Letters to the Editor: Sulfide mining job claims don’t add up

By David A. Lien - co-chairman, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Minnesota Chapter
Minnesota Daily, 11-23-2011

As a lifelong outdoorsman who grew up fishing and hunting in the backcountry of Minnesota's public lands, I've seen the cycles of nature ebb and flow. Today, I'm starting to worry that our northern Minnesota outdoors heritage might be headed for an irreversible decline — and this time the cause is human-made.

I'm referring to two foreign-owned mining ventures. The largest is the open-pit NorthMet Project by PolyMet Corp. of Canada with its partner, Swiss metals company Glencore. The other mine is the underground Nokomis Project, a partnership of Duluth Metals of Canada, Twin Metals Minnesota LLC and Chile's Antofagasta, the world's largest copper producer.

Chile is the largest copper producing region in the world. Much of the region is very dry, which reduces risk of acid drainage from waste rock. In Minnesota, the mining operations would take place in a much wetter region. In terms of environmental risk, this is one of the worst places for a sulfide mine.

It's no surprise that some of the early warnings have been sounded by resort owners, outfitters and township boards who rightfully worry that the encroachment of a major mining district into the heart of the Superior National Forest near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness could fundamentally alter the tourism industry.

The Stony River Township Board of Supervisors in Lake County recently passed a resolution rejecting sulfide mining. The township is located in the cross hairs of intense sulfide mining interest at the edge of the BWCAW.

A second northeastern Minnesota township also said no to mineral exploration and copper mining. The town board of Eagles Nest Township outside Ely voted 3-0 for a resolution that supports the earlier action in Stony River Township. Eagles Nest supervisors called for a "permanent moratorium on the sale of minerals leases in Eagles Nest Township."

Minnesotans are beginning to realize that the economic revival touted by mining boosters is likely just wishful thinking. Mining has historically always been a boom and bust industry. In the last 20 years, 16 hard rock mines declared bankruptcy. This devastates local economies dependent on the mining industry and forces taxpayers to cover the enormous cost of cleanup and restoration.

On the other hand, in Minnesota the fishing industry alone supports 50,000 jobs and recreational fishing brings in $3 billion a year, which would be in jeopardy when acid rock drainage leaches into creeks and streams and Lake Superior. In the 1990s, acid drainage from the Formosa Mine polluted streams in Oregon and reduced the fish population by 90 percent.

The BWCAW draws 250,000 visitors a year from around the world. This, in turn, fuels a $1.6 billion tourism economy. Tourism has its own problems, to be sure. It's no get rich quick scheme, but it's dependable, unlike the boom and bust of mining, which guarantees an economy that lurches from crisis to crisis.

These short-sighted mining proposals amount to gambling with the future of our great outdoors. Minnesota's nearly 2 million hunters and anglers — and the bait shops, resorts, guides and hotels that depend on their business — shouldn't stand for it.

The natural resources of this state belong to all citizens. It's wrong that they are being given away at low cost to foreign corporations for the specious promise of jobs and short-term economic growth.

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About Caitlin Thompson