Conflict in The Northwoods: Mining Companies vs. The People

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Eli Aronson On December 20th, 2018, the Trump administration announced their plan to renew two controversial mineral leases to Twin Metals Minnesota, who plan to build an underground copper mine outside of Ely, Minnesota. Yet, on December 21st, 2018, the government went into a partial shutdown.   The federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) initially gave the public until January 22nd to comment on the plan to renew the lease.  However, due to the shutdown and the timing of the comment period, members of the BLM have not been able to answer questions online, and government-run websites with information on the lease were shut down for many days.  Minnesota’s U.S congress members, with the help of organizations such as the Save the Boundary Waters and The Wilderness Society, asked to extend the comment period until March 25th, along with adding two public meetings in Minneapolis and Washington D.C. The BLM instead gave the public an extra eight days to comment until January 30th. The Trump administration continues to ignore that 98% of the 250,000 public comments support protection of the Boundary Waters. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area, known to locals and regulars as the B.W.C.A, is the most visited wilderness area in the United States.  The B.W.C.A. spans across 1.1 million acres. It stretches through northern Minnesota and southern Canada and contains some of the purest water and beautiful land the country has to offer. [caption id="attachment_9481" align="aligncenter" width="329"] Sunrise at Argo Lake. Lindsey Aronson – Summer of 2017[/caption]   In the final months of the Obama Administration, the BLM banned mining in the B.W.C.A for the next twenty years, citing potential pollution from Twin Metals in their sulfide-ore mining.  Yet, two years later the Trump Administration reopened the lease and canceled environmental studies of the area. While many supporters of the potential mining believe there has been sufficient time to evaluate environmentally-safe mining, they seem to ignore other studies.  Dr. Tom Myers, a hydrologic consultant and a former research associate at both the University of Nevada and Arizona has released numerous studies on mining in the B.W.C.A.  In his most recent study, dated February of 2018, Dr. Myers concludes, “If sulfide mines are developed in the Rainy Headwaters [part of the Boundary Waters watershed], it is not a question of whether, but when, a leak will occur that will have major impacts on the water quality of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.”  Sulfide-ore copper mining produces giant waste piles that, when exposed to air and water, create sulfuric acid, a chemical known for resulting in terrible burns. In the history of sulfide-ore copper mining, pollution has NEVER been avoided. [caption id="attachment_9479" align="aligncenter" width="332"] Example of Sulfide-Ore Copper Mining Pollution, Rachel Garwin May 8, 2015[/caption] Allowing one large mine will lead to mass pollution, leaving ecosystems, experiences, and a thriving economy all left to suffer.  There are an estimated fifty-two mammals and over 150 bird species living in the B.W.C.A., with plenty of resources for animals. Many endangered species live in the B.W.C.A., including moose and the Canada lynx.  Polluting drinking water would quickly kill off many species and ruin others ecosystems. Many Latin students have spent long periods of time in the B.W.C.A..  Junior Olivia Hirshorn reflects on her seven days spent there, “It truly is a magical place. It’s almost indescribable.”  Sophomore Colin Campbell spent seven summers exploring the Boundary Waters. He explains that “[his] time there has been some of the most important and influential parts of [his] life.” Lastly, there is a thriving economy in nearby small towns.  Tourism generates $913 million per year and 17,000 local jobs.  Polluting water creates significantly less tourism over time, ruining the northern Minnesota economy. [caption id="attachment_9480" align="aligncenter" width="326"] Path of Pollution Jeff Disbrow August 16, 2018[/caption] As a member of the Latin community, it could be easy to roll over this, especially if you have never traveled to the Northwoods.  Yet, wilderness is rare. It is not something that can protect itself. The people must protect it. The Trump administration has put one of the great pieces of North American land at jeopardy. Facts cannot be ignored.   Here are three super easy ways to get involved:

  1. Submit a comment.  This takes roughly ten seconds. Fill out your name and it will not go unnoticed.  https://www.savetheboundarywaters.org/CommentPeriod2018
  2. Contact local senators and representatives.  Also, super easy. Fill out contact information like before and push send! https://www.savetheboundarywaters.org/how-help/contact-your-elected-officials/tell-your-senators-and-representatives
  3. Visit websites like https://www.savetheboundarywaters.org/ and https://www.wilderness.org/.  Both are super interesting with a lot of fascinating stories and facts.
Now, people must wait to see what Congress decides.  If anyone was interested in learning more or how to help, please visit https://www.savetheboundarywaters.org/.   Thank you and Save the Boundary Waters.]]>