Wis. lawmakers may close recreational forest near mine - KMSP-TV

Wis. lawmakers may close recreational forest near mine

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MADISON, Wis. (KMSP) -

On Wednesday, a public hearing will be held on a bill that seeks to close up to 4,000 acres of forest to the public near an iron mine site just south of Lake Superior in Wisconsin.

Gogebic Taconite wants to dig a 4.5-mile mine in the Penokee Hills, but the proposal has already bought protests and public outcry -- especially after the company hired armed security guards after a confrontation with protestors.

The bill, Republican-authored bill submitted by Tom Tiffany would close the surrounding area to recreational use. Currently, it is part of a managed forest program that is available for hiking, hunting, fishing, skiing and sightseeing.

Tiffany told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he plans to move the bill, which would only affect the Gogebic Taconite site, through the Senate quickly. The public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday and a committee vote will take place on Thursday.

Earlier in August, dozens of people spoke out against the plan out of concerns of environmental damage that could include pollution in Bad River and the Lake Superior watershed. Wisconsin Public Radio also reported citizens are concerned asbestos-like fibers may be found in the 4,000 tons of rock the company hopes to remove for testing via excavation equipment or explosives.

A total of 76 people testified on Aug. 15 at the hearing held in Hurley, Wis. Representatives from mining and business groups were notably absent.

A representative of the company did comment on the new legislation; however, saying the company supports closing off forest because it would protect the public from injury from explosives while protecting employees from confrontations.

The latter is the prime intention of the bill, according to lawmakers. Wisconsin Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) bluntly told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the bill was "reluctantly" proposed "because of the inability of certain extremists to restrict their activities on the property for appropriate uses."

Democratic Sen. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) dismissed that idea, saying the June 11 incident captured on video is the only one on record. He told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "You don't shut off an entire forest because one idiot got in the way."

Jauch also questioned the timeline of the public hearing, accusing Tiffany of failing to give the public in his district much time to respond to the proposed bill.

The public comment period over the bulk sampling activity ends Sept. 3, but the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources extended the deadline to submit comments on the potential mining project until Sept. 17.

Any member of the public may submit comments via email or through regular mail to the following addresses:

Larry Lynch, DNR
101 S. Webster St.
Madison, WI 53707

E-mail: dnrwamining-gogebictaconite@wisconsin.gov

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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