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Nonferrous Metallic Mining Permitting Process

Before the DNR can issue a nonferrous metallic mining permit, an applicant must demonstrate that the proposed project will comply with all applicable state environmental laws and rules; protect sensitive lands and habitat; and protect public health, safety and welfare.

Generally, the permitting process can be divided into three phases: submittal of permit applications and related documents, regulatory review and impact analysis and issuance or denial of the required permits and approvals.

Wisconsin law requires metallic mining project applicants to submit the following documents as part of the comprehensive metallic mine permitting process:

  • Mining permit application (which includes a mining plan, reclamation plan, monitoring plan and contingency plan);
  • Feasibility report and proposed plan of operation for any proposed mining waste facilities;
  • Environmental impact report; and
  • Any additional permit applications and supporting materials required under applicable state environmental protection laws and administrative rules.

These documents characterize the natural, physical and chemical environment surrounding the project site, provide detailed descriptions and analyses of all aspects of the proposed project and serve as a foundation for the DNR to analyze the potential impacts of the proposed mining operation. If necessary, the DNR can request additional data and analyses at various stages of the process. A well-defined project description helps the DNR determine if the proposed mining project is capable of meeting the environmental protection standards required by state and federal law.

Once all documents and permit applications are received, the DNR must determine if the submitted material is complete and make preliminary determinations regarding each permit and approval. The DNR must also analyze the potential impacts of the proposed project, consider potential alternatives and develop a draft environmental impact statement. The DNR will make final determinations to approve or deny the required project permits and approvals after considering public hearing testimony and written comments and publishing a final environmental impact statement. Any part of this final determination may be challenged by interested parties through processes established in state law.


If a company identifies a potentially viable ore body and wishes to develop a mining operation, the company submits a pre-application notification to DNR. The application notification must be submitted at least 12 months prior to the time that the company intends to submit a mining permit application.

As part of the pre-application notification, a prospective applicant must submit a preliminary project description, a tentative project schedule and a proposed scope of study, which identifies proposed environmental and engineering studies that will be conducted as part of the project development, permitting, and environmental review processes.

Upon receipt of a pre-application notification, the DNR must issue a public notice announcing the availably of the notification and must provide copies of the notification to specific parties. The public notice will invite public comment on the pre-application notification and will set the date for a public informational hearing regarding the notification. The purpose of the hearing and public comment solicitation is to gather public input on what should be included as part of the permitting and environmental review processes and whether such information should be collected by the prospective applicant or generated by DNR through independent studies.

Following the review of the pre-application notification and consideration of public comments, the DNR will inform the applicant of the type, quantity and methods of data collection for information the applicant will be required to collect to support the preparation of a mining permit application and environmental impact report, along with the DNR’s preparation of an environmental impact statement. The DNR will also identify other approvals, permits and licenses that will be required as part of the mining project, along with application timelines and other filing requirements. Lastly, DNR will disclose preliminary verification procedures it will use to ensure the reliability of data collected by the prospective applicant and identify any anticipated independent studies and data collection DNR intends to conduct.

The prospective applicant will develop a final scope of study incorporating the information provided by the DNR and will then initiate the requisite baseline data collection programs. All baseline data is required to be submitted to the DNR once it is in final form, as specified in the scope of the study. Throughout the data collection process, the DNR will conduct a range of verification activities, such as observing data collection methods, splitting samples with the prospective applicant, or conducting independent data collection. As the data collection process progresses and more information is available regarding the proposed mining site and the project design, the DNR may, after consulting with the applicant, modify its information requirements.

Concurrent with the data collection phase, the prospective applicant will also be developing details of the proposed project, including evaluation of alternative sites for various project facilities, design of the project and preparation of various project-related submittals including permit applications and the environmental impact report. At least 12 months after submitting the pre-application notification and once sufficient data have been collected, and the initial project design is completed, the prospective applicant will finalize the various permit applications and environmental impact report for submittal to the DNR.


The nonferrous metallic mining laws and rules establish minimum design and operation requirements, location criteria and specific environmental standards. The application and review process are intended to determine whether a proposed mining operation will comply with these requirements, as well as the specific permitting criteria related to other approvals and permits required for the operation. An applicant must submit a mining plan, reclamation plan, monitoring plan and other materials described below.


The mining plan describes the mine layout, mining process and operation, as well as groundwater and surface water collection and treatment techniques. The applicant must explain in detail the final configuration of the mine after the mining activity ends. A risk assessment of possible health and environmental hazards associated with the mine operation must be performed. Contingency measures with respect to these risks and hazards must be explicitly stated.


The reclamation plan is formulated around a designated post-mining land use and its relationship to the surrounding environment. The reclamation plan provides a detailed description of the sequence and anticipated duration of stabilization and reclamation activities from the construction phase through the final site reclamation.

The applicant must develop a projected cost estimate for fulfilling the reclamation plan by an outside contractor. Prior to site construction and initiation of mining, the applicant must post a bond or other financial assurance mechanism to cover the costs of reclamation as a means to ensure that the required reclamation will be performed without cost to taxpayers. The DNR retains a portion of the bond for at least 20 years after issuing a certificate of completion of reclamation for the site.


The project monitoring plan is developed to monitor environmental changes as a result of the project. Monitoring will cover a wide range of activities, including groundwater and surface water quality and quantity, wastewater quality, characteristics of waste materials and leachate, air quality, wetlands, terrestrial and aquatic biology and ecosystems. Monitoring will begin prior to (or at the time of) construction and will continue through the life of the project and, in some cases, for many years after final reclamation has been completed. The environmental baseline and background data collected during the permitting and environmental review process will be used to assess the significance of changes in environmental conditions and whether any observed changes would trigger enforcement or intervention actions under applicable regulatory requirements.


Metallic mining projects typically generate large volumes of waste, including tailings and waste rock, during the mining, milling and concentrating processes. Tailings are finely ground rock particles that remain after the desirable minerals have been separated and recovered from the ore. Metallic mining tailings and waste rock from sulfide mineral deposits, once exposed to air and water, may oxidize and release contaminants (metals) into the environment. As a result, tailings and waste rock must be stored in a facility designed to protect the environment.

An applicant for a mining permit must also submit a mining waste site feasibility report and a plan of operation that describes any proposed waste sites to be constructed as part of the mining project. The feasibility report focuses on the siting process, the regional setting, detailed characterization of the proposed site, waste characterization, facility design, evaluation of groundwater impacts, contingency planning and consideration of alternatives. The plan of operation provides a comprehensive description of the proposed construction, operation, monitoring, closure and long-term care procedures for each waste facility, including extensive quality assurance requirements pertaining to critical construction activities.

The feasibility report for a waste disposal facility must provide for groundwater protection. As part of the permitting process, the applicant must demonstrate through numerical modeling that any contaminants that may leave the mine, mining waste facility or any other facility on a mining site will not violate applicable groundwater and surface water quality standards. A solute transport model, together with a groundwater flow model and data generated during the waste characterization tests, is generally used to predict concentrations of certain parameters in groundwater at the specified design management zone. For mining waste facilities, the design management zone is set at 1,200 feet from the outer limit of fill within the proposed waste facility and within the depth of usable groundwater, as determined by the DNR. The applicant must demonstrate compliance with applicable surface water and groundwater standards for the period in which the facility is proposed to operate, plus 250 years after closure of the mining waste site.


The environmental impact report is a disclosure document submitted by a company seeking a metallic mining permit. The applicant needs to present detailed information on the existing environment in the vicinity of the proposed project, describe the proposed project, disclose potential significant impacts associated with the proposed project and identify possible alternatives or mitigation actions considered by the company. The report focuses on, but is not limited to, an analysis of:

  • Cultural resources;
  • Air quality;
  • Geology and soils;
  • Groundwater;
  • Surface water and bottom sediments;
  • Aquatic biology;
  • Terrestrial biology;
  • Threatened and endangered species;
  • Wetlands; and
  • Aesthetics and socioeconomic issues.

The DNR may hold public informational meetings on the applicant's environmental impact report.


A mining project will likely require a number of other permits and approvals issued by the DNR and other state or federal agencies, including the Public Service Commission, the Department of Transportation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The DNR permits and approvals will depend on site-specific variables and project design but may include the following:

  • Dredging or filling of wetlands
  • Air quality
  • Solid waste facility construction
  • Mine dewatering
  • High-capacity wells
  • Wastewater treatment system and sewage treatment plant
  • Treated wastewater discharge
  • Culvert installation
  • Bridge construction
  • Storm water/erosion control

In addition, the DNR may not issue the mining permit until the applicant has successfully obtained all necessary approvals from local units of government with zoning authority over the project.

DNR Review of application submittals

Before a mining permit can be issued, the applicant must provide the DNR with detailed information about the proposed project as part of the comprehensive permitting and environmental review process. The DNR conducts an independent review of all submittals, including verification of the data submitted by the applicant and collection of its own information. The DNR also has the ability to hire consultants to assist in the evaluation of the proposed project.

Draft Environmental Impact Statement

Following completion of the project review, the DNR's Environmental Analysis and Sustainability Program will prepare and release a draft environmental impact statement under the guidelines of the Wisconsin Environmental Policy Act. This is an objective document prepared by the DNR with the assistance of independent consultants and staff from other programs or agencies, as needed. A draft environmental impact statement is only intended to inform the decision-makers and the public of the environmental and socioeconomic effects of the proposed mining project. Regulatory decisions are based on analyses by the DNR as to whether the proposed project will comply with specific permitting criteria found in applicable state statutes and rules.

The draft environmental impact system describes the mining proposal, the potentially affected natural and cultural resources, the predicted environmental and cultural impacts and the DNR’s analysis of the project. The document also includes possible mitigation measures and an analysis of viable project alternatives. All costs associated with the DNR’s assessment of the project and preparation of the draft environmental impact statement are borne by the applicant.

Public Hearing And Comment Period

Once the DNR has completed its review and has released the draft environmental impact statement and preliminary permit/approval decisions, a public notice is issued and the draft environmental impact statement, permits and approvals are made available for public review. A public comment period is established, and a public informational hearing is scheduled. The DNR considers all testimony and written comments related to the draft environmental impact statement, draft mining permit and other DNR permits and approvals and prepares a summary and response to those comments.

Final Determination

After considering the public comments and all relevant information, the DNR makes necessary changes prior to publishing the final environmental impact statement as well as the responses to public comments. The DNR determines whether the project would comply with all applicable criteria of state environmental protection laws and regulations and whether the DNR has complied with the requirements of the Wisconsin Environmental Policy Act in the development of the final environmental impact statement. If DNR establishes that all permitting criteria have been met, the DNR must issue the mining permit and other necessary approvals.

The final DNR decision on specific permits and the adequacy of the environmental impact statement may be challenged through a contested case process and may also be subject to appeal through the court system.