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Comments about miners in New York Times Magazine article draw fire, prompt apology

Mining supporters carry signs during a march to a public hearing at Virginia High School in July 2017 after a rally organized by people supporting copper-nickel mining near the Boundary Waters. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Two prominent Northland environmental activists on Friday issued an apology regarding comments they made about miners in a New York Times Magazine article published online the day before.

The article by Minneapolis writer Reid Forgrave covers the ongoing battle over proposed copper-nickel mining projects near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It includes interviews with Dan Forsman, a fourth-generation miner from Ely who supports the proposed mining projects, as well as Becky Rom and Reid Carron, an Ely couple who have been vocal in their opposition to the proposals. Rom is chairwoman of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters.

In the article, which runs more than 4,600 words, Rom is quoted as saying that Forsman "drives to the mine in his truck, comes home and watches TV, and he doesn't know this world exists," referring to the BWCAW.

Carron is quoted as saying that pro-mining individuals are "resentful that other people have come here and been successful while they were sitting around waiting for a big mining company. They want somebody to just give them a job so they can all drink beer with their buddies and go four-wheeling and snowmobiling with their buddies."

Those comments drew a sharp response from union, mining industry and political officials on the Iron Range.

Justin Perpich, 8th Congressional District DFL chair, said in a news release that "these statements were cruel, excessive, and do not reflect the community values we hold dear on the Iron Range. Iron Rangers are among the hardest-working men and women in this country. ... Our community does not need the petty name-calling that plagued this story.

"What the Iron Range needs are good-paying jobs. Jobs that support entire families. ... We need a diverse economy, one where miners, the creative class, and environmentalists can live together and thrive."

Miners "work long hours regardless of weather conditions in order for Americans — even those who go out of their way to disparage them and their jobs — to have vehicles, infrastructure, appliances, and so many other things we use every day," said Iron Mining Association of Minnesota President Kelsey Johnson in a news release, calling the remarks in the article "egregious."

In a statement provided to WDIO-TV on Friday, Rom and Carron said the statements in the article were "disrespectful and untrue."

"Living in the Ely community, we depend on people all the time who we know hold a different view than we do on whether copper mining would be a good thing. When we do business with them, they are helpful and generous, and we treat each other with mutual respect," they wrote in the statement. "For Reid to say that people like that are sitting around waiting for a big mining company to give them a job or Becky to question if Dan has been into the Boundary Waters is disrespectful. We apologize for these statements."

A statement issued by the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters on Friday said "we can be strong and passionate advocates for protecting this place that we love without denigrating other people who may disagree with us. ... Certain campaign leaders fell far short of that standard. And for that we truly apologize."

While noting that the group still firmly believes that copper mining has no place near the Boundary Waters, and will work toward that end, the campaign's statement acknowledged that "people who go to work in mines are some of the hardest workers in Minnesota. They rise before the sun, work long hours, and take pride and accomplishment that comes from having produced something of value. That is a not a life to be mocked or derided. For any comments that did so, we are truly sorry."

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