DNR denies Bad River appeal

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Posted: Wednesday, June 19, 2013 

By MIKE SIMONSON Wisconsin Public Radio

The Department of Natural Resources has denied an appeal from the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa to stop exploratory drilling by Gogebic Taconite.

That decision was sent to Bad River on Friday.

Bad River contended that the impact of drilling was not fully considered during the 10 days, which the DNR had to decide on whether or not to allow GTAC to drill. DNR Waste Management Director Ann Coakley said the drilling will continue.

“We didn’t find anything in their letter that would cause us to halt the drilling,” Coakley said. “We still believe that Gogebic Taconite has met the requirements of the law for exploration. We did issue them a license and we’re not planning to revoke their license unless they don’t follow their drilling plan.”

Bad River Tribal Chairman Mike Wiggins said the DNR looked at the small picture. He said the impact of drilling is much larger.

“And to be honest, to experience the absolute absurdity and insanity of watching a drilling rig go down into the Earth when everybody there understands that everything we look at that drilling site, everything we experience, all the trees, every drop of water that may be around, is all slated for explosion,” Wiggins said.

GTAC is drilling its first borehole in Iron County now. It’s expected to be finished in a few days. After that, at least another seven holes will be drilled in Iron and Ashland counties.

Wiggins doesn’t expect to take legal action but said it is an option.

Meanwhile, charges against two people for alleged theft and damage to property at the GTAC exploratory drilling site are expected soon in Iron County Circuit Court. Those charges could go beyond theft and misdemeanor complaints and include assault and battery.

Iron County District Attorney Marty Lipske said there are lots of things to consider before he makes a decision about charging two people in the June 11 morning raid of the drill site in the Penokees. He said there won’t be a terrorism charge, but the use of profanity and any contact or threatening gestures may increase charges to assault.

Iron County Sheriff Tony Furyk said about $2,000 in damage was caused to a drill rig, and a couple of items were taken from a GTAC geologist. Furyk said they’ve identified the people who will be charged — one man and one woman.

“I am looking at right now one count of theft and one count of damage to property on the female that has been identified as taking that property,” Furyk said.

About a dozen people came out of the woods June 11 and held a 10- to 15-minute action, and then fled back into the woods, avoiding capture by deputies while hiding their faces.

“I have seen some of the things that were recorded that day up there and there were some type of covering over the faces,” Furyk said.

GTAC said the damage did not delay its drilling.

A three-mile walk by more than 60 people up to the drill site sponsored by the Penokee Hills Education Project and billed as an educational event went off without incident Saturday.