The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

By Anthony Stella

County board cannot dictate by resolution


On April 9, Iron County Board Chairman Joseph Pinardi criticized Iron County Sheriff Tony Furyk for not following the board’s vote to “eject individuals occupying the harvest camp by any lawful means necessary.” By ordinance, individuals may not camp in county forests for more than 14 consecutive days.

The sheriff has no legal authority to simply arrest any individuals who might be at the site. It’s not, after all, unlawful for people to camp at the location. Without a court ruling that the 14-day ordinance has been violated, the sheriff has no legal basis to arrest individuals. You or I, for instance, could be in that forest when he shows up and we would not be in violation of the law.

The fact that Iron County has not already proceeded to court to enforce its ordinance is evidence of the practical difficulties faced. The chairman admits that campers might use a strategy to rotate different individuals in and out of the site whereby no individual violates the 14-day provision. He then notes that this is a problem because the campers need to be completely removed to prevent impacts to vegetation.

That might all be true, but it is an argument for amending the county ordinance or getting a court judgment, not a basis for criticizing a sheriff who has dealt skillfully with a situation that might have resulted in violence without cooler heads in charge. The county is free to change its ordinance. It’s not the sheriff’s fault that the county ordinance as written has not achieved its intended effect.

The board cannot dictate by resolution what it cannot accomplish in court. Directing the sheriff to remove individuals without a court finding is an invitation to expensive litigation.

While some might be concerned about trampling the forest, that concern is not evidenced by the real facts on the ground. The true intent is to secure this area for a 4.5-mile open pit mine alongside a 350-foot tall tailings pile covering thousands of acres of county lands. The sheriff is being scapegoated in a political battle to mine thousands of acres of forest lands, not because of an effort to save a few of those same acres from footsteps.

The fact is, all campers left the county lands in March. All personal property is being removed as weather and snow conditions permit. The sheriff accomplished this quickly without violence or litigation.


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