Deal runs roughshod over taxpayersThe recent announcement by Sens. Thomas Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, and Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, of an exclusive sweetheart deal to allow Gogebic Taconite to restrict public access and recreational use of 4,000 acres of managed forestland in northern Wisconsin is an assault on Wisconsin’s outdoor traditions and values.
By: Sen. Bob Jauch, Superior Telegram
The recent announcement by Sens. Thomas Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, and Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, of an exclusive sweetheart deal to allow Gogebic Taconite to restrict public access and recreational use of 4,000 acres of managed forestland in northern Wisconsin is an assault on Wisconsin’s outdoor traditions and values.
The managed forest law is a generous tax relief program created in 1985 to encourage timber production and provide more recreation space for outdoor enthusiasts.
Under the program, property owners receive a tax break if they agree to maintain a DNR approved forest management plan and keep the property open to the public. Under the bill, this mining company is allowed to avoid a number of restrictions in place for other property owners and close public access for up to 4,000 acres of managed forestland indefinitely.
There are about 30,000 Wisconsin landowners who participate in the program and play by the rules. Playing by the rules would mean the company would have to pay about $500,000. Sadly, this company is seeking privileged status and can violate their contract because somehow they are more important than any Wisconsin citizen.
Maybe the owner can get away with this kind of dominance in West Virginia but Wisconsin should reject this bad idea.
Sen. Tiffany called the closure of 4,000 acres “modest,” demonstrating his complete lack of connection with reality. Forty acres might be modest but 4,000 acres by any rationale and reasonable standard is excessive and unjustified.
My colleagues argue that closing 4,000 acres of land is necessary to protect the workers who are working on bulk sampling and other drilling sites that may cover up to 50 acres. The closure is excessive and unnecessary because there is a more responsible alternative.
Weeks ago, Sens. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, and I offered a bipartisan common sense plan that would create a defensible public safety zone around bulk sampling and drilling locations to protect workers and the public. It would require football field separation from the five bulk sampling sites and a 50-foot safety zone away from a drill site. If explosives would be used a separate safety zone could be determined by the permitting agencies. Since offering this plan our offices have maintained bipartisan conversations with agency personnel and other colleagues to find common ground.
Sen. Tiffany has stated the mining company has worked all summer to “find a solution.”
He did find a solution — good for the mining company, but one that shortchanges taxpayers and weakens the integrity of the forestland program. Furthermore, by waiting until late Friday afternoon of Labor Day weekend to release the bill and schedule a hearing a few days later, he is limiting the public’s ability to influence the bill.
To add insult to injury, Sen. Tiffany scheduled a committee vote less than 24 hours after the hearing. The fact that the Senate doesn’t meet until two weeks later leaves a defensible observation the hearing is a hoax.
It is time for this Legislature to quit letting this West Virginia coal company run roughshod over Wisconsin public policy.
This company is no better, nor is it more important, than the other 30,000 property owners who respect and follow the law.
The next two weeks will really determine whether the Legislature will respect the wishes and will of Wisconsin citizens or cave to a corporate interest that seems to think that it is better than any other citizen in Wisconsin.
Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, represents the 25th Senate District of Wisconsin.