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Compromise in works for access to mine site

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – A bipartisan group of lawmakers is developing an alternative to barring the public from 3,500 acres of state-managed forest around a proposed iron mine site in northern Wisconsin.

The lawmakers are working on a compromise that would create a 300-foot perimeter around mine-related activities and a 50-foot buffer along an access road, the Wisconsin State Journal reported Sunday. Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, said it could be introduced as early as this week.

“We think this is going to leave people with a good taste in their mouth, rather than a bad one,” Schultz said. “It treats everybody fairly and it puts the Department of Natural Resources in control rather than a company.”

The original proposal would have halted all public access to the area while Gogebic Taconite explores the possibility of building a large open pit iron ore mine there. The author, Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, said he introduced it to protect worker safety in response to a June 11 incident when masked protesters vandalized equipment at the mine site and harassed mine employees, which led the company to bring in armed guards. One woman was charged with felony robbery.

But the proposal to cordon off the surrounding area entirely drew opposition from critics who called in an overreaction that would have prevented law-abiding hunters, hikers and anglers from enjoying land and water they’ve used for years. Tiffany couldn’t find enough votes to pass it.

Gogebic spokesman Bob Seitz called the new, bipartisan proposal unworkable because it wouldn’t protect mobile workers who move between different parts of the site.

Tiffany is now working on a modified proposal of his own. He said it would allow land access during gun deer season and provide a 50-foot buffer zone along trout streams.

“I certainly want to make sure sportsmen have as much access as possible,” he said.

Gogebic insists its proposed 4½-mile-long open pit mine in the Penokee Hills just south of Lake Superior will create thousands of jobs; opponents counter the mine will pollute the area’s pristine water and wilderness.

Information from: Wisconsin State Journal, http://www.madison.com/wsj

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