State Senate Passes Bill That Would Restrict Access to Mine

Nov 6, 2013

Credit bcdixit

Wisconsin may prevent the public from getting close to a proposed mine in northern Wisconsin.

The Senate voted Tuesday to restrict access to hundreds of acres south of Lake Superior. That’s where the company Gogebic Taconite is taking rock samples.

The original plan would have barred people from stepping on all 3,200 acres around the mine-testing site. The proposal the Senate approved would restrict access within 600 feet of mining equipment and roads.

“That creates the buffer, I think that creates some security for the individuals doing the activity there.”

That’s Republican Sen. Rob Cowles of Green Bay – he authored the change. He and his 17 GOP colleagues voted in favor of the smaller boundaries.

All 15 Democrats voted against the bill. Democratic Sen. Kathleen Vinehout objects to a provision that allows the Dept. of Natural Resources to close additional land – if the agency deems it necessary to protect the public and mine workers.

Vinehout supported an amendment that would have required the DNR to hold a public hearing before further restricting access.

“This amendment is a very simple amendment that stands for democracy and it stands for the opportunity for people who are being affected by something to have a voice in it,” Vinehout says.

Before Republicans defeated the amendment, Democratic Sen. Bob Jauch questioned the criteria the DNR might use in determining whether to close off more land.

“The Legislature enables the DNR to close land when they believe the safety of workers or the public is at risk. What does that mean? What kind of a standard is the department going to use, a derogatory statement on Facebook?” Jauch asks.

Jauch says he fears this is the tip of the iceberg, and eventually the mining company, Gogebic Taconite, will succeed in restricting the entire area.

Republican Sen. Dale Schultz says he believes the DNR will exercise discretion. In the past, he’s been the lone Republican to side with Democrats on most issues related to the proposed mine.

“It’s impossible to write rules for every particular situation that could come up, but if we’re going to move forward at some point in this world of ours, we’ve got to get beyond just choosing up sides, we have to take a leap of faith with one another,” Schultz says.

The bill now heads to the Assembly. Speaker Robin Vos has indicated the chamber could take up the measure within the next two weeks.