Heavily-armed security guards have been patrolling the site of a potential iron mine in northern Wisconsin.
The move seems to have added another layer of tension to a divisive project.
Some people traversing the mine property this past weekend were surprised when they noticed the security guards. The men were dressed in camouflage. Some had covered their faces. All carried high-powered rifles.
“It's frightening, is what it is. It’s purely for intimidation. It’s an accident waiting to happen,” says Pete Rasmussen, vice president of the Penokee Hills Education Project. It informs the public about environmental threats a mine could pose.
Rasmussen says opponents are passionate, but peaceful.
State Rep. Janet Bewley agrees that the guards are out of place on the land. Some of it is public; the rest is managed forest.
“The public has access to it at all times, and areas where people are just used to walking, hiking, strolling,” Bewley says.
Bewley and another Democratic lawmaker from the region are calling on Gogebic Taconite to scale back its security force.
However, the company says protesters have caused problems. A few weeks ago, someone grabbed a worker’s camera and cell phone. A Stevens Point woman was charged.
In an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio, company spokesman Bob Seitz justified the guards’ presence.
“When we didn’t have security, our people were attacked and our equipment was destroyed,” Seitz said.
Seitz said the security guards are also helping Gogebic protect the protesters from themselves.
“They were beating on high pressure hydraulic systems that could have injured or killed them,” Seitz said.
The Florida-based company is going through the initial steps of the approval process. Crews have been extracting rock to test it.
Supporters claim Wisconsin’s new mining law will protect the environment and create jobs. Opponents insist the GOP-controlled Legislature simply greased the skids for a mine.