Bill restricting access to Wisconsin mine site left off agenda

September 17, 2013

A bill that would restrict public access to Gogebic Taconite’s proposed mine site in northern Wisconsin was left off the state Senate’s agenda, leaving the measure’s future in doubt.

The LaCrosse Tribune reported that proposal authored by Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) was missing from the Sept. 17 floor session agenda.
The bill appeared to be on the fast track to passage less than two weeks ago after the Senate mining committee held a public hearing and approved the bill in two days. Tiffany said during the meetings that the measure was desperately needed to protect mine workers and environmental regulators from bands of protesters roaming the forest around the site.

A band of protesters emerged from the woods around the site in June and started cursing at mine workers. One protester was charged with stealing a geologist’s camera. The group has vowed to return to the site.

Gogebic Taconite wants to dig a 4.5-mile long iron mine in the Penokee Hills just south of Lake Superior. The mine has been a flashpoint of controversy for more than a year. The company insists the project will create thousands of jobs; opponents counter the mine will ruin the area’s pristine wilderness and pollute the region’s water.

About 3,500 acres around the site are part of the state’s managed forest program, which grants landowners reduced fees in lieu of property taxes if they keep the land open for recreation. Tiffany’s bill would automatically close that land to the public until the state Department of Natural Resources decides whether to grant Gogebic Taconite a final mining permit.

The company would have to pay the state for closing the land but could reach agreements with the DNR to open up sections before the final permit decision comes down.
 

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