DEFENDING THE WATER: Carl Sack on recent legislation to restrict public access to mining site

To: Senators Bob Jauch, Tim Cullen, and Dale Schultz
CC: Rep. Janet Bewley

Dear Senators:

Carl Sack

Carl Sack

I am writing to inquire as to why you feel the need at this juncture to propose new legislation restricting public access to mining work sites, and to urge you to cease and desist from these efforts.

Close observation of the activities of Gogebic Taconite by the public has yielded important information about how those activities are being conducted and whether or not they are complying with their permits and the law. Visitors have observed several violations of DNR rules, such as long ruts and standing water in the access road, slipshod erosion control, groundwater leakage from drill holes, and the spread of invasive species, as well as observing the presence of endangered and threatened species on the mine site.

Your bill would provide legal grounds for G-Tac to prohibit the public from observing their activities, potentially leading to environmental violations that go unreported. Most areas of the mine site are densely forested, and the 300-foot perimeter that you propose would prevent the bulk sampling sites that G-Tac wants to access from being visible to the public.

As you know, on June 11, a group of protesters approached workers at Gogebic Taconite’s proposed mine site and committed minor acts of vandalism and shouting of obscenities. This action was taken without consultation from groups who have been actively opposing G-Tac for more than two years, and was rightly condemned by those groups as illegal. No other violent acts have been committed by protesters, but were they to be, local law enforcement have already demonstrated that they are equipped to handle it professionally and appropriately, without more complicated regulations requiring enforcement. In fact, many other mine opponents have been up to the site and had friendly interactions with workers and security guards.

However, what is much more dangerous than some irresponsible youths is the paramilitary-style security forces armed with high-powered assault rifles that G-Tac has hired to intimidate observers away from visiting the site and seeing their operations. Amidst this atmosphere of intimidation, there have been minor acts of vandalism committed against those staying at LCO’s Harvest Camp, which had its flags stolen and an obscene and threatening sign posted next to it. One mine opponent was assaulted by G-Tac’s Bill Williams in June, but charges were never pressed by the local District Attorney despite a criminal complaint.

I much appreciate the letter sent to G-Tac by Senator Jauch and Representative Bewley condemning the use of these security forces. Now, in spite of Bulletproof Security and G-Tac clearly having broken the law, the Department of Safety and Professional Services has elected not to follow their own rules barring unlicensed outfits from the state for a year and instead grant BPS an immediate permit to resume their work for G-Tac.

Senators, if you are concerned about protecting someone, it should be protecting members of the public from G-Tac, not the other way around. The law was enough to put a stop to early acts of vandalism against the drillers, but it clearly was not enough to put a stop to G-Tac’s use of law-breaking paramilitaries, and I fear it will also not be enough to put a stop to their ultimate unholy atrocity against the Penokee Hills and the Bad River Watershed.

I know you are well aware of the destruction a 4 ½-mile long, 1,000-foot deep open pit iron mine would do the groundwater, waterways, wild rice beds, and air quality of northern Wisconsin. I do not know if you are aware that in their latest bulk sampling application, G-Tac disputes the opinion of professional scientists that there are dangerous asbestiform minerals in the iron deposit that could give their workers and surrounding residents mesothelioma when blasted to bits (and no, 300 feet is not an adequate perimeter to prevent bystanders from inhaling these needle-shaped dust particles).

The pretense used to justify the presence of the BPS guards—that G-Tac is concerned for the safety of their workers on the site—is clearly false. It’s just one more lie in a long string of fictions spun by the company, beginning with their statement in early 2011 that they had no interest in changing Wisconsin’s mining laws to facilitate their project. Their submissions to the DNR and work on the ground have shown a lack of experience or professionalism that is shocking to behold. They are a fly-by-night outfit that is looking to get a quick ripoff of our natural resources while the corruption of the legislative majority allows it, then stick Wisconsin taxpayers with the wrecked environment, wrecked economy, and long-term bill for the cleanup.

I urge you to please focus your lawmaking efforts on preventing the use of assault rifle-armed security guards at the site. Make destruction of the living, breathing Penokee Hills a felony. But please, don’t use your influence to hamper efforts of the public to stop this mine. Those efforts will continue regardless, but whether you will be regarded as helping or harming them remains to be judged by history.

Sincerely,
Carl Sack

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