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In Response: When it comes to mining safely, this is Minnesota, not Indonesia

From the column: "Our approach is to mine safely, putting both respect for worker safety and the environment first."

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Scuba dive buddies and kayakers enjoy one of the many mine pit lakes in the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area. / Photo courtesy of DiveBuddy
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The recent fear mongering about Talon Metal’s proposed nickel mine at Tamarack — featured in a June 23 column in the News Tribune by Lucille Marchand of Wisconsin (Local View: “ A toxic waste dump is ready to happen in paradise ”) — was an affront to the intelligence and integrity of Minnesotans.

The commentary did not represent how we do things in Minnesota.

The canned commentary was indicative of a relentless effort to frighten those not familiar with Minnesota’s extensive environmental-review and permitting processes into believing we cannot mine safely in Minnesota.
Unlike Marchand, whose self-described “good life” allows her to vacation in Minnesota, I live and work here in Aitkin County. That happens to be the same county where Talon’s Tamarack Project is located. My family has lived in Minnesota for well over 100 years, and we have been involved in mining in this part of Minnesota for generations. My dad was one of the last to work on the Cuyuna Iron Range in both the open-pit and underground iron mines.

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A couple pauses to enjoy the view while mountain biking in the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area. / Photo courtesy of Explore Minnesota

Our mining history stretches back to the Kennedy Underground Mine, operated by the Rodgers-Brown Ore Company. Exploratory drilling identified that ore body in 1904, and active mining began in 1907. The Kennedy Mine was the first to successfully ship iron ore off the Cuyuna Range in 1911.

The first mining-related fatality on the Cuyuna Iron Range occurred on Feb. 8, 1908, at the Kennedy Mine. An individual was killed when a stockpile caved down upon him. His name was John William Lueck, my great-great grandfather. The oldest of the eight children he left behind was my grandpa.

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I will be the first to agree, the environmental and worker-safety standards for mining in Minnesota more than 100 years ago were inadequate to properly protect workers and the environment. However, that is not true today.

The worker-safety and environmental standards under which mines must operate today in Minnesota are second to none, a model for the rest of the world to follow.

The June 23 commentary’s comparison of the open cut strip-mined low-grade laterite nickel deposits found at or near the surface in Indonesia to the very high-grade nickel sulfide underground deposit found at the Tamarack Project illustrated the great length that anti-mining groups will go to intentionally mislead and confuse the public.

Lateritic nickel ores are formed by an intensive prolonged tropical chemical weathering process of certain types of soil and rock. The economically important lateritic mineral deposits are generally found only in the equatorial latitudes, between 23.6 degrees north and 23.0 degrees south.

Please do not insult our intelligence by implying that Tamarack is located within what we commonly refer to as the tropics.

The commentary further opined about mining areas in New York and Virginia, suggesting what mining in Minnesota would look like, including “mountains of black or gray tailings where nothing lives.”

I would suggest to my Wisconsin neighbor that on her next foray into Minnesota she visit the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area . It encompasses most of the now-inactive Cuyuna Iron Range mining district. The mine tailings are covered with thick forests and team with wildlife. The open-pit mines are now crystal-clear lakes full of fish, including, in some cases, lake trout.

In addition to fishing, hunting, cross-country skiing, kayaking, picnicking, camping, scuba diving, and swimming opportunities, the tailings piles now provide the nation’s most advanced all-season mountain bike trails. The internationally recognized mountain bike trail systems accommodate everyone from the beginner to the most-seasoned expert. The many miles of bike trails include Minnesota’s first purpose-built segment of adaptive bike trail designed specifically to accommodate those with disabilities.

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That is how we do things in Minnesota. We are not Indonesia.

Our approach is to mine safely, putting both respect for worker safety and the environment first. When mining projects are completed, they must be left in a safe and stable condition for future generations to enjoy.

Dale K. Lueck, R-Aitkin, represents Minnesota House District 10B and serves on the House Agriculture Committee, House Environmental and Natural Resources Committee, the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, the Legislative Permanent School Fund Commission, and the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources. District 10B encompasses Aitkin County and major portions of Crow Wing County, including the proposed nickel mine site at Tamarack and the Cuyuna Iron Range. He cited as sources for this commentary a Geological Survey Professional Paper, a 1908 Duluth Herald article, a 2011 U.S. Geological Survey report, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and the International Mountain Bicycling Association.

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Rep. Dale K. Lueck, R-Aitkin

Related Topics: LOCAL VIEWMININGENVIRONMENT
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