One year later: Environmental extremists all but gone from mine site


By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. — It’s relatively quiet in the thick-wooded Penokee hills these days.

Not far from the little community of Mellen, in a four-mile stretch of Iron and Ashland counties, the loudest sounds seem to come from the buzzing of the monster mosquitoes, always in attack formation and as relentless as they are merciless, northwoods residents say.

What a difference a year makes.

QUIETER TIMES: Things have quieted down at a proposed iron-ore mine in northern Wisconsin nearly a year after environmentalists turned violent.

On June 11, 2013, this land — the site of a proposed $1.5 billion iron-ore mine — was teeming with protesters. They came here to try to stop the mine, still very much a concept as its developers, Gogebic Taconite, work through the state and federal regulatory processes.

Some of the demonstrators came simply to express their opposition. Others came to disrupt.

Here’s how one apparent environmental extremist writing for the extreme Earth First! Journal described the day:

“Wearing t-shirts and bandannas for masks, about fifteen wild ones sprang into action, added their own lock and chain to the gated entrance and built several barricades out of small boulders and downed trees. This was done on the access road in order to delay the anticipated police response for what was to happen,” the anonymous correspondent wrote on the blogsite.

The activists then “took the space over for about an hour,” the blogger said. They jumped on trucks and threw pieces of equipment, pickaxes, fire extinguishers, shovels, into the thick woods. They knocked over fences and raided cigarettes while “workers and the manager stood in awe,” according to this anonymous reporter.

When the phalanx of environmentalists discovered the manager was taping the scene for “evidence,” the camera was “snatched, broken, and thrown into the woods. Minutes later, a smart phone was snatched for the same reason and it met a similar fate,” the blogger asserts.

Then they disappeared into the woods, self-satisfied in the havoc they caused, according to the blogger.

“We were able to inflict damages upon the company in the form of an entire day of labor costs through the disturbance and subsequent police reports that their workers had to spend their shift doing, as well as shatter their sense of security,” the blogger wrote.

GTAC, as the mining company is known, brought in security guards after the disorderly protest, which ended with the arrest of Katie Kloth, known as Krow, to her environmentalist friends. Kloth is accused of taking a geologist’s cell phone and camera. She faces a felony charge of robbery with the use of force and misdemeanor charges of theft and two counts of criminal damage to property.

Kloth’s jury trial is scheduled for Oct. 1, in Iron County Circuit Court, according to state court records.

Protesters from the Lac Courte Oreilles’ Harvest Education Learning Project camp, HELP for short, have moved on, too — at least down the road.

The Iron County Board had had enough of HELP’s 11-month campout, and earlier this year voted to eject the group for reportedly violating an ordinance preventing “camping units” from lingering in a camping area for more than 14 consecutive nights.

It probably didn’t help matters that one of the camp’s leaders was issued a restraining order in a domestic abuse case, and another faces a felony charge of alleged methamphetamine possession.

“There’s nothing going on. It’s quiet and the Harvest camp is gone,” said Iron County Sheriff Tony Furyk. “We’ve had no activity, no incidents.”

GTAC spokesman Bob Seitz said the same, although the company is still repairing some of the damage from last year’s disturbances. Seitz said protesters had repeatedly bent and removed bolts over a bridge into the proposed mine site.

“When you are driving trucks with 1,000 gallons of liquid, that can be serious,” he said. From time to time, someone will Super Glue the locks or put new their own locks on the gates at the entrance of the property, he added.

“Those aren’t serious, unless someone on your drill gets hurt and you need to get an ambulance in to get them,” Seitz said. “Then that would become serious.”

Kloth has been relatively quiet since posting a kind of mini manifesto in the days following the disturbances at the mine site.

“The only terrorists are those who plot to blow up the hills with ammonium nitrate and use the power of the state’s policing apparatus to repress and send fear and division through communities that oppose them,” she wrote in a June 26, 2013 post.

But the anti-mine protest movement remains active, if not necessarily at the site.

A “Protecting the Water and Penokees for Future Generations” Flotilla of kayaks and canoes was scheduled to paddle the Bad River this week, according to a group called Penokee Defenders. They’re still talking “creative resistance.”

“We believe protecting ourselves and our communities means defending our local land bases, and we support and practice various incarnations of creative resistance to accomplish our goals to stop the proposed Penokee Mine, and furthermore break free from the overarching shackles of capitalist, free-market society that perpetuates destructive resource extraction, attacking the peripheral communities to feed the elite, 1% core, the ‘ruling’ class,” the unidentified author proclaims in a recent post.

Contact M.D. Kittle