Just a mirror location for this information at Woodsperson in case the site crashes.
Bienvenido a Nicaragua
During the holiday weekend heavily armed security personnel arrived at the GTac exploration site in Iron County. Various people have tried to interview the masked, camouflaged troops to determine where they were from, who employs them and what their mission was. Why do they feel this level of armament is necessary? When asked who they were going to shoot, one guard was heard to answer, “nobody who isn’t here to make trouble.”
Security has been provided by Iron and Ashland County sheriff’s department officers since a confrontation there between mine protesters and drill crews on June 11th. The Iron County Sheriff’s office has quickly and successfully investigated that incident and the person(s) responsible have been charged. Since that time no other problems have arisen.
Has Iron County Policy Changed?
In a previous interview Iron County Board chairman, Joe Pinardi, stated that using local enforcement officers was the preferable method since armed private security would have to be deputized in order to have arrest power and to maintain order.
This morning we talked with Sheriff Tony Furyk. He is very upset about this situation and is being hounded by the media. But with current Wisconsin “open carry” laws “anybody can walk around with a weapon in public and there is nothing I can do about it.” He has not deputized these people and will not. Iron County did not give permission to GTac – none required. According to Furyk, GTac has a right to do this but the people at the Harvest Camp could also hire their own competing private security if they wished.
The whole situation was started by the June 11th incident, he said. But, this escalation is horrible PR for GTac and a real headache for local law enforcement. Furyk said that county board members Kichak and Lambert, along with county forester Vairus are currently up at the Harvest Camp trying to defuse the situation. The sheriff said that he gets along just fine with the folks at the camp and with GTac personnel, for that matter. He intends to “stay in the middle.”
Finally, Furyk characterized the GTac security forces as “professionals from Arizona who are doing sweeps of the area and have set up remote camps and listening posts.” According to our attorney friends this kind of activity is actually illegal under the managed forest law.
Private Property – Public Access
The exploration is taking place on private property owned, according to the Iron County Plat book, by RGGS Land and Minerals, Ltd., LP. of Houston, Texas. That land is currently under the Wisconsin Managed Forest Law. In that plan owners of 10 or more acres of forest land may submit a plan for management of their forest and receive a drastically reduced property tax rate on the land. Two levels of taxation are currently available to MFL owners: $10.68 per acre per year for “closed” land and $2.14 per acre per year on “open” land.
The closed and open categories refer to whether or not the owner allows public access to the land. Open public access means that anyone may use the land for “hunting, fishing, hiking, sight-seeing and cross country skiing without additional permission from landowners.”
Currently the RGGS land is in the open classification and they are paying only about $.79 per acre in taxes since their land was put in the MFL program previous to a 2004 tax hike. Typically, forested land in Iron County is taxed at a rate of about $25 per acre per year if it is not in MFL.
The bottom line is, in return for a very low property tax rate, RGGS must allow public access to its land. If they wish not to have the public on their land they can simply take it out of MFL and pay a penalty of about $400,000 in back taxes to the county and the Town of Anderson. They may also change the open designation to closed, henceforth pay the current $10.68 tax rate and pay back taxes of $9.89 per acre per year for the years since the land was placed in MFL.
More Bad PR, Even Worse Results
It would seem, from a public relations standpoint, that removal of the land from MFL or changing of the designation would be, by far, a better way to keep folks off of the land and pictures like the one above, out of the media. Then, “undesirables” could simply be charged with trespassing. One has to ask what the result of an incident similar to that of June 11th would be under this regime? Instead of a young woman charged with a felony, would we have a body count?