July 29, 2014

Mining site safety zone ‘makes sense’

State senators are introducing legislation to address workplace safety at a proposed mining site in northern Wisconsin.

Poplar Democrat Bob Jauch says implementing a safety zone based on existing legislation for commercial logging operations is just common sense. The measure would also ensure continued public access. “Because there is going to be the possibility of bulk sampling and the use of explosives, we think it’s very important that the statutes be modified to create safety zones for that activity in order to protect workers and the public.”

This proposal stems from recent conflicts between security guards at the site up north and anti-mining advocates who want G-tac to leave the state. Blogs have shown photos of security guards on the site wearing military-style camouflage carrying assault rifles.

Under the measure, safety zones would be created for areas within 50 feet of a drilling operation and 300 feet from areas where bulk sampling is occurring.

Gogebic Taconite’s proposed mining site is located on managed forest land (MFL), which assures public access to private property for recreational activities such as hiking, camping and hunting in exchange for lower property taxes to the landowner. “It’s very important to know that Gogebic said it was considering closing thousands of acres of the MFL in January, which means that no one would be able to hunt there, or fish or hike there — even though there might not be any mining activity for years.”

Jauch says this legislation is a good compromise. Rather than denying access altogether, he says, access will be limited to a safe distance from dangerous areas.

The senators met with local officials, consulted with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and other agencies, and had discussions with an employee of Gogebic Taconite. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) and Tim Cullen (D-Janesville) are also pushing the legislation.

AUDIO: Jackie Johnson report 1:37