UPDATE: Bill to restrict mine site access gets public hearing - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

UPDATE: Bill to restrict mine site access gets contentious public hearing

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Some Republican lawmakers hope to restrict access to the proposed Gogebic Taconite iron mine site in northern Wisconsin.    

But that land is used for all types of recreation and sportsmen don't want to lose it.

Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) says the legislation was written in direct response to a raid on the mining site by masked protesters in June.  Sen. Tiffany played a well-publicized video of that incident for the Senate Mining Committee on Wednesday.

"I hope you understand how despicable that act was," Sen. Tiffany told the committee members.

It was apparently despicable enough to lead Sen. Tiffany to write SB 278.

"It temporarily closes the land being tested for ferrous mining," said Sen. Tiffany. 

But the bill also says the land will stay closed unless Gogebic Taconite and the DNR both agree to reopen it.

"There are very few hunters in Iron and Ashland counties that even know this bill is introduced and that they will lose their hunting and fishing spots in maybe a month or two," testified George Meyer, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation.

The 3,500 acres in question is on land that falls under Wisconsin's Managed Forest Law, which is why its open to recreation.  In the fall, that recreation primarily involves hunting bear, grouse, and in a few months, deer.
    
"I can tell you that just from the reaction I got over the weekend from hunters, this may upset a bunch of hunters which would in fact cause more opposition to the mine," said Meyer.

But Sen. Tiffany said safety comes first.

"They've proven that they'll do it once," said Tiffany, referring to the masked protesters.  "And I'll take them at their word that they may be back."

The bill was first introduced last Friday and scheduled for a public hearing just five days later.  Many Democratic legislators testified that they believe it was done that way to prevent people who live near the mine site from attending the public hearing.

The legislature is not expected to reconvene until late September or October, but Senator Tiffany hopes this bill will be among the first to go through when it does.

The Senate Mining Committee is expected to vote on SB 278 on Thursday morning.

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) testified for over an hour on Wednesday about his bill that would result in closing 3,500 acres of the Gogebic Taconite mine site to public recreation.

The mine site is located on land that falls under the state's Managed Forest Law, making it open to recreational activities such as hunting, fishing and hiking.

But Sen. Tiffany says a June raid by masked protesters at the site created a need to close the land to prevent future incidents and protect workers.  Senate Bill 278 would specifically allow FML lands designated for mining to be closed at the order of the mining company.  The land could be only reopened if both Gogebic Taconite and the DNR agree to it. 

Democratic legislators and sportsmen testified Wednesday that the land should be left open, especially for the upcoming deer hunting season.

Sen. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) and Rep. Janet Bewley (D-Ashland) also expressed concerns that Sen. Tiffany only introduced the bill last Friday, giving people very little time to make it to today's public hearing.

Capitol Bureau Chief Greg Neumann will have a full report on this story on 27 News at 6.

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