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Contact: Libby London (612) 227-8407
October 24, 2023
*ICYMI* Minnesota’s local CBS news station, WCCO, highlights Save the Boundary Waters’ decade of work fighting against sulfide-ore copper mining threats
WCCO, Minnesota’s local CBS news station, highlighted how the Campaign to Save The Boundary Waters built a movement that brought Minnesota’s sulfide-ore copper mining threat into the national spotlight.
(Ely, MN) - Last Thursday, WCCO, Minnesota’s local CBS news station, highlighted how the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters built a movement that brought Minnesota’s sulfide-ore copper mining threat, considered the most toxic industry by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), into the national spotlight.
The two-part feature showcases the Campaign's progress over the past decade to safeguard the Boundary Waters from this kind of toxic mining, including the Public Land Order banning mining on all federal lands and minerals in the watershed of the Boundary Waters for 20 years. The Public Land Order was signed by Secretary of the Interior Haaland on January 26th. This is the most significant conservation measure to be implemented for the Boundary Waters in 45 years.
The segments feature Ely-area advocates, youth, business owners, and community members who have worked to protect the watershed of the Boundary Waters for the past decade from sulfide-ore copper mining.
From the segments:
What started with a small group of people is having a big impact on protecting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Earlier this year, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland imposed a 20-year federal ban on copper nickel mining in the Superior National Forest, the headwaters to the BWCA. It could be considered a controversial action in a mining state. The decision made 225,000 acres off limits, ensuring a Chilean mining company could not move forward with its proposed Twin Metals mine. It’s the most significant conservation measure to protect the area in more than four decades. Behind the push for protection started with that small group of people, whose efforts grew into a national movement to Save the Boundary Waters.
"This was really a battle to protect one of the most important pieces of public land in the country," said Reid Carron, Ely resident.
“The worst place to do this type of mining is in a water-rich environment,” said Jason Zabokrtsky, owner of Ely Outfitting Company in Ely, MN.
The group achieved the 20-year ban on mining earlier this year, the most significant accomplishment to date. Still they're working toward permanent protection.
“We still have a long way to go. I think that’s what we think about more than what we’ve done, what we’ve accomplished,” said Steve Piragis, owner and founder of Piragis Northwoods.
The WCCO CBS news team traveled by boat with Becky Rom to the South Kawishiwi River and Birch Lake near the Twin Metals proposed mine site:
"We take a lot of people out on our pontoon boat to show them the site of the proposed sulfide ore copper mine," said Becky Rom, national chair of the Save the Boundary Waters campaign. She took WCCO's Jennifer Mayerle out on the South Kawishiwi River.
"Mining would take place right across the river. First as an underground mine and then closer to Boundary Waters as an open pit," Rom said.
The site of the proposed Twin Metals mine is across from Voyageur Outward Bound School. “This would be a pretty major assault on our ecosystem,” said Julie Hignell, of Voyageur Outward Bound near Ely. They serve about 500 students a year. She says the mine would jeopardize the ability to offer unique programming. There isn't a replacement location for this type of school.
With roughly 150,000 visitors to BWCA per year, it fuels $900 million in economic activity. "So this is an area that could also be in jeopardy with a mine right across. Everything on the other side of Kawishiwi River would be part of Twin Metals mine if it were to go forward," Rom said.
"Right now, behind us would be the giant tailings facility covering 430 acres and 130 ft in height, so it would be very visible from where we are now."
Earlier this month, a subsidiary of Twin Metals proposed exploring five to six miles of nearby state land for minerals. Save the Boundary Waters is calling on the state to reject what it calls "the most dangerous plan yet."
Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, founder and lead organization of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, submitted a letter of objection to a proposal submitted to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MN DNR) by Franconia Minerals, a subsidiary of Twin Metals Minnesota LLC, to pursue exploratory drilling on state lands immediately adjacent to Birch Lake. Birch Lake is located in the watershed of the Boundary Waters and flows directly into the Boundary Waters. In January the Biden Administration withdrew federal lands and minerals in the watershed of the Boundary Waters from the federal mining program for 20 years.
In June 2020, NMW filed a lawsuit under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA) wherein NMW argues that Minnesota’s non-ferrous mining rules fail to protect the Boundary Waters. This action is currently pending. In its May 31, 2023 Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order issued as part of this action, DNR determined that Minnesota’s regulations on noise and light failed to protect the Boundary Waters from mining activities in the Boundary Waters watershed and ordered rulemaking to expand the State’s buffer zone called the Mineral Management Corridor. That process is ongoing and will include a decision on whether any sulfide-ore copper mining should be allowed at all in the watershed of the Boundary Waters because of the high risk of water pollution flowing into the Wilderness.
Watch both pieces here:
- Thousands of acres in the Boundary Waters are now protected
- Local groups push back against mining near Boundary Waters