In a sudden about face, Iron County may be retracting an agreement to allow members of the Penokee Harvest Camp an extended permit to camp in the Penokee Hills.
Established by the Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO) Band of Wisconsin Ojibwe, the Penokee Harvest Camp was created in March 2013 to educate the public about the natural resources in the area and environmental impact of a proposed open pit iron ore mine by Gogebic Taconite in the Penokee Hills. (Related story: Fighting Mines in Wisconsin: A Radical New Way to Be Radical)
According to a story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on July 19, Iron County legal counsel Michael Pope says that the Camp has exceeded the two-week limit for such gatherings.
In May 2013, the Iron County board had unanimously authorized Pope to work with county foresters in writing a land use permit allowing tribal members to camp for an extended period in the forest near the proposed GTAC mine. GTAC workers are currently conducting exploratory drilling in the area.
Now, however, Pope indicates that the permit was never completed once it was realized that such a permit would conflict with existing law.
Pope also indicated that county forestry officials and others are worried about the potential impact of the Camp on the forest.
According to the Journal Sentinel, Media Trackers, an online conservative research group, raised the issue of illegality.
A Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) July 18 story offered speculation that the legal arguments may be a smoke screen for pro-mining interests.
LCO tribal chairman Mic Isham notes that the county permitting process is essentially a non-issue since Ojibwe are allowed by treaty to hunt, fish and gather in that area which is part of ceded territory. He points out that the tribe had sought Iron County permission only to ensure that non-Native visitors would also be allowed to camp there.
Ultimately, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has oversight on such issues including ceded territory according to the Wisconsin Public Radio story.
Although Wisconsin DRN attorney Quinn Williams indicated that the state has identified areas of concern regarding the camp, the DNR office won’t take action for now, preferring to wait for Iron County to take action first, according to WPR.
The Iron County Board will discuss the issue in a closed session on Tuesday, July 23.
Harvest Camp spokesperson Paul DeMain indicated that if necessary all tents at the camp could be taken down every 14 days for at least an hour and set back up in order to comply with Iron County requirements.
In other legal rankling, Anthony Stella, an attorney from Hurley is alleging that GTAC committed a felony by hiring unlicensed out of state guards for its drilling sites. GTAC had hired guards from Bulletproof Securities based in Arizona. The guards sparked complaints for their paramilitary style and use of automatic weapons. (Related story: Automatic Weapons & Guards in Camo: Welcome to Mining Country, Wis.)
According to a July 17 story in WPR News, Stella, former Iron County district attorney, makes reference to state law 134.58 Use of unauthorized persons as officers. Any person who, individually, in concert with another or as agent or officer of any firm, joint-stock company or corporation, uses, employs, aids or assists in employing any body of armed persons to act as militia, police or peace officers for the protection of persons or property or for the suppression of strikes, not being authorized by the laws of this state to so act, is guilty of a Class I felony.
The current Iron County DA Marty Lipske told WPR that the issue was under investigation.
UPDATE: The often chanted protest slogan “the whole world is watching,” may be an accurate description of the Penokee Harvest Camp. According to DeMain, CNN is traveling to the Camp next week in order to report a two-part story on events there.