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STATE NEWS ROUNDUP: Mining opponents made their voices known in a DNR hearing

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news Ellsworth, 54011
Ellsworth Wisconsin 126 S. Chestnut St. 54011

Mining opponents showed up in force yesterday at a D-N-R hearing in Hurley on the second phase of testing for Gogebic Taconite’s proposed iron ore mine. By four in the afternoon, 76 people spoke – and only a half-dozen were in favor of the planned excavation of four-thousand tons of rock. It’s part of the G-TAC’s feasibility studies for a four-and-a-half-mile-long mine in the Penokee Hills of Iron and Ashland counties. Over 100 people ended up speaking by the time the 10-hour hearing ended last night. Most testified about possible pollution to the Lake Superior and Bad River watersheds, and possible asbestos-type fibers in the rock to be extracted. Several residents supported the project, saying the mine would bring badly-needed jobs. Local business groups have pleaded for the new mine in the past, but they were a no-show yesterday – and Gogebic Taconite stayed silent as well. The company’s Bob Seitz said its application speaks for itself, and it’s really for others to discuss. The D-N-R is taking written comments on the rock excavation through September third. If approved, the bulk sampling could begin in October. D-N-R officials said at the hearing that an actual permit for the new mine could be 2-to-3 years away. 

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The Bay of Green Bay has a growing “dead zone” where virtually all fish, worms, and insects cannot survive because there’s not enough oxygen in the water. In a public Web seminar yesterday, Tracy Valenta of the Green Bay Metro Sewerage District said the dead zone starts about eight miles northeast of the city – and it can go for up to 30 miles from there. Wave and weather patterns are blamed, along with phosphorus runoff from the Fox River which feeds into the bay. The dead zone is similar to others found in Lake Erie and the Gulf of Mexico. Valenta said the Green Bay dead zone could cover as much as 40-percent of that waterway. The lack of oxygen has been a concern for many years, but Valenta says it appears to be getting worse. Back in 1990, there were only four summer days when the bay’s oxygen was measured at below life-sustaining levels. In 2011, there were 43 such days. It’s not clear how many fish have been affected. Officials said thousands of round gobies floated ashore in 2005 and 2011 as they desperately searched for air. Lyman Welch of the Alliance for the Great Lakes says the Green Bay dead zone shows a need to limit phosphorus runoff from farms and other sources. He says agriculture is a bigger contributor to the problem, but all sectors work together to get it solved. 

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The number of jobs created in Wisconsin grew at a slower pace in the first quarter of this year. Figures released yesterday for a national quarterly jobs report show that the Badger State added 24-thousand private sector jobs during the year ending in March, for an increase of one-point-one percent. The same report issued three months earlier showed that Wisconsin added 32-thousand private sector jobs for the year ending last December – with a more robust growth at the time of one-point-four percent. The data is based on a survey of nearly all Wisconsin employers. That’s why it has a lag of several months. The monthly job reports only survey three-and-a-half percent of Wisconsin firms – and when big job losses are reported, the state is most vocal in criticizing the accuracy of the monthly data. There have not been many complaints lately, though. The monthly report for July was issued yesterday, showing that 18-hundred private sector jobs were added statewide during the month. The seasonally-adjusted jobless rate is at six-point-eight percent, down from seven in July. 

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There’s new evidence that a deadly bat disease is getting closer to Wisconsin. Officials in neighboring Minnesota say they’ve found the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome at two places in the Gopher State. One is at Forestville-Mystery Cave, about 50 miles west of the Wisconsin border at Vernon County. The other spot is in northeast Minnesota at the Soudan Underground Mine. Paul White of the Wisconsin D-N-R calls the new discoveries a “major disappointment.” An outbreak could be a big problem for Wisconsin farmers, who rely on the bats to help kill insects and prevent crop loss. White says it’s inevitable that the Badger State will be hit with the fungal disease, which has killed almost six-million bats in the eastern U-S and Canada. Last year, white-nose was confirmed at an Iowa cave about 30 miles from the Wisconsin border. It’s also been spotted to the south in Illinois. The disease causes bats to wake up during their hibernation. It rapidly depletes their energy supplies. In May, the D-N-R said it found no evidence of white-nose syndrome in 73 popular hibernating spots in Wisconsin. An estimated 300-thousand bats hibernate in the Upper Midwest in the wintertime. In 2011, Wisconsin added four types of bats to its threatened species’ list. Visitors to caves are often asked to wipe off their shoes before entering and leaving, to keep the disease from spreading. 

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Milwaukee will host a major hunting show next year. About 30-thousand people are expected for the National Pheasant Fest-and-Quail Classic, to be held February 14th-through-16th in downtown Milwaukee. It’s a trade show for upland hunters, sport dog owners, and conservation specialists. It will include seminars on pheasant hunting, dog training, and conserving wildlife habitat. Tractors, guns, and art works will also be featured. The show is organized by Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, a non-profit group from Saint Paul that’s dedicated to preserving upland habitat. The last time the show was in Wisconsin was 2009, when Madison hosted it. 

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