MADISON — Republican leaders have decided not to place a bill that would restrict public access to a northern Wisconsin mine site on the Senate’s agenda this week, throwing the measure’s future into doubt.

The bill appeared to be on the fast track to passage less than two weeks ago after the Senate mining committee held a public hearing and approved the bill in two days. Bill author and mining committee chairman Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, said during the meetings the measure is desperately needed to protect mine workers and environmental regulators from bands of protesters roaming the forest around the site.

But the proposal wasn’t on the Tuesday floor session agenda that Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald released on Monday. The Senate isn’t scheduled to convene again until October.

A Fitzgerald spokesman didn’t immediately return messages inquiring about the bill’s status. Tiffany and Senate President Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, also didn’t return messages.

Gogebic Taconite wants to dig a 4½-mile long iron mine in the Penokee Hills just south of Lake Superior. The mine has been a flashpoint of controversy for more than a year. The company insists the project will create thousands of jobs; opponents counter the mine will ruin the area’s pristine wilderness and pollute the region’s water.

A band of protesters emerged from the woods around the site in June and started cursing at mine workers. One protester was charged with stealing a geologist’s camera. The group has vowed to return to the site.

About 3,500 acres around the site are part of the state’s managed forest program, which grants landowners reduced fees in lieu of property taxes if they keep the land open for recreation. Tiffany’s bill would automatically close that land to the public until the state Department of Natural Resources decides whether to grant Gogebic Taconite a final mining permit.

The company would have to pay the state for closing the land but could reach agreements with the DNR to open up sections before the final permit decision comes down.

Democrats have complained the bill is an overreaction to single incident and gives Gogebic Taconite too much authority over the land. They say the measure would punish law-abiding hunters, hikers and anglers who have used the area for years.

Gogebic Taconite spokesman Bob Seitz didn’t immediately return telephone and email messages Monday.


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