August 2013 Newsletter
August 10, 2013
Dear WRPC Member,
Armed guards protecting extractive resource operations is not an uncommon sight in Central and South American countries where there is growing community resistance to ecologically destructive mining and oil projects. Until quite recently, the deployment of private security companies was unheard of in the north woods of Wisconsin where Gogebic Taconite (GTac) has proposed a mountain top removal operation that will create the largest open pit iron mine in the world.
Welcome to Wisconsin’s Mining Colony
Imagine the surprise when local activist Rob Ganson first encountered masked security guards with automatic rifles and camouflage uniforms during a hike to view the mining site. The guards were employees of Bulletproof Security, an Arizona-based private security firm that uses former military and law enforcement personnel.
When Rob posted photos of the guards online, local citizens were outraged. State Senator Bob Jauch and Representative Janet Bewley, representing the proposed mining area, issued an open letter to Bill Williams, the president of GTac, demanding the immediate withdrawal of “the heavily armed masked commando security forces” defending the company’s property in the Penokee Hills.
GTac spokesman Bob Seitz said GTac hired the security firm in response to the June 11 raid on the company’s drilling site. Senator Jauch said the show of force was unnecessary since there had not been any trouble in the Penokee Hills since the June 11 protest. “There was no threat, there was no danger and, all of a sudden, GI Joe shows up in the north woods.”
GTac at first refused to remove the guards. Then they learned that Bulletproof Security was not licensed to operate in Wisconsin and withdrew the guards on July 10, but promised to return the guards at a later date. Despite the fact that under state law it is a felony violation to provide security without a license, the Wisconsin Department of Safety has given Bulletproof Security a license to operate in Wisconsin.
Iron County Forestry Committee Declares Harvest Camp Illegal
While most Wisconsin citizens were concerned about armed guards in the north woods, GTac supporters intensified their criticism of the Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO) harvest camp as Iron County forester Gary Glonek posted racist and misleading cartoons on Facebook attempting to portray the Ojibwe as “eco-terrorists.” Glonek persuaded the Iron County Forestry Committee to recommend that the Iron County Board file criminal and civil charges against the organizers of the camp. Iron County District Attorney Marty Lipske said he was not aware of any criminal activity at the camp.
Joe Vairus, forestry administrator for the county, denied that this action had anything to do with the proposed mine next to the camp. Yet two months earlier, in May 2013, this same committee voted unanimously to support a one-year permit for the harvest camp. The Ojibwe tribes have the right to establish harvest camps anywhere in the territory that was ceded to the United States in the treaties of 1837 and 1842. Bad River tribal chairman Mike Wiggins said a second camp will be established soon in the ceded territory.
Iron County Board Postpones Any Action Against the Harvest Camp
Over 100 supporters of the harvest camp attended the July 30 meeting of the Iron County Board where they considered the recommendation of the forestry committee to evict the Ojibwe from their camp. After public testimony about the peaceful nature of the camp and Ojibwe treaty rights, the board voted unanimously to table the motion to file criminal and civil charges against camp organizers and sent the issue back to the forestry committee so that a permit allowing the camp could be obtained through negotiations with the tribe.
DNR schedules public informational hearing on GTac bulk sampling activity and notice to mine
A public hearing has been scheduled for August 15, 2013 on GTac’s proposed bulk sampling activity and the preapplication notice to mine in the Penokee Hills. The hearing will be from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm at Hurley High School, 5503 W. Range View Drive, Hurley. At this public information hearing individuals can provide oral or written comments as well as learn about the proposed bulk sampling activity and the preapplication description of the potential mine project.
GTac has applied for a permit to sample about 4,000 tons of rock to assess the amount of ore. But the DNR returned the company’s bulk sampling permit in July for lack of adequate assessment of numerous environmental risks, including potential acid rock drainage and the release of asbestos dust created by explosions.
The company denies that asbestiform minerals such as grunerite (amosite) are present in the Gogebic Range near Mellen. However, the Wisconsin Geological Survey says “grunerite is a widespread contact metamorphic mineral in the Ironwood Iron formation around mafic intrusions” and lists several outcrops within the proposed mine site. The National Academy of Sciences lists grunerite asbestos as a known human carcinogen that “merits special attention” because of its toxicity. Many miners in Gogebic’s deep shaft mines developed silicosis and other respiratory diseases due to overexposure to rock dust containing grunerite asbestos.
First GTac denied the presence of sulfide minerals in the iron formation and throughout the overburden rock that would have to be removed to get at the iron deposit. Dr. Marcia Bjornerud’s report for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission proved this to be a false claim. Now GTac is lying about the presence of asbestos in the rock.
The public needs to tell the DNR to deny GTac’s bulk sampling permit loud and clear on August 15 in Hurley. Militarization of the mine site is not a solution. It is the problem.
Al Gedicks, Executive Secretary