Wis. Bill to Close 3,500 Acres of MFL in Penokee Hills Goes to Senate

By KBJR News 1

September 5, 2013 Updated Sep 5, 2013 at 7:01 PM CDT

Madison, WI (NNCNOW.com)---A bill that will allow Gogebic Taconite to close 3,500 acres of managed forest land on, and around, a proposed mining site in Northwest Wisconsin, passed through one hurtle on Thursday.

Senate Bill 278 passed an executive session Senate Committee on Workforce Development, Forestry, Mining, and Revenue on Thursday, on a 3-2 vote.

The bill was introduced by Chair of the Committee, Senator Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst), less than a week ago.

Lawmakers held a public hearing on Wednesday and heard about six hours of testimony with about 18 people speaking in opposition to the bill and three in support.

The measure will allow Gogebic Taconite, which has proposed a taconite mining project in the Penokee hills, to close public access to 3,500 acres of managed forest land.

Managed forest is privately held land for which the Wisconsin DNR has been granted management rights.

The land is generally open to the public for hunting, fishing, hiking, skiing, and sight–seeing.

In exchange for enrolling in the managed forest land program, land owners get a tax break.

In order to close the land G–Tac will have to pay a withdrawal fee.

G–Tac officials say they hope to limit the amount of time they would keep the public off the land.

"Our goal would be during hunting season to have as much access as possible for folks during hunting. So we would only want to close the areas that we have to close to keep the place secure," said Bob Seitz, Dir. of External Affairs for the G-Tac.

Senator Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) was very outspoken against the bill saying it defeats the integrity of the managed forest land program.

The committee rejected an amendment made by Senators John Lehman (D-Racine) and Jauch which would have created a 300 foot safety zone around mining activities instead of closing 3,500 acres to public access.

Currently there is a link on the DNR website which outlines public access to managed forest land.

Seitz says the company will work with the DNR to keep the public informed on which parts of the land they may close to the public.

Posted to the web by Kati Anderson.