Protesters Oppose Crandon Mine at BHP Shareholders Meeting in Melbourne, Australia

May 19, 2001

On Friday, May 19, the Australian mining giant Broken Hill Proprietary (BHP) held its Annual General Meeting in its headquarters city of Melbourne, Australia. BHP shareholders attended the crucial meeting to consider a pending merger with the London-based South African miner Billiton, which owns the proposed Crandon mine project in Wisconsin, USA. (BHP shareholders were expected to approve the merger to create the world's second-largest mining company, which would be called BHP Billiton.)

On their way into the meeting at the Melbourne Concert Hall, shareholders ran a gauntlet of about 2000 protesters, nearly all of them unionists protesting the merger and BHP labor practices. Also participating were members of the environmental group Friends of the Earth Melbourne, who held signs reading "Stop Billiton's Crandon Mine in Wisconsin, USA," "Protect Indigenous Rights in Wisconsin, USA: Drop the Crandon Mine," and "Billiton's Nicolet/Crandon Project: A Disaster for BHP in USA."

Photos of the protest and BHP meeting can be seen on the website of the Melbourne daily The Age, at http://www.theage.com.au/gallery/issues7/2001/05/18 (Click on the first thumbnail to begin the photo gallery.)

In northeastern Wisconsin, 400 miles (600 km) north of Chicago, a broad-based alliance is opposing the Crandon metallic sulfide mine planned by Billiton's Nicolet Minerals Company. The zinc-copper mine site is adjacent to the Mole Lake Chippewa Indian Reservation, famed for its wild rice beds, and upstream from the pristine fishery of the Wolf River, identified by the Federation of Fly Fishers as the #1 endangered river in the U.S.

The mine was first proposed 25 years ago by Exxon, but was delayed by strong opposition, and transferred to Rio Algom two years before its acquisition by Billiton. Billiton now deems the Crandon project a "non-core asset," and has expressed interest in selling many Rio Algom copper projects. BHP also explored in the Crandon area in the mid-1990s but left after Native and non-Native local protests.

The alliance against the mine has united traditional adversaries in Wisconsin--bringing together Native Americans with sportfishing groups, environmentalists with unionists, and rural residents with urban students. Local governments have passed resolutions against the project, citing its potential sulfuric acid wastes and lowering of underground water tables. Tribal governments have strengthened their environmental regulations as one way to stop the mine. A bill currently in Wisconsin's state legislature would ban the use of cyanide in Wisconsin mines, citing last year's disaster at an Australian-owned mine in Romania. The Crandon project would use up to 200 tons of cyanide a year. (See http://www.alphacdc.com/treaty/cyanide.html )

The Australian state of New South Wales is considering a similar ban.

Zoltan Grossman, a spokesperson for the Midwest Treaty Network, said "The Crandon mine is an incredibly risky and costly investment for any company, due to its location in the headwaters of our most pristine and scenic riverway, and next to ancient Native American wild rice beds. The Fraser Institute, a leading industry think tank, now rates Wisconsin as having the worst political climate for mining companies of any U.S. state. BHP is inheriting a doomed project from Billiton, and should cut its losses now."

Grossman thanked the Melbourne protesters by saying, "Only a strong multinational movement can curb the power of multinational companies.This is what we call 'globalization-from-below': peoples in different countries coming together to protect their environment, economies, and cultures against corporate 'globalization-from-above.'"

He added that the Wolf Watershed Educational Project has posted information on the mine for a global audience at http://www.treatyland.com and http://www.nocrandonmine.com The site includes a page on BHP's track record at http://www.alphacdc.com/treaty/bhp.html .

The Age on Friday had an article on the pending BHP meeting and soaring BHP stocks at http://www.theage.com.au/business/2001/05/18/FFXA3S7DUMC.html

Earlier in the week Australian union representatives said of the BHP Billiton merger, "The deal is not only a dud for BHP shareholders, it is a bad deal for Australia, for BHP employees, and all stakeholders in the company."

For further information contact:

Wisconsin Contacts:

Dave Blouin,
Mining Impact Coalition,
Ph: 608-233-8455
Email: burroak15@aol.com

Dr. Al Gedicks,
Wisconsin Resources Protection Council,
Ph: 608-784-4399
Email: gedicks.albe@uwlax.edu

Zoltan Grossman,
Midwest Treaty Network/Wolf Watershed Educational Project
Ph: 608-246-2256
Email: mtn@igc.org
Website: http://www.treatyland.com

Ken Fish,
Menominee Treaty Rights and Mining Impacts Office
Ph: 715-799-5620
Email: nominng@itol.com

Australia Contacts:

Cam Walker, or Faza or Loretta
Friends of the Earth Melbourne
Ph: 03 9419 8700
Fax 03 9416 2081
[Melbourne is 15 hours ahead of Wisconsin.]
Email: foe@melbourne.foe.org.au
Friends of the Earth page on Australian mining companies:
http://www.foe.org.au/pr/2000/200900-aussie_gold.htm