My wife and I have resided on White Iron Lake near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for nearly 35 years. We have raised three wonderful children; co-founded and co-own two businesses; and have spent nearly every family vacation canoeing, dogsledding, and wildlife-watching throughout the wilderness. Both our home and our businesses lie within the Superior National Forest, which encompasses the Boundary Waters.
That is why we were so grateful for U.S. Sen. Tina Smith’s letter urging the administration of President Joe Biden to take a critical step toward permanent protection for the Boundary Waters (“Smith calls for restart to mining study,” March 28).
Since 1989, our businesses — Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge and Wintergreen Northern Wear — have provided seasonal, lodge-based dogsled vacations and camping trips in and along the edge of the Boundary Waters and have made “Made in Ely” activewear that is principally marketed for Boundary Waters visitors and adventurers. The viability of our wilderness-based businesses is almost entirely reliant upon their proximity to the Boundary Waters. Our customers are spread across the globe but hold one passion in common: their affinity for Minnesota’s north woods and the serenity of the Boundary Waters.
But this is under threat from a dangerous proposed sulfide-ore copper mine at the edge of the wilderness. I believe an Antofagasta-owned Twin Metals mine would have a chilling effect on local economies.
Antofagasta’s numbers don’t seem to add up. Twin Metals has promised that its proposed sulfide-ore copper mine would create jobs. But at what price? Northeastern Minnesota relies on the Boundary Waters for its sustainable amenities-based economy, and the jobs associated with a clean Boundary Waters environment would stay around for many decades. That’s unlike sulfide-ore copper-mining jobs, which would exist only as long as the resource is there.
Sulfide-ore copper mining has been deemed the most toxic industry in the U.S. by the Environmental Protection Agency. Peer-reviewed research shows that any pollution from this mine would flow directly into the heart of the Boundary Waters, diminishing water and air quality, threatening public health and wildlife, and jeopardizing recreational opportunities and the Arrowhead region’s $288 million amenities-based annual economy.
Furthermore, the economy of the Boundary Waters region has diversified away from an unhealthy dependence on boom-and-bust extractive industries. Mines throughout the world are rapidly becoming automated. In all likelihood, so would a Twin Metals mine. Twin Metals would be competing with copper mines across the globe, yet it has mineral deposits that are considered low-grade. To be competitive, Twin Metals must be cost-competitive, and machines are cheaper than human labor and are necessary with a low-grade ore deposit. For the few jobs it would offer, the specialized requirements for most positions do not seem to fit Ely’s workforce.
Mining is a quickly shrinking job base, and it does not make sense to risk one of our most fruitful and sustainable industries for a foreign-owned mine that would produce short-term job growth.
A sulfide-ore copper mine would threaten the local economy, the Boundary Waters, and the Minnesota “Up North” way of life. The aspects of the Boundary Waters that my family and I love most are dependent upon it remaining clean, healthy, and undisturbed. As a community, we must protect this irreplaceable wilderness and the lands surrounding it from being turned into an industrial sulfide-ore copper mining district.
Sen. Smith’s letter was one step in the long-overdue process of ensuring future generations get the same opportunities we do.
As a boy, I was introduced to this area on visits with my dad from our home in the Twin Cities to his Army buddy in Chisholm. Ed would beam with pride as he showed us the mines where he worked. Then, as the three of us would hop in the station wagon to drive to Ely for fishing, he’d always say, “Now we’re headed to the good stuff.”
Let’s keep it that way.
Paul Schurke of Ely owns and operates Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge (dogsledding.com) and Wintergreen Northern Wear (wintergreennorthernwear.com) with his wife Susan. He wrote this for the News Tribune.