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Lawmaker proposes limited to public access to Gogebic-Taconite test-drilling site

Handout photograph of truck being loaded at Macarthur Coal's Coppabella mine
Handout photograph of truck being loaded at Macarthur Coal's Coppabella mine

MADISON (WSAU-Wheeler News)  It’s technically called the state budget – but a Republican lawmaker says it should include a ban on public access where Gogebic Taconite is exploring the feasibility of a new iron ore mine. The two-year spending-and-policy package will be up for discussion in the state Assembly today.

South Milwaukee Republican Mark Honadel says he’ll ask his majority G-O-P colleagues to add budget language that keeps protestors away like those which caused two-thousand dollars of vandalism at the mining site last week. The public currently has access to the land where Gogebic Taconite is drilling eight exploratory holes. It’s the first stage in the possible development of a one-and-a-half billion dollar mine along a four-mile stretch in Ashland and Iron counties.

A local mining education group hiked on the site Saturday, and about 50 people took part with no incidents. The head of that group, Frank Koehn, says it’s crucial for people to see the site, so they can learn what its impact will be. Honadel says people are kept away from logging sites on public land – so it only makes sense to keep people away from mining activities.

Honadel says it might be too late to get something in the budget, but he says the protests must be addressed as soon as possible. Senate G-O-P Leader Scott Fitzgerald says his house is also in the early stages of its own plan to limit access.

Last week, officials said people who hid their faces slashed tires, damaged equipment, destroyed an employee’s camera, and took her cell-phone. Gogebic Taconite’s Bob Seitz called it “eco-terrorism.”

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