While progressives respond with outrage to photos of armed guards patrolling a proposed iron mining site in northern Wisconsin, the mining company that hired the guards suggests it may move to prevent protesters from coming on to the land at all, as they are currently allowed.
Bob Seitz, director of external relations for Gogebic Taconite, the Florida-based mining company that is seeking approval for an iron mine near Hurley, says the company is considering removing the land it plans to develop from the Wisconsin Managed Forest program, which offers tax incentives to property owners who open their land to public access.
To withdrawal from the program, says Seitz, the company would have to apply at the end of this year and would be able to begin restricting public access in January of next year.
"It would be an option for us in December," he says.
The company did not seek withdrawal from the program last year, he says, because the legislature still had not yet approved the controversial mining bill, which the company insisted was necessary to go forward with the project.
Until then, the armed guards appear likely to stay. After an incident last month in which a group of protesters vandalized company equipment and took an employee's phone, Seitz says the company is more than justified in stationing masked guards with assault rifles on the site.
"Well the people who came in to our drill site were all dressed in black and wearing masks," he says. "We're trying to take the responsible precautions."
He would not specify how many guards the company had hired or how long they plan to be there.
"Because the violent protestors don’t share their plans with us, I don’t share our plans with them," he says.
Diplomacy has never been Gogebic's preferred mode of advocacy. Last year, the company announced it was leaving the state after the Senate — which Republicans then controlled by only a one seat margin — failed to come to an agreement on the mining bill. And in an interview in February, shortly before the bill was finally passed, company president Bill Williams described opponents of the bill as "BANANAS," (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything).
Blog posts reacting to the photos of the guards see them as another piece of evidence that the company is corrupt, reactionary and utterly contemptuous to local people and their concerns.