Two lawmakers are asking a mining company to remove armed security guards at a proposed mining site in northern Wisconsin.
In a letter to the president of the Gogebic Taconite, State Sen. Bob Jauch and state Rep. Janet Bewley call the images of the armed guards "horrifying" and say the decision to hire the security firm is appalling.
"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,"
Photos taken by visitors to the site in the Penokee Hills show guards dressed in camouflage uniforms with masks covering most of their faces. They are also armed with rifles, and some appear to have multiple weapons.
A Gogebic Taconite spokesperson said they are employing the armed guards for the safety of their employees after drilling opponents allegedly attacked the drill site a few weeks ago.
The lawmakers question why the guards are carrying assault weapons because they don't have the legal right to use them to protect property. The letter also states that the property is open to the public and not owned by the mining company.
"Not only does this decision reflect bad judgment, it is unfortunate that you don’t understand how damaging an image it creates of Northern Wisconsin. Those who live here and work here hardly want to spend their time explaining that our forests are not filled with mercenaries from third world countries."
Gogebic Taconite officials said they will keep the armed guards on duty for the foreseeable future.
“The little people who don’t have a voice haven’t had their say in this. It’s been written by big corporations and big money interest and from legislature, from people who haven’t been up here in some cases,” said Paul DeMain, a protester.
Protesters have caused some issues at the site on the border of Iron County and Ashland County. In June, a woman allegedly stole a cellphone and camera, according to the Iron County sheriff. There were also reports of vandalized property and barricaded entrances.
Shahla Werner with the John Muir chapter of the Sierra Club said her organization has mostly worked on the policy end of the mining debate. However, these images were hard to ignore.
“That seems like a gross overreaction to what's happening up there, and it could actually escalate tensions further,” Werner said.
Werner said she doesn’t believe the new security is from Wisconsin. She said if that’s true, it’s disappointing since Gogebic Taconite promising jobs for Wisconsin natives. She also said tensions are already high between the mining company and the community, and this could make things worse.
“This doesn't seem like that sort of olive branch that they want to extend if they want to be a good corporate citizen,” Werner said.
The letter from the two lawmakers states the security firm is from Arizona.