After protests turned violent in June, Wisconsin legislators introduced a bill to cut public access to a proposed mine site located on managed forest land.
The bill would shut off 4,000 acres of land owned by Gogebic Taconite to the public, including recreational visitors like hunters, bird-watchers and other outdoor enthusiasts.
Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, and Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, co-sponsored the bill that was discussed at a public hearing by the Committee on Workforce Development, Forestry, Mining and Revenue Wednesday.
With protests resulting in felony arrests, Bob Seitz, spokesperson for Gogebic Taconite, said the protesters are creating many problems for workers in the proposed mining site.
“[Workers] run into some of these criminals on their own, outnumbered, without cell or radio service,” Seitz said. “It’s not just an issue for public debate.”
Seitz said the bill is a temporary solution to protect the public, Gogebic Taconite employees and protesters who get too close to the sites. Seitz added Gogebic Taconite hired private security to attend to the issues as well.
Seitz also said the protesters have taken bolts out of bridges used to carry thousands of gallons of water in trucks, and have destroyed erosion controls set by the DNR, in addition to other actions.
The site falls in the district of Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, who openly expressed his outrage at the preferential treatment given to Gogebic Taconite over other landowners who abide by the Managed Forest Law program.
“Under this bill, this mining company is allowed to avoid a number of restrictions in place for other property owners and close public access for up to 4,000 acres of managed forest land indefinitely,” Jauch said in a statement.
Jauch added in his statement 30,000 landowners who participate in the program, which provides tax relief to encourage timber production and recreation, abide by the rules, and do not receive such preferential treatment like Gogebic Taconite. Jauch said If Gogebic Taconite kept within the law, the company would owe $500,000.
However, Seitz said if and when the company is granted a permit to temporarily close the land, the company would still pay $500,000 to remove the land from the MFL program.
“We’ve never asked to get around that law,” Seitz said.
Due to the closing off of 4,000 acres, Seitz said the company plans to open up some of its additional land from its total 21,000 acres to offset the limited access for sportsmen.
Despite the company’s intent to open additional lands, Jauch said the bill is unfair, extreme and narrow.
“The fact of the matter is that punishing hundreds and thousands by restricting their access to thousands of acres of lands because of the obscene behavior by a group of social misfits is the equivalent of applying a nuclear option in response to a fist fight,” Jauch said.
Jauch added in his statement he, Senator Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, and Senator Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, have offered a bipartisan plan to create a public safety zone, the size of a football field, around the sampling and drilling locations to protect the public and workers.