County board passes copper mining resolution
St. Louis County commissioners on Tuesday approved a resolution asking the Trump administration to rescind a federal ban on copper mining and exploration near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The majority of the board wanted to be on re...
St. Louis County commissioners on Tuesday approved a resolution asking the Trump administration to rescind a federal ban on copper mining and exploration near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
The majority of the board wanted to be on record opposing the last-minute Obama administration policy that effectively could kill the proposed Twin Metals copper mine southeast of Ely on the edge of the BWCAW.
Officials of the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management in December agreed with environmentalists and others who say the potential of environmental damage from any acid mine drainage adjacent to the wilderness is too great to allow additional exploration in the area. The federal action called for a two-year prohibition on exploration and mining and also called for an ecological study of the potential impacts before any specific mining proposal is submitted.
"This is a study, a pause, an opportunity to step back and find answers,'' said Ingrid Lyons of Duluth, who asked commissioners to vote against the resolution. The federal prohibition and study could help "find out the consequences of our actions before we can't take those actions back."
But copper mining supporters are hoping the Trump administration will strike the federal decision down and reopen the area to exploration so the Twin Metals project, and potentially others, can move forward.
"Let the science do its job. But let the exploration continue... Stop the federal government from blocking land here in Minnesota," said Norm Voorhees of Duluth, an official of Ironworkers Local 512, who asked commissioners to support the resolution.
Voorhees said the Twin Metals project, if it is submitted and passes an environmental review, could provide hundreds of construction jobs and hundreds of good paying jobs operating the mine. Voorhees said he trusted state regulators to make sure copper mining doesn't harm the BWCAW.
"If it can be done anywhere, it can be done responsibly here in Minnesota," he said.
While more than a dozen people spoke on the issue, for and against, commissioners avoided their usually lengthy speeches and quickly voted by voice 4-3 in favor of the resolution, as expected. Commissioners Tom Rukavina of Pike Township, Mike Jugovich of Chisholm, Pete Stauber of Hermantown and Keith Nelson of Fayal Township voted for the resolution. Duluth Commissioners Beth Olson, Patrick Boyle and Frank Jewell voted against.
The vote was in the Committee of the Whole so the board will vote again on the resolution next week as the full board, although no changes are likely.
The proposed Twin Metals underground mine would employ about 800 people, although no formal proposal has been submitted for review by regulators. It would be much larger than the proposed open-pit PolyMet copper mine about 35 miles to the south. Twin Metals is in the Rainy River watershed that moves north into the BWCAW and on to Canada, while PolyMet is in the St. Louis River watershed that flows into Lake Superior.
The County Board voted 4-3 in December of 2011 to support the proposed PolyMet copper mine between Hoyt Lakes and Babbitt after two long and acrimonious meetings in Duluth and Ely.
The Twin Metals issue hasn't just split the County Board but also the state DFL party, with Gov. Mark Dayton and U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum fervently opposing the project and Nolan in support.