Conservation groups ask Wisconsin DNR to open up more Gogebic Taconite mining land

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MADISON, Wisconsin — Conservationists have called for reopening the Ashland County part of a proposed northern Wisconsin iron mining site to hunting and fishing now that Gogebic Taconite says it may scale back its project to just Iron County.

Wisconsin barred the public from large swaths of the site to increase security for the company's employees and consultants after protesters appeared at a drilling site last summer and threatened workers and damaged equipment.

The law makes exceptions for the firearms deer season, and it allows trout anglers along streams. But Wisconsin Wildlife Federation executive director George Meyer said Friday that the land in Ashland County also should be open for small game, bear, grouse and bow hunting of deer. The group represents 195 hunting, fishing and trapping clubs.

A Department of Natural Resources manager overseeing the project told the Wisconsin State Journal for a story published Saturday (http://bit.ly/1obEdiu ) that the land will remain closed. Ann Coakley, director of waste and materials management, said that's because Gogebic still plans to have at least a few employees checking groundwater monitoring wells through the winter.

"The land is still closed because G-Tac is still using it," Coakley said. "They are still using the access roads."

Gogebic said Thursday that it may drop Ashland County from the project because of opposition from officials there. Ashland County composes about 400 acres of the 3,200 acres of the site. Gogebic spokesman Bob Seitz cited a 2013 county ordinance that would require the company to pay the county's costs for hiring scientists to evaluate the extensive environmental studies the company will submit.

"We've let them know that the ordinance makes it not viable to mine there," Seitz said.

The company also said Thursday that it has pulled 20 consultants off the site until spring.

That prompted the Wisconsin Wetlands Association on Friday to suggest restoring public access to the entire 3,200-acre site, including the land in Iron County.

Tracy Hames, executive director for the Wisconsin Wetlands Association, said the group's staffers, along with other citizens and interested scientists, had been walking the land before the closure to document wildlife and sensitive areas. Now they are restricted to areas not closed by the law.

"Science only works when a lot of people are looking at it," Hames said. "Our role is helping understand the area."

Gogebic has pushed back plans to submit its application to develop the mine until at least the fall of next year.


Information from: Wisconsin State Journal, http://www.madison.com/wsj

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