Paramilitary-style guards 'are going to stay,' mining company vows 07.10.13

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Mining company Gogebic Taconite has hired armed, paramilitary-style guards to patrol the site where it wants to build an open-pit iron mine in the Penokees of northern Wisconsin.

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Despite harsh criticism from two northern legislators and an outcry from anti-mining activists, a spokesman for Gogebic Taconite said Tuesday that armed, paramilitary-style guards will continue to patrol the site deep in the Penokee Range where the company wants to build a large open pit iron mine.

Bob Seitz, a Madison lobbyist representing Gogebic, said the guards are necessary because of a confrontation between 15 to 20 protesters and an unknown number of mine workers a month ago.

"The guards are going to stay," Seitz said. "We have a responsibility to provide a safe workplace."

But others say they fear Gogebic Taconite's hiring of the guards only serves to escalate the already heightened tension over the company's plan to build a 4 ½-mile-long open pit iron mine in northwestern Wisconsin.

And critics of the company say the guards, especially those wearing tactical gear and armed with semi-automatic weapons, are unnecessary because protesters' activities have been almost entirely peaceful.

Since the dustup between protesters and mine workers on June 11, the ongoing protest against the mine — centered largely in an encampment of Chippewa tribal members in the woods not far from the mine site — has been peaceful, according to Iron County Sheriff Tony Furyk.

Furyk said that in the incident, one woman was charged with robbery with the use of force, a felony, after she forcibly took a camera away from a Gogebic employee. Organizers of the Chippewa educational encampment — which is modeled on the harvest camps used by tribal members in the past to fish, gather food and harvest maple syrup — say those protesters acted without their knowledge and added that they have since established strict rules to prevent such individuals from using the camp.

Mel Gasper, a Lac Court Oreilles tribal member who oversees the camp, said he now interviews and screens anyone who wishes to stay at the camp. He said the camp is being used not only to monitor mining company activities but also to educate people about the wild landscape of the Penokees.

Furyk said there have been no problems with the harvest camp or with any protesters since the June confrontation. "I've talked to the permit holders at the camp and they've been very cooperative," he said.

But emotions continue to run high. On the night of July 4, Furyk said, tribal flags were stolen from the entrance to the harvest camp. And Seitz said anti-mine activists continue to walk from the harvest camp to the mine site.

"They come down in the middle of the night," Seitz said. "It's an ongoing security risk." He added that the company may seek to restrict access to the area in the future.

State Rep. Janet Bewley, D-Ashland, said the company is overreacting.

"There is no reason for them to Rambo up the way they have because things are peaceful," Bewley said. "After a month of peace, why bring in a paramilitary group? We are not lawless up here. We are not Deadwood where there is no law and you need the Pinkertons."

Bewley joined state Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, in writing a letter this week asking the company to remove the guards, who are from an Arizona private security outfit called Bulletproof.

"The images are horrifying," wrote Bewley and Jauch, "and the action by the company to hire this high security Arizona firm is appalling. These kinds of security forces are common in Third World countries but they don't belong in Northern Wisconsin.

"We cannot begin to describe how upset the citizens of Northern Wisconsin are at the sight of our forests being patrolled by masked soldiers carrying military style assault weapons like mercenaries in a time of war. While no one can argue that your company does not have the right to protect your private property, these armed guards serve no purpose other than to intimidate local citizens and increase local tensions."

The guards were first photographed by Rob Ganson, a mine opponent who regularly visits the harvest camp and takes frequent walks to the mine site to monitor activity. He was shocked to see the armed guards in tactical gear with face masks. Ganson, who is not a tribal member, said he has been spending time at the harvest camp to learn more about the tribal view on the mine and has in the past brought his wife along. Now, with the presence of powerful weapons in the woods, he is reluctant to bring her along anymore.

"It has definitely ramped up the tension," Ganson said. "The last thing we need is a Kent State up here in the hills."

George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, has been heavily involved in mining issues for years. He worked as a lawyer for and served as secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources during the controversial and eventually failed efforts of Exxon Minerals to build a mine near Crandon. That project died largely due to tribal opposition.

Meyer, who has recently given presentations in Iron County on the need for local mining impact regulations and zoning, said the company's heavy-handed approach, including not only hiring the paramilitary guards but also resisting local zoning laws, could be causing some — including previous supporters — to question the entire mining project.

"This is the kind of thing that backfires," Meyer said of the guards. "They're (Gogebic Taconite) losing the goodwill of the public."

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HomeAboutContactPeople Index1600s1700-17591759-18201820s1830s1840s1850sPost 1860Chief Buffalo Picture SearchLt. Allen 1832 Brule ExpeditionSandy Lake Tragedy and Ojibwe RemovalReisen in NordamerikaWheeler Papers1855 Annuity PaymentJoseph Austrian MemoirPenokee MountainsPenokee Survey Incidents: Number IFebruary 8, 2015The Ashland Weekly Press is now the Ashland Daily Press.November 10, 1877
For the Ashland Press
The Survey of the Penoka Iron Range and Incidents Connected With Its Early History.Samuel S. Fifield served on the Wisconsin State Assembly (1874-6) and the State Senate (1876-81); and was the 14th Lieutenant Governor (1882-5).James Smith Buck (1812-92) “For 19 years, Buck was a building contractor, erecting many of the city’s earliest structures. He is best known for his writings on early Milwaukee history. From 1876 to 1886, he published a four-volume History of Milwaukee, filled with pioneer biographies and reminiscences.” (Forest Home Cemetery)Friend Fifield:- Being one of the patrons and readers of your valuable paper, and having within the past year noticed several very interesting and well written articles entitled “Early Recollections of Ashland” in its columns, and more particularly one from a Milwaukee correspondent, in a recent number, in which my name, with others, was mentioned as having done some pioneer work in connection with your young city, I thought that a few lines in the way of a “Reminiscence” from me as to how and by whom the Penoka Range was first surveyed and located, might be interesting to some of your readers,- if you think so, please give this a place in your paper and oblige.
Truly Yours,
J.S. Buck.
Edwin Palmer was a master carpenter at Palmer & Bingham in Milwaukee.Horatio Hill and James F. Hill were brothers from Maine and commission merchants in Milwaukee.Dr. James P. Greves “investigated animal magnetism” and “was a bad egg“.John Lockwood later became a Postmaster in Milwaukee.John L. Harris may have been a builder or realtor in Milwaukee.John Sidebotham was an Englishman and cabinet maker in Milwaukee.Franklin J. Ripley was an investor from Massachusetts.No record found for William Herbert.  Was he the employee found murdered in the Penokees and replaced by Lysander “Gray Devil” Cutler?I first visited Lake Superior in the month of May, 1857, in the interest of the Wisconsin and Lake Superior Mining and Smelting Co., a charter for the organization of which had been procured the previous winter.– This company was composed of the following gentlemen: Edwin PalmerGen. L
ysander CutlerHoratio HillJas. F. HillDr. E.P. GrevesJohn LockwoodJohn L. HarrisJohn Sidebotham, Franklin J. Ripley and myself. Elwin Palmer, President, J. F. Hill, Secretary – with a capital of (I think) $60,000. Our first agent was Mr. Milliam Herbert, with headquarters at Ironton, where some five thousand dollars of the company’s money was invested in the erection of a block-house and a couple of cribs intended as a nucleus for a pier – and in other ways – all of which was subsequently abandoned and lost – the place having no natural advantages, or unnatural either, for that matter.– But so it is ever with the first and often with the second installments that such greenies as we were, invest in a new country; for so little did we know of the way work was done in that country that we actually supposed the whole thing would be completed in three monthsand the lands in our possession. But what we lacked in wisdom, we made up in pluck — neither did we “lay down the shubble and de hoe,” until the goal was reached and the Penoka Iron Range secured – costing us over two years time and $25,000 in money.The company not being satisfied with Mr. Herbert as agent, he was removed and Gen. Cutler appointed in his place, who quickly selected Ashland as headquarters, to which place all the personal property, consisting of merchandise principally, was removed during the summer by myself upon Gen. C.’s order – and Ironton abandoned to its fate.“I remember very distinctly that the first stake was driven in the town of Bayfield by Major McABoy who was employed by the Bayfield Townsite Company to make a survey and plat same, (the original plat being recorded at our county seat.) This Bayfield Townsite Company was organized with Hon. Henry M. Rice of St. Paul at the head and some very enterprising men from Washington D.C. Major McABoy arrived here about the first of March [1856] and made his headquarters with Julius Austrian of LaPointe. Julius Austrian in those days being the Governor General of all that part of the country west of Ontonagon to Superior; Ashland and Duluth being too small to count.  The major spent probably two weeks at LaPointe going back and forth to Bayfield with a team of large bay horses owned by Julius Austrian, being the only team of horses in the country.”
~ Captain Robinson Derling Pike (Bayfield 50th anniversary celebrations)
The company at this time having become not only aware of the magnitude of the work they had undertaken, but were also satisfied that Ashland was the most feasible point from which to reach the Range, as well as the place where the future Metropolis of the Lake Superior country must surely be — notwithstanding the “and to Bayfield” clause in that wonderful charter of H.M. Rice.The cost of getting provisions to the Range was enormous – it being for the first season all carried by packers – every pound transported from Ashland to the Range costing from five to eight cents as freight.Samuel Stuart Vaughn was an early businessman in the Chequamegon Bay area.This was my first experience at surveying as well as Mr. Sidebotham’s, and although I took to it easily and enjoyed it, he never could. He was no woodsman; could not travel easily, while on the other hand I could outwalk any white man except S.S. Vaughn in the country. He was then in his prime and one of the most vigorous and muscular men I ever met; but I think he will tell you that in me he found his match.Albert C. Stuntz kept diaries of his government land surveys between Bayfield and St. Paul.No record found for Frank Gale or Matthew Ward.  If you know what they were notorious for, please let us know in a comment below.By our contract with Albert Stuntz we were not only to pay him a bonus equal to what he received per mile from Government, but we were also to furnish men for the work and see him through. In accordance with this agreement some eighteen men and boys, to be used as axemen and chainmen, were brought up from Milwaukee who were as “green as gaugers” and as the sequel proved, about as honest. A nice looking lot they were, when landed upon the dock at La Pointe, out of which to make woodsmen. I think I see them now, shining boots,– plug hats, with plug ugly heads in them, (at least some of them had), the notorious Frank GaleMat. Ward and one or two other noted characters being of the number. Their pranks astonished the good people of La Pointe not a little, but they astonished Stuntz more. One half day in the woods satisfied them – they were afraid of getting lost. In less than two weeks they had nearly all deserted and the work had to be delayed until a new squad could be obtained from below.But I must close. In my next I will give you an account of my life on the Range.      J.S.B.