Mining company tells tribe to keep wetlands expert away from site 08.23.13

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Gogebic Taconite, the company seeking to construct a massive iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin, is threatening an Indian tribe with legal action after the company learned the tribe had hired a wetlands expert to enter the property without permission.

A lawyer for Gogebic wrote Mike Wiggins Jr., chairman of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, on Thursday telling Wiggins that it would be unlawful for the tribe to send the expert on the mine property.

Gogebic wants to construct a $1.5 billion iron ore mine in Ashland and Iron counties. The company has an option on the mineral rights of the land, which is regulated under the state's managed forest law. In exchange for sharply lower property taxes, the public is allowed access to the land for activities such as hiking and hunting.

But those activities do not include allowing the public to enter the land to identify areas where wetlands exist.

The presence of wetlands on the site has emerged as a major issue in the debate of development of the mine. Legislators rewrote state mining laws this year that will make it easier for mining activities to take place in wetlands — generally such work is prohibited in such areas.

"...Entry on GTAC property for any other purpose (beside those permitted by law) will be deemed trespassing for which GTAC will prosecute under both criminal and civil law," wrote attorney Scott W. Clark of Ashland.

Gogebic spokesman Bob Seitz said that the company has brought members of the tribe to the site to show them where workers were drilling to take rock samples. The company has offered to do the same when it begins taking large bulk samples of rock.

Cyrus Hester, an environmental specialist with tribe, said the letter from the company was "heavy-handed for wetlands inventory."

The wetlands expert hired by the tribe has not yet gone on the land and had contacted the company's wetlands expert so she could use the same process as the company, Hester said.

"We were not going up there to do covert delineation (of wetlands)," Hester said.

One reason for the tribe's interest is that the wetlands inventories performed by the company, which isavailable on the Department of Natural Resources website, is difficult to read, Hester said.