Protesters vandalize site of proposed iron ore mine   06.13.13

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Gogebic Taconite spokesman says workers were threatened

By Lee Bergquist 

Protesters entered the site of a proposed iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin this week and vandalized equipment and threatened people working on the site, a spokesman for the mining company said Thursday night.

Bob Seitz, spokesman for Gogebic Taconite, said protesters slashed tires on a work trailer on Tuesday morning where the company is conducting exploratory drilling as part of an assessment for a proposed $1.5 billion iron ore mine in Ashland and Iron counties.

The protesters also physically assaulted a female geologist and scratched her, according to Seitz. Other workers were yelled at before the protesters fled, Seitz said.

The actions are alleged to have taken place in a remote area of woods near Highway 77 in Iron County after 9 a.m. on Tuesday.

"This is eco-terrorisim," Seitz said. "There is no doubt it is eco-terrorism when your head is wrapped like Al Qaida and people are yelling things at people and threatening them."

Iron County Sheriff Tony Furyk issued a statement Wednesday saying the protesters had scattered into nearby woods by the time officers arrived. He says investigators are looking into allegations one of the protesters stole a geologist's camera.

A dispatcher for the Iron County Sheriff's Department said Thursday night that the case remains under investigation and charges are pending.

Gogebic began drilling work on Tuesday after getting approval from the Department of Natural Resources to drill eight exploratory holes. The approval was for exploration only, and not mining.

The company sought – and received – approval from the Legislature this year to modify environmental regulations the company said it needed before it started preliminary work on the mine.

The regulatory fight dominated the Legislature in the early part of this year.

Supporters said the changes would reduce red tape but not roll back environmental standards. But opponents said the changes weakened environmental protections.

The Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa recently asked the DNR to halt plans by Gogebic Taconite to conduct the drilling.

On Monday the DNR said it did not plan on reversing its decision to approve the company's request to drill exploratory holes.

The tribe says the DNR failed to consult or to formally notify the tribe during a review of a drilling request by the company. It also says the drilling activities may harm natural resources on ceded territories where the tribe retains certain hunting, fishing and gathering rights. Ceded territories are subject to treaties.