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Boundary Waters Canoe Area

Newly emboldened Twin Metals plows ahead

by Dan Burns on June 11, 2018 · 0 comments

bwcaTwin Metals wants to create a big sulfide mine right next to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It is a truly terrible idea, in every way, and Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton seemed to have more or less killed the project when he publicly agreed with that assessment. But things have changed. First, the Trump administration reversed an Obama call and renewed the leases last month. And now the planners are a hive of busy bees indeed.

Twin Metals, the company planning to build an underground copper-nickel mine near Ely, Minn., said (May 24) it will open an office in Babbitt and wants to locate its processing facility east of Birch Lake…
Twin Metals officials said plans to locate the processing site east of Birch Lake differs from previous proposals. Before, the company had planned to build it south of the Ely airport and west of Birch Lake. Company officials said mine employees will access the underground mine from the processing site. The facility would be built on about 100 acres of land owned by Twin Metals.

The real power behind this is mining giant Antofagasta. This notes its billionaire owner’s suspicious tie to the current presidential administration, and also has more on the lease thing. The fact that it took the “election” of Trump to bring Twin Metals back from the dead should give anyone pause.


sulfideThis is not the PolyMet project. It is the one proposed for right next to the BWCA. Governor Dayton, among many others, already publicly opposes it. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) has proposed federal legislation to block it.

U.S. Forest Service officials on Monday said they are “deeply concerned” about potential impacts of the proposed Twin Metals copper mine on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and announced a public comment period before the agency’s decision on extending mining leases for the project.
(Duluth News Tribune)


Antofagasta PLC holds two federal mineral leases that were issued in 1966 as part of their Twin Metals Minnesota proposal. One of these mineral leases includes land within a quarter mile of the wilderness boundary. The Forest Service has been asked by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management whether it “consents” to the extension of these leases for ten more years. If the Forest Service does not give consent to extend these leases, Twin Metals’ sulfide mine proposal on the edge of the Boundary Waters would be prevented from polluting the wilderness…
The Forest Service will start a thirty day public input period beginning on June 20th, one week from (Monday). They will also hold a public hearing on whether to deny the Twin Metals leases in Duluth on July 13th. The Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness will be there in force, and intends to gather tens of thousands of public comments supporting a decision that protects the BWCA from sulfide mining.
(Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness)

As for PolyMet, it’s still in the process of getting more permits. The world markets for copper and nickel remain ugly. (Click on the link and look at, for example, the five-year copper chart.)


nemnRep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) doesn’t often make headlines. I suspect that that is precisely as she wants. But she does work on some really good ideas, and in those instances deserves public notice and approbation.

Fifty years ago (May 31), two federal mineral leases were signed for rights to copper, nickel and precious metals, just south of what would become the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.
Those leases for the area south of Ely, Minn., are now in the hands of a mining company called Twin Metals — but they expired two and a half years ago. Renewal of the leases has languished in Washington, becoming the latest point of contention in a debate over whether mining should be considered so close to the BWCA.
The leases were first obtained by the International Nickel Company, which proposed 1,000-foot-deep open pit copper mine on the edge of the BWCA. But after a state moratorium to study the issue, copper prices tanked, and the project fizzled.
The federal Bureau of Land Management renewed the leases twice since then, with little fanfare.
But not this time. U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, a St. Paul Democrat, introduced a bill to prevent copper-nickel mining near the BWCA. McCollum says those leases were granted before modern environmental laws were passed.

Governor Dayton has also come out against the Twin Metals plan. The political lines have long since been drawn on this, and despite what some DFL doom-and-gloomers have to say there is no common sense reason to believe that this will somehow turn MN-08 red, now.

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BACKPACKING5-251006-162122The next scheduled major action for Polymet is release of the final EIS in November. I thought that in the meantime I’d note a couple of book suggestions, about the natural glories of Northern Minnesota. They are The Singing Wilderness, by Sigurd F. Olson, and Boundary Waters: The Grace of the Wild, by Paul Gruchow. Though I like a walk through a meadow or forest now and then, roughing it for days, much less weeks, in the wilderness is well beyond my scope. I nonetheless found both books pretty amazing.
The Singing Wilderness was first published in 1956, and has become quite well known. Many of its essays had been drafted a decade or more before then, which puts it with the also celebrated A Sand County Almanac, by Aldo Leopold, from 1949, as one of the first successful popular books extolling American wilderness.

(p. 23) I chose the Kawashaway, now known as Kawishiwi, for the most important expedition of the year, the time when the snow was gone from the ice and the waters from its melting had drained through fissures into the depths below. It was the time when the wilderness of the forbidden land was as alone as it used to be. I wanted to have it to myself so that when I was deep within it I might discover some of the secret of the Chippewas, sense some of the ancient mystery surrounding it. If I did not find what I sought, I still would know the beauty of the country at the time of awakening, when there was a softness in the wind and the long-frozen land was breathing again, expanding and stirring with life after months of rigid immobility.

(If that rings a bell, yes, Twin Metals, in reality just fronting for mining mega-corporation Antofagasta, eventually wants to put a sulfide mine right about where the Kawishiwi enters the BWCA.)
Most of Olson’s book isn’t like the above. Rather, it’s straightforward narrative and description. But it’s so compelling…I’m one of those people that every year around October or so, I wonder whether I don’t actually belong someplace like Panama or Thailand, where I can just blissfully bake all year. Yet Olson’s description of being in an old cabin in the north woods in the middle of January actually had me thinking that that might be a cool thing to do.
If you ask me, Gruchow is one of the best writers that Minnesota has produced. That being said, his writing is generally more painstaking and allusive than, for example, Olson’s, and reading him can be more of an effort. (Gruchow was undoubtedly heavily influenced by Olson. Among other things, Boundary Waters, like The Singing Wilderness – and, for that matter, Gruchow’s Journal of a Prairie Year – is split into four parts named after the seasons.) But it’s well worth it. A couple of excerpts:



thidI4516115766313161pid1If they can. Here’s the deal. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) straddles part of the Minnesota/Ontario border. What with not being so much the trekking, camping type, I haven’t been there, but knowledgeable sources tell me that it is quite literally heaven on earth. Spectacular and powerful.
A corporate entity called Twin Metals Minnesota wants to dig and operate a big mine, for copper, nickel and whatever else turns up, right about where the South Kawishiwi River connects with the BWCA. (Here’s a PDF map; we’re talking about the one that says “Duluth Metals.“ More about the various corporate tentacles involved, below.) The project has the (almost giddy) support of many of the state’s top elected officials, which in Minnesota right now means Democrats, who have been seduced by the siren call of purported jobs and “economic development.”
Here are the two main issues:
– Can this mine happen without serious, long-term environmental damage? There is every reason to be exceedingly doubtful, as a project of this nature has never happened before, without negative environmental consequences.
– There is also little reason to be confident that it will be all that great for the area’s economy, to say the least. Frankly, quite the contrary.
In the past, I’ve been skeptical, including on this blog, that this project will really happen. I believed that the investor/shareholder “benefit” in “cost/benefit” would be determined not to be there. I was wrong. This is very serious.


thidI4516115766313161pid1The prominent advocacy organization American Rivers just named the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to its “Most Endangered” list for 2013.

The Boundary Waters is threatened by a proposed copper nickel mine near the South Kawishiwi River, a popular entry point to the Boundary Waters wilderness area and a source of drinking water for Minnesota residents and visitors. The mine, proposed within the Superior National Forest and just outside the wilderness area, would produce large quantities of waste rock, sulfuric acid, and a variety of toxic metals. Polluted runoff from the mine poses a public health concern because of fish and drinking water contamination and threatens the Boundary Waters ecosystem…
“The Boundary Waters is a unique and beloved wilderness of lakes of rivers,” said Betsy Daub, policy director of the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. “The region should not be a guinea pig for risky new mines, which have never before operated without causing serious water pollution.”
(Mining Truth)



Public opposition to MN copper mining grows

by Dan Burns on March 14, 2013 · 1 comment

There hasn’t been much, during the 2013 legislative session, about the controversial plans to potentially allow large-scale mining operations to be developed in environmentally sensitive areas in Northern Minnesota. Presumably because they’ve essentially been given the government green light, and many politicians would just as soon see the hot-button aspects of the issue go away. It may be time to reassess that.


Opponents of copper mining in Minnesota might be winning over more state residents, according to a new poll that shows more people oppose the new kind of mining here than support it.


The poll, paid for by the Minnesota Environmental Partnership and released Wednesday, found that 48 percent of state residents polled opposed copper mining while 39 percent favor the projects.


It’s the first time in five years the poll has been taken that more people opposed than supported copper mining. The coalition of 75 environmental groups conducts the survey annually to gauge public opinion on several key conservation issues.


The results show support for mining slipping from a high of 66 percent in 2009 to 62 percent in 2010, 52 percent in 2012 and 39 percent this year.


(Duluth News Tribune)


You can go to the Minnesota Environmental Partnership website to access the poll report. I didn’t just link it directly here because for some reason they have it formatted in PowerPoint, which may not be ideal for some viewers.


Also, if you like, check out the website for Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, among other things the new home of renowned erstwhile blogger Aaron Klemz.

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The Cravaack Plan to Savage the BWCA

by Dan Burns on July 9, 2012 · 0 comments

The Big E wrote, about a month ago, about a plan sponsored by Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-MN(?)/NH) to allow corporate rapine of lands in one of North America’s most glorious remaining wilderness reserves, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, ostensibly to benefit Minnesota schools.  The present post is meant as an addendum, to provide some additional context.

It sounds to me that logging and mining corporations would benefit, but not outdoors enthusiasts who flock to the BWCA by the thousands. Tourism interests who rely on a pristine BWCA are not addressed. His proposal ignores generally accepted rules for appraisal and no analysis has been done regarding if this is actually a good deal for Minnesota…

Cravaack wants to by-pass everyone concerned about the 86,000 acres the state owns inside the BWCA so it can be logged and mined.

(An item from Cravaack’s newsletter, from a while back, is here.)

This provides great background;  I’m just pulling a few key paragraphs.

During the most recent two-year cycle, (Permanent School Fund) interest money contributed about $55 million to supplement the $15 billion K-12 education budget. This amounts to $26 per student above the more than $9,000 allotted from the general fund. In other words, doubling the trust fund revenue over the next 10 years by one-time mining of trust lands would add only $26 per student while destroying the land for any other use.

More below the fold.

Logging and mining are cyclical industries. No one can accurately predict the economics of logging or mining over the next decades. Mining is dependent on controversial extraction of oil, gas, and coal resources, as well as fluctuations in demand. There is no clear indication that citizens of this state and country will allow turning Superior National Forest into a mining district.

How much time and energy has been spent trying to identify land for an exchange, and preparing legislation to create a new commission that would only result in more bureaucracy and paperwork? There is a simpler solution: a total land sale would immediately generate funds for the PSF, benefiting both the children of today and of the future, without harming the environment.

We cannot allow political rhetoric to use “for the sake of our children” as an excuse to sacrifice our health, our water and our land. Turning parts of Superior National Forest over to the state to maximize logging and mining would destroy the natural inheritance entrusted to us by past generations. Generating extra education money for one generation of children at the expense of future generations is a travesty of the trust our children place in us.

Selling the lands to the feds would presumably keep them protected as wilderness.  That’s not necessarily a total given, if you ask me, but it beats the crap out of plans that seem to be gaining momentum now.

Here’s a bunch more, from a strong left perspective.

Frankly, an item from this article sums it all up.

The whole debate is hypocritical, said Rep. Bill Hilty, D-Finlayson.

“If we’re really concerned about the children, why don’t we just fund education the way we ought to,” Hilty said.

Exactly.  Funding education, or for that matter massive “borrowing” from schools to balance budgets, wasn’t such an issue before the Ventura/Pawlenty regime, beginning in the late 1990s, of tax cut welfare government handouts for the super rich, and Minnesota’s subsequent decline across the board, including in education.  Making the rich man start to pay up, with interest (because that’s the American way, you know) needs to be the state’s legislative/executive priority, starting, like, yesterday.  That means we need strong DFL majorities;  a few seats won’t cut it, as Conservadems will screw Governor Dayton in Minnesota as surely as they did President Obama, nationally.  And plenty of DFLers still need to be convinced, as well, on this School Trust Lands/BWCA issue.

Moreover, even most conservatives can’t possibly be misinformed and gullible enough to believe that, once corporate environmental destructors are allowed a toehold within a place like the BWCA, it will end there.  Then again, that’s exactly what most conservatives want.