Jauch, fellow senators introduce bill creating mining ‘safety zones’MADISON – State Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, and two other senators will introduce a bill they said Wednesday attempts to balance mine worker safety and access to managed forest lands being mined.
By: By Kevin Murphy/For the Telegram, Superior Telegram
MADISON – State Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, and two other senators will introduce a bill they said Wednesday attempts to balance mine worker safety and access to managed forest lands being mined.
The bill would create “safety zones” which restricts hunter, hiker and angler access to managed forest land within 50 feet from a drilling site and 300 feet from a bulk sampling site. The distances are similar to those used in current logging regulations.
Jauch said the bill was prompted by proposed iron ore mine operator, Gogebic Taconite’s indication that they want to close thousands of acres of managed forest land in order to mine it.
“The tourism industry in northern Wisconsin relies heavily on our state’s sporting heritage. Instead of denying access to the entire area, we believe this proposal strikes a balance that will allow for continued public access while ensuring both worker and public safety,” according to a statement released by State Sens. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center and Jauch.
When explosives are used at the mining site, the proposal allows the state or federal permitting agency to set the appropriate distance, Jauch said.
The acreage Gogebic Taconite intends to mine is managed forest land. Managed forest land is privately owned but given a tax break when the public is allowed to hunt, fish, hike and camp on it.
“The public has as much right of access to managed forest land as the logger or miner,” Jauch said.
The proposal was advanced after the senators toured the proposed mining site in southern Ashland and Iron counties last weekend, consulted with city and county officials and an employee of Gogebic Taconite.
Conflicts have arisen between mine protesters and drillers including some equipment being damaged and a camera taken during a confrontation last month.
The Lac Courtes Oreilles Chippewa have established a “Harvest Camp” of 25-30 wigwams a mile or more from the mine site and Bad River Tribal Chairman
Mike Wiggins has told other reporters a second camp will be established soon under rights tribes have on lands they ceded to the state in the 19th century.
Jauch said the proposal would not affect Harvest Camps located outside the proscribed distances in the proposal.
The proposal is being drafted in preparation for introduction this fall.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said Fitzgerald hadn’t seen the proposal Wednesday but the issue would be addressed by legislation this fall.
“This is an issue that the Legislature needs to discuss, but more time is needed to ensure that the correct balance is struck between restricting access around a mining operation and protecting safety of tourists and mine workers from violent protesters. WE hope to have a proposal settled on this by this fall so we can move it through the Senate,” said the spokesman, Dan Romportl, in a prepared statement.
Jauch said he hopes for more bipartisan support for his proposal saying it doesn’t have a political motive.
“It’s a commonsense plan that allows hunters to enjoy the woods this fall and citizens to enjoy the beauty of that resource when mining activities aren’t present,” he said.
GTAC spokesman Bob Seitz said Jauch had only limited contact with the company regarding the proposal but was pleased protection of “workers, protesters and the public” was being considered.
“Their acknowledgement that a safety zone is needed between sometimes violent protesters and workers trying to do their job is a good first step to creating a safe worksite. We hope the senators give us an opportunity to discuss these and other challenges to providing a safe worksite as they develop this bill,” Seitz said in a prepared statement.