Gogebic Taconite has hired the security firm Bulletproof Securities, to guard its property in northern Wisconsin, and while the company said it was necessary following a June 11 incident involving opponents of the mining project, the decision has garnered its share of opposition as well.
The Wisconsin State Journal reported that two members of the Wisconsin Legislature have asked Gogebic Taconite to remove masked security guards from the company’s site in the Penokee Hills forest. The guards were pictured carrying semi-automatic rifles and wearing camouflaged uniforms.
Sen. Bob Jauch, (D-Poplar) said he was especially concerned that the guards are carrying high-powered rifles in a scenic forest that draws scores of hikers and vacationers in addition to mine protesters.
“Do they have the authority to use those weapons? If so, on who?” Jauch said. “I don’t know if there’s a hunting season right now except maybe for rabbit, but you shoot a rabbit with that, all you’ll end up with is fur. What would you use those weapons for except to hurt somebody?”
Gogebic spokesman Bob Seitz dismissed calls for the removal of the guards and said Gogebic’s security operations were “multifaceted” and appropriate because of a June 11 incident that led to charges of robbery with use of force and three misdemeanors against Katie M. Kloth, 26, who is alleged to have wrestled a camera from a mine worker who was videotaping her during a protest at a test drilling site.
All other protests have been peaceful, Iron County Sheriff Tony Furyk said.
In March, a mining bill designed to allow Gogebic to open a 7.2-km (4.5-mile) openpit iron ore mine was passed, but that did not stop protests of the mine.
The company is now test drilling in eight spots a few miles southeast of Copper Falls State Park.
Security guards with sidearms appeared at drill sites after June 11.
The Bulletproof website says its personnel are equipped with “armor,” high-tech equipment and a variety of lethal and non-lethal weapons.
“Complacency is no longer an option when a breach can result in excessive amounts of lost time, money and additional liability for your firm,” the website states. “Our operators participate in rigorous tactical firearms training on a weekly basis. We train with pistols, carbines, submachine guns, belt-fed machine guns, and edged weapons.”
Jauch and Rep. Janet Bewley, (D-Ashland), wrote a letter to the mine company asking for the guards to be withdrawn before they hurt someone or damage northern Wisconsin’s image.
“We cannot begin to describe how upset the citizens of northern Wisconsin are at the sight of our forests being patrolled by masked soldiers carrying military style assault weapons like mercenaries in a time of war,” the letter states, calling deployment of the guards a “confrontational and incendiary step that will clearly do more to intimidate local citizens and increase local tensions than it will to make you, your staff, or your equipment any safer.”