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New business group forms to oppose copper mining

More than 200 businesses from Minnesota and other states have signed-on to a new coalition to oppose copper mining in Northeastern Minnesota.

The New Boundary Waters Business Coalition was unveiled Thursday, with organizers saying they want to keep copper mines away from the federal wilderness.

Many of the businesses are in Duluth, Ely and the Twin Cities, and many are tourism- or hospitality-based. 

The business group says the potential of new mining jobs at the Twin Metals copper mine proposed along the Kawishiwi River, just outside the BWCAW, isn't worth the potential damage to northern Minnesota waterways that copper mining could cause.

"My staff and I want to ensure that anglers now and in the future can experience the joy and excitement of hooking a bass in the Boundary Waters," said John Fehnel, who owns Great Lakes Fly Shop in Duluth, in a statement. "Sulfide-ore (copper) mining would directly impact the region's incredible aquatic species, pristine water quality and thriving recreation economy. It would directly impact our business, employees and many of our customers."

The primary concern is that copper is found in rock with high sulfur levels that, when exposed to air and water during mining, can release acidic runoff that can spur high levels of heavy metals in waterways.

The Twin Metals proposal currently is on hold, stifled by the Obama administration decision in December to end exploration and preclude any mining in an area surrounding the BWCAW. Mining supports are hoping the Trump administration will overturn that ruling.

The Boundary Waters Business Coalition includes companies such as Patagonia, Frost River, Granite Gear, St. Croix Rods, Kelty, WigWam Mills, Merrell, Marmot Mountain LLC, Epicurean, Fishpond, Klean Kanteen, Osprey, Simms Fishing and Rio Products. Local Ely businesses that helped found the effort include Piragis Northwoods Co., Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge, River Point Resort & Outfitting Co. and Ely Outfitting Co. & Boundary Waters Guide Service.

The new coalition is similar to the Downstream Coalition of Duluth-area businesses that formed in 2015 to oppose the PolyMet copper project near Hoyt lakes. That group said PolyMet's jobs and economic impact aren't worth the potential damage to the St. Louis River system and Lake Superior, both downstream from the proposed copper-nickel mine.

That group formed during the public input period for the PolyMet project but has since gone quiet. Mining supporters organized a counter-effort to boycott some of the members of the Downstream Coalition, including Bent Paddle Brewery, which had its products kicked out of some Iron Range bars and liquor stores. (Bent Paddle is a member of the new Boundary Waters Business Coalition as well.)

Other efforts include a recent attempted boycott of Rapala fishing lures by mining supporters after a Rapala executive wrote an opinion essay against the proposed Twin Metals copper mine near Ely.

Copper mining supporters say mining projects can be built and operated without harming the region's natural resources. They say the move into copper will help diversify the region's economy now heavily reliant on cyclical iron ore mining. Copper mining supporters formed the group Jobs for Minnesotans that has more than 100 members, many of them mining and mining supply companies, labor unions, local chambers of commerce and local governments that support the state's expansion into a new kind of mining.

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