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Judge rules pollution at Wis. mine minimal

Judge Barbara Crabb

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – A federal judge has ruled that Flambeau Mining Co. violated federal clean water laws at its former copper mine near Ladysmith, but that the amount of pollution was minimal.

In her ruling Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Barbara B. Crabb also said the company’s environmental practices were “exemplary.”

Environmentalists, including the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council, had sued, alleging that the mine violated the Clean Water Act when copper and zinc from the mine entered a small stream that fed the Flambeau River.

Crabb said evidence showed the mine was the source of the pollution, despite Flambeau’s contention that it couldn’t be traced to a mine filter designed to capture leftover toxic material.

But the judge also said the discharges were slight and that Flambeau deserved “commendation, not penalties” for its stewardship of the site. She ordered the company to pay $275 for the discharges and denied a request to have Flambeau pay the plaintiffs’ legal expenses, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

The Flambeau mine operated from 1993 to 1997. Over the past year, it again drew attention when mining advocates, seeking to make changes in Wisconsin mining laws, cited the mine as a model of mineral extraction while environmentalists emphasized the toxic discharges into the Flambeau.

“We are pleased that the judge was clear in her ruling that the Flambeau River has been and is protected, and that discharges from the biofilter on our property have never threatened the river’s water quality, as the plaintiffs claimed,” Dave Cline, a project manager for Flambeau, said in a statement Wednesday.

An environmentalist had a different take on the ruling.

“We’re glad to see the court recognized what concerned citizens have known for years: that even a relatively small-scale copper mine can still pollute waters for years after it has closed,” said Al Gedicks, executive secretary of the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council.

Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel,

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