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Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters' View: Increase prosperity — but protect Boundary Waters, too

The Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters is made up people from all walks of life: small-business owners and hunters, military veterans and teachers, people of all income levels, even Republicans and Democrats. Many of us have worked in labor and some in the taconite mines that have been so instrumental in carving out the history of Northeastern Minnesota.

We have been successful in bringing together diverse groups of Minnesotans because we love the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the communities it helped foster, places like Ely, Hibbing, Duluth, and other cities and townships throughout the Arrowhead. We love what the Boundary Waters has given not just to those communities but to the entire state and nation.

Like in any community, sometimes our passion leads to disagreements about what's best. That's OK. That's what makes this country great. But, sometimes, our passion gets the best of us and we turn toward negativity when people don't agree with us.

For many people in our state, the debate over sulfide-ore copper mining has become such an issue. The future of economic development in Northeastern Minnesota is a critical debate, and, unfortunately, in recent weeks, this debate has grown especially negative.

For our side's part in contributing to and exacerbating this negative tone, we apologize.

We recognize that changes to the global economy have left many of our fellow Minnesotans hurting. We understand the need for good-paying jobs to help revitalize the communities that can't see a bright future for their children because mining jobs have been lost. Mining has long been a significant part of Northeastern Minnesota's economy.

Although people sometimes paint our campaign as "anti-mining," we respect the need to maintain that industry in places where it cannot threaten the Boundary Waters.

We also respect the concerns of the outfitters and the small-business and property owners who are worried about their own financial futures and the fact that their livelihoods could be put at risk if sulfide-ore copper mining is allowed near the Boundary Waters. We respect the concerns of the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Outward Bound schools, physicians, and others who worry that this type of mining so near the wilderness could forever degrade the quality and character of priceless lands.

It's imperative we find a way to increase the prosperity of Northeastern Minnesota, but we believe strongly that we need to do it in a way that preserves our most valuable asset, the Boundary Waters.

Everyone weighing in on sulfide-ore copper mining near the Boundary Waters is doing so because they care about the future of our state and communities. We truly believe those Minnesotans who want copper mining near the Boundary Waters are sincere when they say they believe it can be done safely and without risk. However, so are we when we say it cannot be done safely and that the risk is too great.

Because of this, we will continue to do everything we can to protect this special place for future generations. We appreciate the position of our fellow Minnesotans who don't agree with us, and we look forward to continuing this debate not as enemies but as members of a community. We believe that by continuing a dialogue on this issue and taking into account the best-available science and information, we can achieve the best-possible balance in allowing everyone to benefit from our exceptional public lands and waters — with mining in appropriate places and a healthy wilderness unthreatened by pollution.

Doug Neimela

Doug Niemela of Minneapolis is the national campaign manager for the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters (SavetheBoundaryWaters.org). A native Minnesotan, Niemela has been adventuring in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness since 1991.

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