In 1976 Exxon Coal and Minerals Company announced the discovery of a zinc-copper ore body located in northeastern Wisconsin near the city of Crandon. During the early 1980's, Exxon submitted the necessary permit applications and environmental studies necessary to characterize the environment surrounding the project site. A Final Environmental Impact Statement was published in November 1986 and in December Exxon withdrew their application, citing depressed minerals prices, and a formal permitting decision and evaluation was never determined .See more...
In 1994, the Crandon Mining Company (at the time this was a partnership between Exxon and Rio Algom Ltd) expressed formal interest in mining the deposit. In 1998, Rio Algom purchased Exxon’s interest in the project and renamed the mining permit applicant to Nicolet Minerals Company (NMC) . Under the terms of this sale, however, Exxon still owned the mineral rights to the deposit and retained a profit-sharing agreement . At the same time, the company proposed three significant alterations to the project design related to waste management, mine operation, and wastewater treatment and discharge .
In 2000, Billiton, Plc. Acquired ownership of Rio Algom and in 2001 merged with BHP (Broken Hill Proprietary) to form BHP Billiton. In 2002, BHP Billiton announced it was putting the mining project up for sale and closing the NMC office and the project information center in Crandon. Then in 2003, Nicolet Minerals Company was purchased by Northern Wisconsin Resource Group and this company indicated it would not withdraw the permit applications .
The proposed mining project was located about five miles south of the city of Crandon, Wisconsin. Additionally, the proposed mine was directly adjacent to the Mole Lake reservation of the Chippewa (Ojibwe) people and the Forest County Potawatomi community . The site lies on territory sold by the Chippewa (Ojibwe) Nation to the United States in 1842. Treaties guaranteed Chippewa access to wild rice, fish and some wild game on ceded lands but the economic, cultural, and spiritual center of this tribe is their wild rice lake. The rice, called, manomin, or ‘gift from the Creator’, is an essential part of their diet, an important cash crop, and a sacred part of their religious rituals . The Chippewa Nation feared contamination of deer, fish, and wild rice from acid mine drainage. Acid mine drainage is of great concern to this community because of its extremely small land base of about 1900 acres and its vulnerable forests and wetlands. Another tribe, the Menominee people, were also concerned because the Wolf River which runs from the proposed mine to their land is the lifeline of that tribe and is central to their existence .
To address various environmental concerns, NMC was committed to maintaining a net-neutral waste disposal facility to minimize the potential release of contaminants from the facility.
Numerous lawsuits were filed and many legal actions were taken throughout the permitting process. In 1995, American Rivers designated the Wolf River as threatened. This prompted Exxon to announce a plan to divert the waste water 40 miles away into the Wisconsin River instead of dumping it into the Wolf River. Eight environmental groups filed a lawsuit charging that the Army Corps of Engineers ignored federal law (The Water Resources Development Act of 1986) when it ruled that Exxon’s plan to pump groundwater from the mine was not covered by the law and that interbasin transfer of water is legal. The Federation of Fly Fishers listed the Wolf River as the most endangered fishery in the nation in August 1999 because of the threat from mine pollution. In June, 1999, local citizens filed a lawsuit to overturn a local agreement made behind closed doors between Exxon/Rio Algom and local units of government for advance permission to mine. This case was settled out of court when the former town board admitted their violations of the open meetings law. Also in 1999, the Wisconsin State Council of Trout Unlimited passed a resolution opposing permits for the proposed mine . A Mining Moratorium Law was passed in 1998  and prohibited the state from issuing a mining permit until the applicant could provide an example of a similar mine in a sulfide orebody that was in operation for at least 10 years and was closed for at least 10 years without pollution from acid mine drainage or heavy metal contamination. This only happened because of a historic grassroots alliance of environmentalists, Native American nations, sportfishing groups, unionists, students, and others around the state. The mine was opposed because of its threat to fish in the Wolf and Wisconsin rivers, the tourism economy, and Native American cultures .
Victory followed when two tribal communities- the Forest County Potawatomi and the Mole Lake Sokaogeon Chippewa (Ojibwe)- bought Northern Wisconsin Resources Group (Nicolet Minerals Company was a subsidiary of NWRG) and paid $16.5 million for the 5,000 acre mine site. The opposition movement helped build bridges between groups who had previously been adversaries. Through old-fashioned organizing (such as speaking tours and local government resolutions) the movement reached people throughout Wisconsin for a state mining moratorium, and a still-proposed ban on cyanide use in mining. Through the Internet (through websites such as treatyland.com and nocrandonmine.com), it got the message out around the world, even leading to a rally in Australia . This method of organized opposition was very effective, and came at a cheaper price than the millions of dollars Exxon was spending on television and newspaper ads . The alliance is an example of “globalization-from-below” .
Cooperative relations between the tribal communities and the town were further strengthened when they received a grant from the federal government to promote long-term sustainable jobs in their community. Indians and non-Indians alike are working together to provide a clear alternative to mining and, if successful, the project could bring in an additional $7-$10 million USD to these communities over the next decade .