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Proposed Crandon Mine in Northeast Wisconsin, USA


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 [1].

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) [1]. Under the terms of this sale, however, Exxon still owned the mineral rights to the deposit and retained a profit-sharing agreement [2]. 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 [1].

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 [1].

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 [2]. 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 [5].

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 [2].

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 [2].

A Mining Moratorium Law was passed in 1998 [5] 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 [2].

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 and, it got the message out around the world, even leading to a rally in Australia [3].

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 [4].

The alliance is an example of “globalization-from-below” [3].

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 [5].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Proposed Crandon Mine in Northeast Wisconsin, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:Wisconsin
Location of conflict:Crandon
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Mining exploration and/or ore extraction
Specific commodities:Copper

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Nicolet Minerals Company (NMC) proposed to develop the project as an underground mine and remove 55 million tons of ore from the sulfide mineral deposit, which is approximately 4,900 feet long, 2,200 feet deep, and 100 feet wide. About 550 acres of surface area in Forest County would be disturbed during development. The expected project life was 34 years [1].

Ore was expected to be mined at a rate of 5,500 tons per day and the expected ore production would result in about 45 million tons of tailings and waste rock that would require disposal. About 40% of the tailings would be disposed of in a tailings management area (TMA) and 60% would be used as backfill for the underground mine. The average tailings depth in the TMA was expected to be about 90 feet [1]. Not only this, but it would cover 355 acres and be the largest toxic waste dump in Wisconsin history [2].

Over about 28 years, the mine project would pump out up to 1,000 gallons of water per minute, which would be over one million gallons a day [2], thus depleting the groundwater.

Type of populationRural
Affected Population:500-10,000
Start of the conflict:06/01/1975
End of the conflict:28/10/2003
Company names or state enterprises:Nicolet Minerals Company (NMC) from United States of America - Company proposing to build the mine
Rio Algom Ltd from United States of America - Purchased the mine
BHP Billiton (BHP) from United Kingdom
Relevant government actors:U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Geological Survey, Sokaogon Mole Lake Chippewa Community, Forest County Potawatomi Community, Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, US Fish and Wildlife Service
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:American Rivers, Federation of Fly Fishers, Wisconsin State Council of Trout Unlimited, Great Lakes Intertribal Council, Wisconsin Resources Protection Council, Midwest Treaty Network

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Arguments for the rights of mother nature


Environmental ImpactsPotential: Soil contamination, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Other Environmental impacts
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Violations of human rights, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Loss of livelihood


Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Strengthening of participation
Project cancelled
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:Local tribes as well as environmentalists, sports fishermen, rural people, and others from the Town of Nashville came together to form an unprecedented alliance during a time when these groups did not associate with one another or cooperate with each other. They came together to fight the Crandon mine project and protect their natural resources, especially the Wolf River. Intense opposition led to a moratorium on mining projects in Wisconsin and the tribes were able to buy Nicolet Minerals Company, resulting in the cancellation of the mining proposal. This case signaled to the rest of the world that Wisconsin is not a "mine-friendly" location and no mining companies have since tried to locate there.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Mining Fact Sheet: "Addressing Public Concerns with Wisconsin's Laws Governing Metallic Mining"

Nicolet Minerals Company v Town of Nashville 2002

Water Resources Development Act of 1986

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Wisconsin Resources Protection Council: What You Should Know About Exxon’s Proposed Crandon/Mole Lake Mine [2]

Proposed Crandon Mine Information [1]

International Indian Treaty Council: Crandon mine victory in Wisconsin won by a historic alliance [3]

Defending a Common Home: Native/non-Native Alliances against Mining Corporations in Wisconsin- AL GEDICKS AND ZOLTÁN GROSSMAN [5]

The Crandon Mine Saga by Douglas Buege [4]

Crandon Mine Reports from the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections library

Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin

Forest County Potawatomi Community

Sokaogon Chippewa Community

Crandon Mine Has New Owner- University of Wisconsin Madison student newspaper

What does the Crandon Mine Story Mean Today- WXPR news

Proposed Zinc and Copper Mine- McDonald Morrissey conducted review of groundwater modeling completed by Crandon Mining Company

Wisconsin Stewardship Network: Mining information and links

Cyanide Concerns for Crandon Mine- University of Wisconsin Madison student newspaper

EarthWINS designs websites for nonprofit organizations who work for peace, justice, human rights, senior citizens, differently-abled, women's rights, environment, renewable energy, fair labor practices, Native American Rights, Indigenous people's rights, reform of laws regulating corporations, and socially responsible, green business practices.

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Al Gedicks describes the Crandon mine opposition and environmental justice victory

Crandon Mine and the Wolf River

Image of a similar mine to what was being proposed in the Town of Nashville

Branch of Wolf River near proposed Crandon mine site

Map of proposed mining area

Meta information

Contributor:Bernadette Grafton and Paul Mohai, [email protected] and [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:1430



Victory picture

Tribes celebrating their victory over the mine proposal after they bought NMC and took over the Information Center with a huge "SOLD" sign on the building.