to the Mining Moratorium of 1997. With each of the Acts, Bills, and Laws listed below, we describe what the document is about and what it contains.

Chapter 9 Published February 28, 1925 No.100, S.[8]

An Act to amend (10) - Provisions of sections 144.01 to 144.12 Approved February 26, 1925

This was the earliest document that could be found with our time. In Chapter 9, it was an Act to amend the provisions given to the sections 144.01 to 144.12.

Chapter 264 Published June 24, 1927 No. 65, S.[9]

An Act to create sections 144.51 to 144.57; and to amend the introductory paragraph of section 144.01 of the statutes, relating to the prevention of the pollution of the surface waters of the state, providing penalties and making an appropriation. Approved June 23, 1927

Chapter 144 (Water, Ice, Sewage and Refuse) 1969[10]

The earliest scanned document to be found of Chapter 144 before the mining section (144.80).

Chapter 318 Published July 2, 1974 Senate Bill 39 1973[11]

An Act to renumber 144.55; and to create 144.55 (2) and 144.80 to 144.94 of the statutes, relating to regulation of metallic ore prospecting and mining, creating a mine reclamation council in the department of natural resources, providing penalties, granting rule-making power and making an appropriation. Approved May 31, 1974

Chapter 144 (Water, Ice, Sewage and Refuse) 1973[12]

Chapter 144 after the addition of 144.80 to 144.94.

Chapter 421 Published June 2, 1978 Assembly Bill 1045, 1977[13]

AN ACT to repeal and recreate 144.80, relating to revising the metallic mining reclamation act, granting rule-making authority subject to legislative review, increasing an appropriation, and providing penalties.

Chapter 144 (Water, Sewage, Refuse, Mining, Oil and Gas and Air Pollution) 1993[14]

Chapter 144 before renumbering to 293 and before section 293.50 (Mining Moratorium).

1995 Wisconsin Act 227, 1995 Senate Bill 622[15]

Date of publication April 30, 1996, Date of enactment April 16, 1996

An Act to repeal and renumber 144 to 293.

1997 Wisconsin Act 171, 1997 Senate Bill 3[16]

Date of Publication May 6, 1998, Date of enactment April 22, 1998

An act to amend 293.49 (1) (a) (intro.); and to create 293.50 of the statutes; relating to: issuance of metallic mining permits for the mining of sulfide ore bodies. This created the Mining Moratorium on issuance of permits for mining of sulfide ore bodies. As a result of the Crandon Mine rebellion.

A moratorium is defined as a temporary prohibition of an activity. This Mining Moratorium will later be repealed.

Chapter 293, Metallic Mining, 1997[17]

Chapter 293 after passing the Mining Moratorium (293.50).

Chapter 293, Nonferrous Metallic Mining, 2015[18]

Non-ferrous metals are defined as to relating to or denoting a metal other than iron or steel.

2017 Wisconsin Act 134, Assembly Bill 499[19]

Date of Publication: December 12, 2017, Date of enactment: December 11, 2017 An Act to repeal 293.50

This Act repealed the Mining Moratorium. It was repeal by Governor Scott Walker, noting that mining technology has changed since 1998 and that mining can be done safely and there is less risk of pollution now.[20]

Chapter 293, Nonferrous Metallic Mining, 2019[21]

This is the current 2019 laws concerning the Nonferrous Metallic Mining in Wisconsin.

Environmental Impact

The Environmental impact of a sulfide mine can be devastating to its surrounding ecosystems. According to the Sulfide mine overview the in the year 2000 the EPA Toxic Release Inventory stated that the sulfide mining industry was the number one largest toxic waste polluter. A huge fear that the people of the Crandon Area faced was AMD’s or Acid Mine Drainage. This is what lead to the Moratorium of mines in 1997 that banned further mines in Wisconsin until it could be proven that these Sulfide mines did not pollute the surrounding surface and ground water. [22]

There would also be a big impact on the surrounding ground soil that is in the area. There would have been an alteration to around 360 acres in the surrounding area. Although the net effect would be permanent loss of 49 acres of wetland soil. There would also be a small but noticeable impact in the quality and differences in the soil of the area because it will be mixed with top and ground soil. With soil there is always the chance of erosion which was considered the biggest short-term impact because all of this would make the ground less fertile in the area. Although we should mention they had plans in place to limit said effects.

The Crandon Area is littered with lakes and watersheds and these were likely to be affected by the Crandon mine. The effected area would suffer from an overall lower water level in their lakes, rivers, and ponds because Exxon would be pumping water from the mine and lowering the ground water level leading to greater seepage from the surrounding lakes. With these changes to water levels in lakes it would affect the fishing in the shallower surrounding lakes. With the lowering of water levels, the wet lands of these lakes would also be affected.

The wild life of this area would be greatly effected because of the land that this mine would take up, also the impact of the infrastructure that would be build and the people that would move to this area to work would also take land and resources away from the wild life of this area. Here are some numbers of the land that would be taken away from these animals. 46 acres of old field habitats and agricultural fields, 81 acres of wetlands, and 721 acres of northern hardwood and Aspen-birch stands.[23]

Air pollution in the area would also go up, even though Exxon’s models showed the air levels to stay well below healthy this is their projected guess and if something happens that they don’t expect they could pollute the air well beyond their predictions, also there is a fear of certain cancer causing pollutants to get into the air during sulfide mining.

Native Activism

Activism and community efforts have proven time and time again to be the most effective way of drawing attention to controversial issues. One of the biggest ways that the Native communities banded together was to hold pow wows to inform the general public about the dangers of the mine, but also to let everyone know just how important the natural world is to their worldview. The main aim of these social gatherings was to encompass the traditional ways of thinking and viewing the land, before colonial impacts.

Native and non-Native people have always had a rough history when it comes to understanding each other, not too long before the start of the mining controversy there was a big fight between the two groups over spear fishing. Beginning in the early 1980's there was a huge clash of views when it was announced that spear fishing for the Ojibwe peoples, through various treaties, could harvest fish off of their ceded lands. This caused an uproar that made national and even international news, leading to a divided between the two communities. This divide was created by violence, racial slurs and a huge loss in respect between not only Native peoples and "white" communities, but also between the non-Native people who chose to stand with the Native communities.

As a way to combat the issue of mining, the two communities had to work together. Having the recent history of violence that was tied to the spearing debate, the local Native communities wanted to make sure that the general public was able to truly understand the importance of spreading the message of keeping the natural world safe. It wasn't until the non-Native communities saw how much danger they were in as well did they start to become interested in working together. To make sure they would be informed, many different Nations across the state held these ceremonies that welcomed the general public, with open arms, ready to share their story. A few of the events that were held were called "Protect The Earth", "1983 Gathering of Native People To Speak To Our Mother Earth", and even UW-Green Bay Inter-Tribal Council held a "Promotion Protection of the Wolf River Traditional Pow Wow". The most popular way to spread the knowledge was through powwows; they gave glimpses into the unseen or ignored parts of Native cultures and really showed the public just how different each Nation was. This wide array of gatherings encouraged learning and cooperation between the different communities involved.

First Nations communities sought to teach the public about the traditional ways of viewing Mother Earth, by inviting people to help them celebrate and learn. Underlying all of that, was the importance of working together to stop the real enemy, the mining company and how it would cause so much more damage than what was being portrayed. Having different worldviews often led to roadblocks, but there were many efforts made on both sides of the spectrum to stop the mine that would ruin the land and water for many, many years. In the end, they were successful with the eventual purchase of the land by the Forest County Potawatomi and the Sokaogon Chippewa Community in 2003 and the mining projects in Crandon were shut down, a major win for the various communities involved.

Non-Native Activism

There were environmentally concerned groups formed by many locals in order to combat the establishment of the Crandon Mine; how were these groups useful in bringing light to the environmental impacts that the mine would cause to the land they lived on? Were there any local supporters of the mine?

When the Crandon Mind was proposed to the North Central part of Wisconsin by Exxon, many local citizens were concerned as to how the mine would impact the area that they lived in, as well as their families, the local economy, and tourism. As talks of the proposal continued, more and more locals began to become concerned; realizing that the mine would make more of a negative impact on their lives and home that that of a positive one. Due to this concern, many citizens formed groups, committees, or came together as counties and communities to fight the establishment of the mine. While the overall majority was against the mine, there were a few who supported the mining establishment.

The two sides of activism:


- Michael Klimoski of the Langlade County Board of Supervisors along with the water and land planning committee, fight against proposed revision of zoning ordinance which would allow for any mining waste produced by the proposed mining operation would be allowed to be dumped into the river in langlade County.

-Water and land use planning committee call to all concerned local citizens to come and attend a public hearing on Wednesday, September 13th, 1995 to protest proposed revisions to the mining zoning ordinances [24]

"ECCOLA" Environmentally Concerned Citizens of Lakeland Areas. A group formed by citizens of the areas surrounding the proposed mining site. ECCOLA put out a report on Metallic Mining Issues which covered the question of if the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) was biased towards the proposed mine by diminishing the negative impacts of mining metallic mineral deposits. [25]


-Langlade County: Nashville county board letter to state Rep., Lorraine M. Seratti to bring the Crandon Mine into fruition. -State Rep. response shutting the county board down. - Members of the board proposed a local agreement between the Nashville town board and the Crandon mining company. [26]

Coming Together Against the Crandon Mine

One of the main reasons as to why citizens on and around the surrounding area that the proposed Crandon Mine was to be established were so against its development, is that many of the natural resources that were pristine and unscathed by mankind were being threatened to be tainted and destroyed by mining activity. Mining waste ponds containing toxic chemicals would, sooner rather than later, run off or seep into the clean ground water and area rivers and lakes. These bodies of water housed fish that natives from the near by reservations would spear as a traditional practice; in addition to native tradition and culture being threatened, tourism was also at risk. If the proposed mine was to go through, not only would the environment of the area be affected but tourism would as well. Tourism is directly linked to the environment of Crandon as well as surrounding areas. The sparkling waters of the rivers and lakes, the towering pines and wildlife filled forests, drew people from all over the midwest. This tourism supported the economy of the region even when tourism was not in season; it supported businesses and families for the entire year. Many feared that the mine's destruction of the natural resources that drew so many to that area would then begin to negatively affect the tourism driven economy. [27]


  1. Gedicks, Al, and Zoltan Grossman. "Tailing Exxon and Rio Algom." Multinational Monitor 16, no. 11 (November 1995): 22.
  2. Wisconsin Review Commission. "Report on the Track Records of Exxon and Rio Algom." March 24, 1995.
  3. Wisconsin Review Commission. "Report on the Track Records of Exxon and Rio Algom." March 24, 1995.
  4. Parrish, Michael. "Alyeska Settles Valdez Oil Spill for $32 Million." Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, CA), November 26, 1992. Accessed May 6, 2019.
  5. Wisconsin Review Commission. "Report on the Track Records of Exxon and Rio Algom." March 24, 1995.
  6. Seely, Ron. "State might buy Crandon mine site." MAC: Mines and Communities. Last modified July 21, 2002. Accessed May 6, 2019.
  7. Ryman, Richard. "Tribes Celebrate End of Mine Saga." Green Bay Press Gazette (Green Bay, WI), December 7, 2003.
  8. 1925 Wisconsin Chapter 9, February 28, 1925,
  9. 1927 Wisconsin Chapter 264, June 24, 1927,
  10. 1969 Wisconsin Chapter 144, 1969,
  11. 1973 Wisconsin Chapter 318, July 2, 1974,
  12. 1973 Wisconsin Chapter 144, 1973,
  13. 1977 Wisconsin Chapter 421, June 2, 1978,
  14. 1993 Wisconsin Chapter 144, 1993,
  15. 1995 Wisconsin Act 227, April 30, 1996,
  16. 1997 Wisconsin Act 171, May 6, 1998,
  17. 1997 Wisconsin Chapter 293, 1997,
  18. 2015 Wisconsin Chapter 293, 2015,
  19. 2017 Wisconsin Act 134, December 12, 2017,
  20. Murray, P., & The Associated Press. (2017, December 11). Gov. Walker Signs Bill Lifting Mining Moratorium. Wisconsin Public Radio. Retrieved from
  21. 2019 Wisconsin Chapter 293, April 1, 2019,
  22. Sulfide Mining overview, Christine Paulu, Emily Babcock, Friends of the boundary water wilderness.
  23. Dorthy Tyra, box 4, folder 16, 1987 Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Final Environmental Impact statement, Stevens Point archives.
  24. Dorothy Tyra, "Water and Land use Planning Committee", "Langlade County", 1995-96, box 6, Folder 6/7, on loan from Stevens Point Historical Society, WI, Viewed in UWGB Archives, accessed April 22, 2019.
  25. Dorothy Tyra, "Environmentally Concerned Citizens of Lakeland Areas", 1995-96, box 6, Undated, Folder 6/2, on loan from Stevens Point Historical Society, WI, Viewed in UWGB Archives, accessed April 22, 2019.
  26. Dorothy Tyra, "Nashville Town Board", "Nashville County", 1995-96, box 6, Folder 6/8, on loan from Stevens Point Historical Society, WI, Viewed in UWGB Archives, accessed April 22, 2019.
  27. Cynthia Martens, “Cyanide Concerns for Crandon Mine,” The Badger Herald (blog), accessed April 22, 2019,

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