Wisconsin lawmakers ask Gogebic Taconite to remove armed guards
Two Wisconsin lawmakers have asked the president of Gogebic Taconite to remove armed security guards from the company's proposed mining site in Ashland and Iron counties.
Bob Seitz, Gogebic Taconite spokesman, told the News Tribune that the company began employing private security guards after teams of mining opponents "dressed in black and wearing masks violently attacked our drill site" in June.
State Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, and Rep. Janet Bewley, D-Ashland, on Monday sent a letter to Gogebic Taconite President Bill Williams, calling on him to immediately remove "the heavily armed masked commando security unit recently hired to protect the company's property in the Penokee Hills."
Several photographs of armed guards dressed in military-style camouflage and combat gear, apparently working for the Arizona-based Bulletproof Securities Force, have appeared on anti-mining blogs in recent days. In one photo, one of the guards, armed with an assault-style rifle, appears to be masked.
The lawmakers called the photos "horrifying" and the action by the company to hire the high-security Arizona firm "appalling."
"These kinds of security forces are common in Third World countries but they don't belong in northern Wisconsin," Jauch and Bewley said in a press
The company is now conducting test drills, working toward construction of Wisconsin's first modern taconite mining operations, including an open-pit iron ore mine and processing plant.
The project was pushed by Wisconsin Republicans as a way to create jobs in the region but is opposed by several Ojibwe and environmental groups and activists who say the project will damage the environment. The company reported several incidents last month with drilling crews confronting mining opponents at the drilling sites. One woman was charged after an altercation over a camera.
Seitz said opponents erected roadblocks to slow the response of local law enforcement officials, spurring the company to hire round-the-clock security.
"Sen. Jauch is entitled to his opinion. But I would have hoped he would be more interested in the safety of Wisconsin workers" on the company's mine sites, Seitz said.
He would not confirm or deny that Bulletproof is the company providing the security guards. He said Gogebic had no intention of removing the guards or hiring a more moderate force to do the job.
"We have to protect our workers," Seitz said.
Although the security guards are at Iron County drill sites, one drill hole was in Ashland County. Ashland County Sheriff Mick Brennan told Wisconsin Public Radio he doesn't see the need for the assault-style rifles.
"Yeah, it always concerns law enforcement any time we have someone who is carrying a firearm, open carry or not," Brennan said. "My concern if it was in Ashland County is the need for it and what the circumstances that maybe prompted them to change their security forces that they have."
Jauch and Bewley acknowledged the company's right to protect its property, but they called the decision to hire the security firm an effort to intimidate citizens. "No one in their right mind can justify the excessive force. These individuals are not deputized; they can't arrest anyone. What they can do is unjustifiably scare people, and that appears to be your intention."
Jauch and Bewley added that the company could improve its relationship with local residents by reversing its decision.