Mining will change the area’s character

There are many serious and legitimate reasons why environmentalists, resort owners, and local residents are worried about the prospect of multiple copper/nickel mines here.  I can’t understand why our elected representatives for the most part just give lip service to our concerns while working to expedite a hasty permitting process.

But, EVEN IF there were a foolproof guarantee of no toxic acid leakage... and EVEN IF the mining corporations were to promise that at least half of their hires would be folks with local roots... and EVEN IF the extracted precious metals were not exported to foreign buyers but were guaranteed to be kept locally and in the U.S., for value-added new industries and jobs... and EVEN IF the mining corporations were truly committed to correcting infractions rather than simply paying fines as part of the cost of doing business their way…

EVEN THEN many of us fear the consequences of letting the genie out of the bottle!  Why?  Because once the precedent is set, there will be constant pressure to expand, to sell off more mineral rights, to permit new mining operations.  Because there are no guarantees against human error (think Exxon Valdez) or the consequences of ever-increasing natural disasters (as in the devastating flooding in Duluth last year).  Because the huge electric power needed to operate these mines may require new coal-burning plants that will threaten our air quality.  Because many thousands of acres would be lost for wildlife habitat, berry picking, hiking, hunting and birdwatching.  

Because the noise, the trucks, the lights at night, the heavy industry of multiple mining operations just southeast of Ely would change the character of this place.

This is the edge of the BWCAW!  We are stewards of a national treasure, a hugely popular destination, a rare place where lives are changed.  Ely is on a roll (compared to other small towns!) precisely because of the creation of the BWCAW:  the pristine lakes and fresh air, the quiet and beauty, the rich variety of outdoor activities in all seasons.  Our community is bustling with festivals, concerts, special events, and tourists.  The Ely Elementary School is experiencing a growth in enrollment.  These are some of the reasons more and more of us, young and old, are choosing to settle here, to spend locally, to support our community and school.  Our envious friends from noisy, congested places come to visit us; we take them on memorable adventures, show them the stars; they take us out to supper, purchase lures and winter clothing and local art — and buy gas for the long drive back to their cities…

Non-ferrous mining presents a very real threat to the way of life many of us love.  Just because precious metals have been discovered under this precious landscape doesn’t mean that we are obliged to let (foreign-owned) corporations make big profits by digging them up.

The Bible harshly criticizes Esau, who, because he was hungry, traded his birthright, his inheritance, for a single meal (Genesis 25:29-34; Hebrews 12:16).  Let’s not make the same mistake of selling out our future for the sake of short-term economic gain!

Elton Brown

Morse Township, Minn.


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I don't know where the author came from, but to those of us who have lived up here our entire lives (and our ancestors before), mining has been a part of the landscape and culture, along with logging and lumber, and a different type of tourism than we are seeing today.

I am assuming the author opposes the copper-nickel mining proposals being discussed these days. I don't know if this subject had raised to the same level in the 1940's or 1950's, that there would have been all the obstacles we see today. That said, while a return back to the 40's, 50's and 60's would bring back fond memories of the vibrancy of our communities in those days, I'm willing to take a closer look at this copper-nickel development. I am mostly confident that Twin Metals will be a good neighbor and ethical in their business dealings. I am less confident that PolyMet would be...too many former U.S. Steel managers on their payroll and as a frequent writer Bob Tammen and me would agree after having worked at the U.S. Steel Minntac operation, these people need to be kept on a very tight leash. A lot of funny things happened in the dark of night at Minntac, most of the employees are kept in the dark about environmental issues, except those issues determined by management as "safe" to communicate to employees on a management determined "need to know" basis. Twin Metals is more likely to empower all employees to make smart decisions on the spot, while PolyMet is likely to use the old "power down" management style made infamous by generations of U.S. Steel management. In "power down", employees are disuaded from using their initiative to solve problems as they see them, rather they have to report them to management before taking action without retribution.

In any case, even the best environmental impact statements are only words on paper and are dependent on the integrity and style of the management culture.

Would copper-nickel change the area's character? Not at all. After timber, mining became the largest and most important reason for communities settling on what is now commonly called the Iron Range. Copper-nickel mining would only open another chapter of pioneering development in our area.

In a general discussion one night in the Bull Pen at the Ely Public Sauna, I was involved in a discussion about the way downtown Ely looks today vs. how it looked in my youth. It didn't seem to have the same vibrancy that it had in the earlier days when the Zenith, Pioneer and the Soudan Mines were operating. I was confronted with a legitimate do I square how the Range towns look today vs. my youth. I was stumped. We had a boom in the taconite industry, yet our core cities have been in a state of decline since the 70's. Time was when I was young, we knew nothing about the Twin Cities (except that the state high school basketball tournament was played there each spring), we might have gotten to Duluth maybe once a year. But when it came to the big city, Virginia was it. There was everything we needed there, men's specialty shops, women's and children's specialty shops, department stores, hardware, sporting goods, grocery stores, you name it. If Virginia didn't have it then, you most likely didn't need it. Today, the downtown looks like old Brooklyn NY, and if it wasn't for the Hwy 53 corridor and the development in West Virginia, there would be nothing. People are now having to go to Duluth or the Twin Cities or the internet to find the products and services they need. Products and services that were once so readily available on the Range. So much for taconite's contribution to relative prosperity on the Range.

I imagine we will see some copper-nickel development in the next decade or two. But the pundits are correct. To expect some kind of boom after the construction phase is akin to seeing the world end due to global warming. It makes for a lot of discussion, but little else. The fee holders, the companies that mine the ore, and the financiers will see the gains. But little else, other than the wages earned by the employees and what small amount of supplies the companies buy locally (remember, they also buy by the internet), by those stakeholders will find it's way back into the community. Sad, but true.

Friday, February 15, 2013 | Report this

Mr. Brown makes some very clear and thoughtful points, especially regarding the need to be "stewards of a national treasure." Ely continues to be vibrant and "alive" for the local residents, and it is a popular destination for thousands of visitors due to the BWCA wilderness. We all should take civic pride in our little city at the end of the road, and realize why we have what we have.

In addition, Orr Country makes some interesting and accurate observations as to what happens in resource extraction communities, such as Virginia. They just do not thrive, and actually deteriorate.

An article from the Duluth Trib of this week is also worth reading:

Sunday, February 17, 2013 | Report this

Minor misconception, redfox. In no way did I try to construe that Ely today is vibrant and "alive" as compared to my youth. Ely was far more vibrant when the lumber sawmills and the underground mines were operating in my younger days. There were far more tourists when there were resorts in what is now called the BWCA. And those tourists weren't granola and water bottle people, they rented a cabin for a week, they rented or brought their boat and outboard motor along, in the winter, they came to stay in those resorts to go lake trout fishing with their snowmobiles. Those real tourists spent money when they came to town, not like most of the current tourists who look for a free restroom to use and free tap water to fill their water bottle, and mostly to tell us how to live our life.

Sheridan and Chapman were bustling, summer and winter, John Dee's place had music most nights, all the other bars were full, the movie theatres (there were 2) were full, the bowling alley was full. Today, Ely is deadsville compared to the 40's, 50's and 60's. Just want to clear that up.

As far as mining companies sharing in the development of the community, you did not mis-understand me. Mining company big shots pick and choose their involvement in community affairs. In the case of Virginia, U.S. Steel always made sure they had a "management" employee or more on the hospital commission (a wage and hour employee did not count), they always managed to have a management employee or two on the planning & zoning commission to keep tabs on how zoning will affect their operations, not so much to add talent or contribute to the community. I could go on and on about other Range cities, who had the same situation. Did anyone ever notice how these projections about how many jobs these mines will create? Inflated, anyone. Minntac, for example, had 4800 jobs at one time, now that figure is closer to 1800. The goal is, and always has been, to do as much work with as little people as absolutely necessary. The mines, like other manufacturing companies, are always quick to embrace automation, enhance the size of equipment and pay as little as they can. So all the promises of thousands of jobs can reasonably be reduced to a few hundred by the time things get started up. Granted our area needs the jobs, but to believe there will be as many as the politicians and mine operators claim is foolishness.

All that being said, I'd still much rather have the mining companies around rather than the Sierra Club and their umbrella of environmental wackos. Even the worst Republican is better than any Sierra Clubber, and Ely would be a much better town if the Sierra Clubbers, that have infiltrated the community, were eradicated.

Monday, February 18, 2013 | Report this

I 100% agree. Thank you. TH Lake Vermilion

Tuesday, February 26, 2013 | Report this

We all might realize the likelihood of national interests over preservation. mining near the kawishiwi watershed, the evolution of the process off spruce road and eventual foot print and influx of noise has us watching, hoping it's done right. the opinions are many.

But if we are to be true stewards, then a restoration of our wilderness is in order. hubert h humphrey stated the bwca should be managed, with sustainable forestry, boundary lakes left open to motors, resorts left to continue operating, more availability for snow machines and tourism access in winter, four mile portage should re-open, with a lodge built off hoist bay, cabin rentals and year round attractions, very low impactly built and based on education and entertainmentment and enlightenment. there's a whole bunch of sustainable jobs. Re-planting the pines should have been done in the 40's and continuing today. and now it's 50 years since the 1964 Wilderness Act, humphrey died and wilderness laws that were born right here are harming the resources and destroying the heritage. Human greed and no land ethics now yeild a forest floor incapable of restoring itself, an eco-disaster, invasive species and no fire managment are huge issues, the science at the U of M goes unheard as there are too many cooks in the political kitchen, too many ill informed users of this wilderness, too many professional environmentalists. and too many groups and friends hypocritical of what's important. preservation and restoration of past logged tracts in the bw, and repurposing management will pose no negative impact to tourism, it's likely to help grow a redefinition of the word wilderness, and a rewrite of the permit system is mandatory, and necessary to begin the dialog about the future health of the forests for future generations. the buckthorn waters canoe area wilderness. how does that sound?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013 | Report this