UPSON, Wis. — Gogebic Taconite broke ground Wednesday to begin drilling core samples at the proposed iron ore mine near Upson after crews were obstructed by protesters the day before.
Protesters earlier placed large rocks, trees and other obstructions in the roadway to block crews from entering the drill sites. In addition, they came out of the woods and began to yell at workers, and took and damaged personal property of a G-Tac worker.
Iron County Sheriff Tony Furyk said a protester stole a camera and cellphone of an employee.
The disturbance on Tuesday morning involved about 15 protesters, many who have camped on county land.
Deputies from the Iron County Sheriff’s Department were called to the scene.
Furyk said a theft charge will be issued.
There were no reports of any injuries.
Idea Drilling, of Virginia, Minn., is operating the drills which, according to G-Tac spokesman Bob Seitz, have little impact on the area.
“We are using an existing road and an existing wide spot for this operation,” Seitz said. “We’re not impacting anything that hasn’t already been impacted by something else.”
G-Tac is also using former bulk sample sites drilled in the 1950s and ‘60s.
“Those locations were not reclaimed, so for us, after we’re done, we’re going to reclaim it, like it should have been done in the first place,” Seitz said.
The rig that is used to perform the drilling is no bigger than what would be used to drill a water well for a home, Seitz said. Water is also used in the drilling processes, and is recycled throughout the operation.
According to engineer Tim Myers, the original location of the ore body has tilted over time. To access a usable sample, the drill goes in at a 45-degree angle, perpendicular to the tilted ore body.
“If we were to drill at the same angle as the ore body, and were to hit a spot where the rock is cracked, the drill would follow the cracks and the sample would not be useful for testing,” Myers said.
Samples from eight different locations on the proposed site will be sent to an independent testing facility over the next six months.
Drilling got off to a rocky start on Tuesday, as crews were obstructed by protesters.
The group believed responsible for the protests is called Action Camp from the Ashland area.
Seitz said the protests were counterproductive to goals of another group at the site seeking a healthy environment.
“Ironically, they tore up silt barriers required by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for environmental protections,” Seitz said. “With the obstructions in the road, that becomes a safety issue. If someone were to get hurt back here, we have to travel three miles of logging road to get back, and there is no cell service. A rock in the middle of the road in the middle of the night could be very disastrous to someone’s health.”
Drilling is expected to continue over the next several weeks.
Ann Coakley, director of the WDNR, made a visit to the site Wednesday. She and her staff will make unannounced visits to the site to make sure everything is up to standards.
“Everything that has been debated before has all been based on guesses,” Seitz said. “After testing these drill samples, we will know for sure and have the proper information that can be used for those for or against the mine. That is the point, that we start debating information versus guesses.”