Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Iron County Board to discuss Harvest Camp at Tuesday meeting

HURLEY — The Iron County Board of Supervisors will address possible criminal or civil actions Tuesday to enforce county ordinances regarding the Harvest Camp near the proposed iron mine in Upson.

The board will address the issue with a recommendation from the forestry committee at 6 p.m. in the board room at the courthouse in Hurley. According to forest administrator Joe Vairus, steps have been pursued to help alleviate the situation.

The county forest allows camping for up to two weeks without a permit. In county campgrounds, visitors have to pay to stay.

When the camp was first set up, Vairus and the forestry committee asked members of Harvest Camp to come and speak about their plans for staying on the property.

“They came to our meeting with a resolution from the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Council, outlining their plan,” Vairus said.

“The committee then outlined for me to work with our corporate counsel, Michael Pope, to create a permit that would allow them to camp out there for up to one year. However, after I spoke to Michael and the lawyers from the Department of Natural Resources, they told me that a permit like that was not compliant with state laws through the DNR and was illegal according to our county ordinance,” Vairus said.

He said the camp was offered the option of applying for a large group gathering permit. That would allow for the county board to either approve or deny the application.

“It allows for us to work on sanitary plans in the area, accesses, etc.,” Vairus said. “They just ignored it. They had a deadline of June 1, and I spoke to Melvin Gasper from the camp on June 12. He said they had received the letter and were working on a response.

“We still haven’t heard anything from them.”

After the deadline passed, the forestry committee recommended the county board look into the issue.

‘Not a treaty issue’

The Associated Press reported other issues could complicate the matter, including the tribe’s treaty rights, which allow special privileges for land use; however, treaty rights are not an issue, according to Vairus.

“This is not a treaty issue,” Vairus said. “We, as a county, have to supply the camp with permits to gather miscellaneous forest products free of charge, but they do not have a treaty right to camp out there indefinitely. This issue would be no different if it were 15 people from Minnesota who parked their camper out there.”

A major reason for the county board’s involvement is the state of the area where the camp is located. Vairus said that issues are being created with public access and public health, and the camp is “not having to follow the rules.”

“They are not having to follow the rules that Schomberg Park, Weber Lake and Saxon Harbor have to follow,” Vairus said. “The issues that are happening would have been addressed in the large group gathering permit application. I am not saying the county would have approved or denied the permit, but it would have allowed for us to create a process to plan for something that would work for everyone.

“This is not a treaty issue and this is not a mining issue. It’s about the management of our county forest.”

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