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Senate committee approves bill to close recreation land near mining site

MADISON, WI (WTAQ) - Gogebic Taconite is one step closer to getting government protection from protestors, as the company develops its proposed iron ore mine near Mellen. 

The Senate's forestry and mining committee voted 5-2 Thursday morning in favor of closing 3,500 acres of recreational land to the public, to avoid a repeat of an intense protest at the mining site in June. 

GOP committee chairman Tom Tiffany says the bill is needed to protect workers and government regulators at the Penokee Hills site.

A full Senate vote is expected by the end of the month. Its prospects in the Assembly remain uncertain.

Gogebic Taconite has hired armed guards to protect the site -- and the firm says it has already cost $30,000 to hire off-duty sheriff's deputies to provide security. 

The bill provides an exemption to the state's managed forestry program, which gives tax breaks to landowners for allowing things like hunting and hiking on their land. 

Critics say Gogebic Taconite is getting special treatment, and the bill's supporters are taking away some very good hunting opportunities enjoyed by generations of sporting enthusiasts at the mining site.