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Poll suggests growing opposition to mine near Boundary Waters

A new statewide opinion poll appears to show growing opposition to copper mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. In the poll, paid for by opponents to copper mining, 70 percent of 800 Minnesota voters said they opposed allowing a ...

TwinMetalsWeb.jpg
Twin Metals headquarters in Ely. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
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A new statewide opinion poll appears to show growing opposition to copper mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

In the poll, paid for by opponents to copper mining, 70 percent of 800 Minnesota voters said they opposed allowing a copper mine near the BWCAW. That’s up from 59 percent opposition in a similar poll in 2017.

Statewide, 22 percent of those polled said they supported “sulfide ore copper mining in the areas near the Boundary Waters Wilderness.”

The number of people who had no opinion dropped from 13 percent last year to 7 percent this year.

Even among voters polled within the 8th Congressional District, which includes the Iron Range, the poll found 56 percent opposition and 39 percent support for copper mining near the BWCAW.

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The poll was conducted Feb. 11-15 by Fabrizio Ward, a major polling firm that has done work for President Donald Trump, and paid for by the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters.

The poll is aimed directly at the proposed Twin Metals copper mine southwest of Ely, a large underground mine near the Kawishiwi River and just outside the 1.1 million acre federal wilderness.

Critics say any problems at the mine could send tainted water into the BWCAW and beyond. Supporters say the project can be done safely and add hundreds of jobs in an area tied to the highly cyclical iron ore mining industry.

While Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has opposed the project, the Trump administration earlier this year took action to remove roadblocks to the mine imposed by U.S. Forest Service during the last days of the Obama administration. That includes downgrading an environmental impact statement to a lesser environmental assessment worksheet on whether a 20-year mining ban should be imposed in the area. Most of the mining would be done on federal lands within the Superior National Forest.

The telephone poll found that 64 percent of voters who responded favored Dayton’s order to keep Twin Metals from using state land to advance the mine. Some 28 percent opposed Dayton’s action. Some 53 percent said they would vote for a governor in 2018 who, like Dayton, opposed mining near the BWCAW, while 12 percent said they would vote for a governor who favored mining in the area. Another 30 percent said it would not be in a factor in who they voted for.

“The Boundary Waters is woven into the fabric of Minnesota’s traditions and a key economic driver for thousands of people across the Arrowhead,” said Doug Niemela, campaign manager for the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. “All across the state more Minnesotans than ever want to protect the Boundary Waters from the threat of sulfide-ore copper mining, and are prepared to use their vote to protect this priceless Wilderness.”

Neither a spokesman for a copper industry trade group nor a Twin Metal spokesman responded to a News Tribune request to comment on the poll numbers.

The Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters also said it hired a logistics firm to check all 81,000 public comments submitted to the Forest Service. They found 98.2 percent of the comments favored a 20-year ban on copper mining near the BWCAW.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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