EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
Robert Desjarlais, Lake Township supervisor, (front right) tells a citizen sticking up for a speaker to shut up at the Lake Township meeting Tuesday in which public input was gathered on proposed changes to a zoning ordinance. 
EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard

Robert Desjarlais, Lake Township supervisor, (front right) tells a citizen sticking up for a speaker to shut up at the Lake Township meeting Tuesday in which public input was gathered on proposed changes to a zoning ordinance. 

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LAKE TOWNSHIP – Lake Township Hall was packed to its maximum capacity of 50 people for a public hearing Tuesday, where the board received input on proposed amendments to its zoning ordinance. Lake Township is where the proposed Back Forty Mine is located, so many people from various groups attended to show support for the amendments, which they said make regulations the mine must abide by stronger.

Among the 50 people were board members, deputies in attendance for security, as well as members of the community who attended to speak to the board. 

Representatives from The Front 40 group, the Coalition to Save the Menominee River and the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin were all present.

Charlene Peterson, Lake Township treasurer, began the hearing by reading off the rules of the public hearing to the participants. She said that only one representative per organization or group could speak during the hearing, disqualifying most of the attendants from speaking.

“This meeting is about the zoning ordinance, and only the ordinance,” she told the crowd. “This is not about the mine.”

Most of the speakers spoke in favor of the ordinance, beginning with Ron Henrikson of The Front 40 group. “I have three words to say,” he told the board, “excellent, excellent and outstanding.”

He went through several parts of the ordinance and told the board that The Front 40 strongly agrees with the amendments and supports them.

“We strongly endorse the mineral extraction ordinance and land usage ordinances and thank the Lake Township Planning Committee and Township Board on the amendments, which further protects the health, the welfare and safety of residents of Lake Township.”

A member of the Coalition to Save the Menominee River also spoke in favor of the ordinance. The majority of the attendants were with the coalition, so could not speak when they were called upon.

Guy Reiter, who attended as a representative of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, introduced himself in the native Menominee language and was shut down by the board.

Robert Desjarlais, township supervisor, began to raise his voice and told Reiter to sit down, that the hearing was for “topic only.” He then asked that a deputy intervene.

Members of the crowd began to raise their voices.

“That was very rude!” one woman shouted. Desjarlais told her to “shut up,” because he said he was abiding by the official rules of the hearing.

Dawn Wilber, another representative of Menominee Nation, also introduced herself Menominee language in support for Reiter. “I speak in my native language in full respect, so all the spirits who live here, who are buried near that river, can know that I am here and am speaking.”

“Our language is the first language that was ever spoken on this land,” she told the board. She told them that it is their custom to begin their Native language, and then translate.

Eventually, Desjarlais backed down and asked Reiter to speak to the board. “I apologize for my outburst,” he said, “you may speak if you wish.”

However, Reiter told them that he felt disrespected and asked the board to move on. “You do not get the honor of hearing me speak,” he told the board.

The meeting was closed shortly after, lasting only about 30 minutes. As it was only a public hearing, there was no further discussion on the matter from the Township Board and no action was taken.

Aquila Resources, the developer of the Back Forty Mine, did not have a representative in attendance, but made an official statement regarding to the ordinance amendments.

“The law is clear; local governments are pre-empted (prevented) from enacting regulations or requiring a local permit affecting mining that contradict or conflict with Part 632,” wrote Chantae Lessard, director of social performance and engagement with Aquila.

She also stated that the ordinances cannot prevent the mine, but that Aquila remains “optimistic that constructive conversations with the Lake Township Board will bring improvements that are desired by the community, and we encourage residents to have that conversation with township officials and Aquila.”