ELY, MN--This week MinnPost published an opinion piece by Steve Piragis, a local Ely business owner, that outlined the power structure arrayed against those local Minnesotans who love the Boundary Waters. This power structure was on full display at the Feb. 5th hearing in Washington, DC on Rep. Betty McCollum’s bill that would permanently protect the Boundary Waters from the threat of sulfide-ore copper mining. In the piece he writes:
The nature of the power structure arrayed against those of us who love the Boundary Waters and whose livelihoods depend on it were on clear display in the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 5. I went to Washington with other local Ely business people, including another canoe trip outfitter, an owner of an outdoor clothing manufacturing company and winter dogsled business, and the executive director of a wilderness-focused nonprofit organization that has been taking people into the Boundary Waters for many decades. Together the payrolls for our five businesses provide over $4 million in annual income to the Ely area…..
…..Although sulfide-ore mining boosters like U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber of Minnesota’s 8th District are quick to claim that opposition to copper mining near the Boundary Waters is an “insult to local people,” the Antofagasta supporters at the Feb. 5 hearing were not local people. They were instead an Antofagasta/ Twin Metals executive, a Minnesota Power executive, the chief lobbyist for the Minnesota copper-mining industry, and an employee of a mining construction company. In fact, the real insult to locals like me and my employees, friends, and colleagues, and to the thousands of other people who live in northeastern Minnesota because of the Boundary Waters, is the determination of powerful organizations to ride roughshod over the public interest. The great majority of Minnesotans get this — poll after poll shows a strong majority of people in every part of the state opposed to copper mining near the Boundary Waters.
You can read the full piece here.
Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, the leader of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, and nine northeastern Minnesota businesses sued in federal court to challenge the unlawful reinstatement of mineral leases that had been terminated in 2016. Four conservation groups later filed similar lawsuits, and the cases were consolidated.
This decision is a blow to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, our nation’s most visited Wilderness Area. It allows the Trump Administration to continue its reckless march toward authorizing an industrial mining complex that will replace a legacy of conservation and recreation with pollution and environmental degradation. The Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters will fight this bad idea - and Judge McFadden’s decision - every step of the way.
Judge Trevor N. McFadden decided to give deference to the Department of the Interior’s decision to reverse its 2016 position. He concluded that the Department’s actions were not arbitrary and capricious and not “‘a guise for changing previous decisions’ based on policy preferences.”
We strongly disagree. We believe the record clearly shows that the Trump administration reversal was a political decision to benefit Antofagasta. Our legal team’s request to introduce documents from the Department of Interior that demonstrated that the Department’s actions were motivated by politics and Trump Administration policy changes, not the rule of law or science, was denied.
Moreover, the decision ignores the plain language of the mineral leases in question, the administrative record from the Department of the Interior and its agency, the Bureau of Land Management, and the consistent interpretation and application of these leases over the past five decades. Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness and its nine business partners intend to appeal Judge McFadden’s decision to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
“This decision failed to recognize the clear, plain language of the leases and twisted itself into knots to justify the predetermined policy decision of the Trump Administration to sell out America’s most popular Wilderness to a Chilean billionaire who also happens to be the landlord of Ivanka Trump." - Executive Director, Tom Landwehr
We need your help to bring this to the Court of Appeals. Help continue our advocacy for the protection and preservation of the Boundary Waters. We will have more information to share as we learn more and dig in, but please help us take this fight to the next level with a donation today.
History of the leases:
Twin Metals Minnesota’s mineral leases were originally terminated by the Obama Administration in December 2016. At the end of a three-year review and a public comment period that included two heavily-attended public meetings, the Forest Service concluded that this was the wrong location for a risky copper mine. Former Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell stated, “A regionally-untested copper-nickel sulfide ore mine within the same watershed as the BWCAW might cause serious and irreparable harm to this unique, iconic, and irreplaceable wilderness area.”
This 2016 decision was reversed on May 2, 2018 by the Trump Administration, which unlawfully reinstated Twin Metals’ expired minerals leases. Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness (NMW), the lead organization of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, and nine Minnesota outdoor recreation businesses challenged the unlawful reinstatement of federal mineral leases by the Trump administration by filing a lawsuit in federal court in June 2018. Two additional lawsuits were subsequently filed by four conservation groups. After the three lawsuits were consolidated into a single case, and Twin Metals intervened on the side of the Trump Administration.
The nine plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Voyageur Outward Bound School, Piragis Northwoods Company, Ely Outfitting Company, Hungry Jack Outfitters, Sawbill Outfitters, River Point Resort and Outfitting Company, Northstar Canoe, Wenonah Canoe, and Women’s Wilderness Discovery.
On Friday, December 20, 2019, NMW’s pro bono lawyers at Morrison & Foerster presented the case for NMW, nine businesses, and four conservation groups before US District Court Judge Trevor McFadden. National Chair Becky Rom and Matt Norton, Policy and Science Director for the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, and many of our supporters and partners attended the oral arguments.
Judge McFadden unfortunately ruled in favor of the Department of the Interior and Twin Metals this week, and upheld the Trump Administration reversal of Twin Metals lease termination. We are disappointed in the decision and do not agree with it.
What happens next:
We will continue our legal challenge to the unlawfully reinstated mineral leases by filing an appeal of this decision to the U. S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
We are grateful for you and your activism to protect the Boundary Waters. The sanctitude of that special place seems even more important in this time of crisis, and our fight even more important. Regrettably, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are officially canceling all events scheduled in the coming 6+ weeks, and are postponing our spring 2020 Boundary Waters Gala until October 2020 (specific date yet to be determined).
If you have already purchased your tickets for this year’s gala, they will remain valid for our rescheduled October 2020 event.
If you have questions, comments, or concerns, please do not hesitate to reach out to Ingrid Lyons or Carter Sample. We look forward to staying connected. We are working on multiple fronts to stop this mine, and that work cannot stop. We know these are unprecedented times, and we are continuing to work towards protecting the Boundary Waters from the impacts of toxic sulfide-ore copper mining.
Thank you to those of you who have donated and had planned to come to these events -- we are grateful for your support.
We will keep you updated on the status of future film screenings and events as we monitor the effects of COVID-19. You can stay updated by visiting: https://www.savetheboundarywaters.org/events
We are working on a digital way for you to enjoy this documentary, please check your email and our social channels in the coming weeks to learn more.
Have questions? Please reach out to email@example.com
Last week, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum stood in a congressional hearing and showed the almost completely redacted report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This report was supposed to show the findings of a (now-cancelled) two-year-long, unfinished study on the risks of sulfide-ore copper mining near Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
“Would you say that this level of redaction to a Forest Service study is normal? To have something that is so redacted?”
Congresswoman Betty McCollum has repeatedly asked for this information and even included report language in the Interior-Environment funding bill at the end of December to get the study finished and released. That language was aggressively stripped out of the final bill by the White House.
Everything except for the cover has been completely redacted. The scientific findings of this study are being kept from Elected Officials and the general public. We the taxpayers deserve to see the findings of this study. We deserve to know the real cost of putting a copper mine right next to America’s most visited Wilderness.
You can find the document here.
In December 2016, after a years-long consideration of the risks involved with sulfide-ore copper mining, the U.S. Forest Service sent a 21-page carefully-reasoned letter to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), announcing that the Forest Service would not consent to renewal of two expiring federal mineral leases held by Antofagasta’s subsidiary, Twin Metals. The next day, the BLM rejected Twin Metals’ lease renewal applications. Also the next day, the BLM and Forest Service announced that a 20-year ban on mineral leasing and exploration permits in the Boundary Waters watershed would be considered and studied.
Shortly thereafter, the Forest Service, with assistance from the BLM, launched an environmental review that would last two years. This study was designed to analyze the environmental, economic, and social impacts of the proposed 20-year mineral leasing and exploration moratorium, and to consider the risks that sulfide-ore copper mining would pose for the region if the moratorium were not adopted. The environmental review study initially announced as an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) but later downgraded to an Environmental Assessment (EA), is required under the federal law known as the Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA). The study’s purpose was to inform and guide the Secretary of the Interior’s decision on whether to order the requested 20-year mineral leasing ban.
In September 2018, 20 months into the two-year study, the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, which includes the Forest Service, abruptly revoked the Forest Service’s request for a 20-year mineral leasing ban and cancelled the nearly-complete environmental review. The Department of Agriculture’s explanation was that no new science had been found during the first 20 months of the study. This was not only untrue (dozens of new scientific reports and papers had been delivered to the agencies during the study), but even it had been true, it would have supported the Forest Service’s original decision - that sulfide-ore copper mining carries an unacceptable risk of causing irreparable harm to the Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters.
Since the study’s cancellation, the Forest Service and the Department of Agriculture have refused to share the study’s reports with the public. The federal agencies have even ignored written and in-person requests from Congress. Only a federal lawsuit by The Wilderness Society’s 2019 under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) caused federal agencies to release the report. Before doing so, however, the agencies blacked-out the entire report except for the cover page.
By May 2nd, 2019, the BLM had reinstated and renewed the terminated leases. It did so after releasing a sham of an environmental review document -- an EA -- that ignored the negative environmental, economic, and social impacts of renewing leases whose only purpose is to enable the same dangerous sulfide-ore copper mining that the Forest Service had already rejected.
Sulfide-ore copper mining risks the destruction of land and forest, and the permanent pollution of the lakes, rivers of America’s canoe country. We must prevent sulfide-ore copper mining if we are to protect the Boundary Waters for future generations.
On January 15, 2020, Congresswoman McCollum introduced HR 5598. This bill would protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Quetico Provincial Park, and Voyageurs National Park by putting federal lands in the Boundary Waters watershed off-limits to sulfide-ore copper mining.
Tell your representative today to co-sponsor HR 5598, a bill to protect the Boundary Waters!
Ashley Bredemus is a writer, photographer, and owner of Birchwood Wilderness Camp at the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. She lives there year-round in a primitive cabin with her dog, Arlo, and dad, Dan. Her blog, An Outdoor Experience, is all about the fullness of a life lived outdoors!
You know that questioning stage of getting to know someone you have a crush on? You’re asking the “favorite” questions: what’s your favorite movie, what’s your favorite meal, what’s your favorite song...
When Victor and I were in that stage, just over a year ago, I asked about his favorite quote. He rattled it off quickly as if there could be no other answer, “Love is passion, obsession, someone you can't live without. I say, fall head over heels. Find someone you can love like crazy and who will love you the same way back. How do you find him? Well, you forget your head, and you listen to your heart. Cause the truth is, there's no sense living your life without this. To make the journey and not fall deeply in love, well, you haven't lived a life at all. But you have to try, cause if you haven't tried, you haven't lived.”
William Parish originally said that but Victor swept me off my feet with it because I could tell he truly lived by it. We fell head over heels for each other that fall in the Boundary Waters, where we originally met working at Birchwood Wilderness Camp.
As the leaves changed color, we paddled together until the rivers and lakes froze over. We traded our paddles for snowshoes and our canoe for a hand auger. Throughout all the seasons, our favorite place in the BWCAW has been Romance Lake and not because of its sugary sweet name. No, we love Romance Lake because it feels like our own private slice of the Boundary Waters, never another soul in sight.
When Victor showed up at my cabin door last week suggesting we hike to Romance Lake to see if the fish were biting, I thought nothing of it, “I would love to go fishing on Romance with you!”
We hadn’t seen the sun in seven days but that morning the sun was on full display, following us as we crossed the first lake on our way to Romance portage.
Seeing the sun wasn’t the only natural miracle of the day! I know this sounds very snow-white of me but I’ve been taking care of a Whiskey Jack with a broken beak this winter. He usually follows me about a quarter of a mile whenever we hike towards Romance but NEVER all the way.
Except for this day! As if Victor had made a deal with the bird, we arrived at the portage to see him perched above us, coo-ing in a tree.
With our bird overhead, I could feel my spirits lifting after days of relentless gloomy weather. We made our usual detour to a nice sitting spot, a vista overlooking Romance Lake when Victor said, “Why don’t you take a couple photos of Arlo in front of the view.”
“Excellent idea, hunny!”
Arlo sat for her photograph while I snapped away. I could hear my Whiskey Jack in the tree behind me when Victor whispered, “Arlo.”
As she strode past me, I turned around to see the love of my life, down on one knee with a ring box in his hand.
Nestled inside was a ring with diamonds from my mother's engagement ring placed perfectly on a thin gold band.
I didn’t mean to burst into tears and fall into his arms but I did. I could tell she was there in that moment, as if all the things and people I love came out to make this moment right.
I said yes on the secluded shores of Romance Lake where we first chose to follow our hearts and fell head over heels for each other.
Although we didn’t catch any fish that day in the BWCA, we got something so much better - canoe country paddling partners for life.
This Valentine’s Day, celebrate your paddling partner and share in our love for the Boundary Waters by sending a Valentine to your representative telling them to protect the BWCA!
You might have heard a number of red herrings and falsehoods from those opposed to H.R. 5598 in yesterday’s hearing on Rep. McCollum’s bill, the Boundary Waters Permanent Protection and Pollution Prevention bill,. The Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters corrects the record:
Q: If we don’t do the Twin Metals mine in Minnesota, won’t that mean another mine with child labor will open elsewhere to meet demand?
A: No, opening of a new mine has never resulted in the closure of an existing mine. This represents an expansion by Antofagasta into the U.S. - this mining company is not proposing to close any of its existing mines. Further, it has a terrible record in Chile. Antofagasta insists it will do it right in MN; why can’t it do that in Chile? Mining proponents should hold these global mining companies accountable for human rights and environmental sustainability everywhere they work, before welcoming them here.
Q: Taconite mining has been cleaned up so well, so copper mining clean up will be the same. What’s the problem?
A: Copper mining has a long history of pollution that dwarfs that of taconite mining. Iron ore is fundamentally oxidized (iron oxide) reducing its reactivity. That doesn’t mean it’s not polluting (see the MPCA’s pollution data for sulfate and specific conductance at HibTac and MinnTac). In comparison to iron mining, however, sulfide-ore copper mining will be far, far more polluting, because the metals in the Duluth Complex are bound to sulfur (sulfide ores). The chemical reactions of sulfide ores exposed to air and water are different, and produce acids that then leach toxic heavy metals from the Duluth Complex rock out into surface waters and groundwater.
Q: Don’t we need these minerals to ensure our national security?
A: Metals from Antofagasta’s proposed Twin Metals mine won’t go to America. Antofagasta - the Chilean mining giant that owns Twin Metals - ships almost all of its metal concentrates to Asian companies where it is refined and sold (see page 42 of 2018 Annual Report). The U.S. should not risk the Boundary Waters only to end up buying the copper back from China. It’s an absurd idea, and does nothing for U.S. security.
Q: Why should all Americans (“outsiders,” as Congressman Stauber (R, MN-8) called bill propenents) get to decide whether the Boundary Waters is protected?
A: First,Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness are American public lands of the very best quality, and all Americans own and have an interest in seeing them protected. Second, those that live closest to the proposed Twin Metals mine are opposed to it. Polling conducted in 2018, by Donald Trump’s preferred polling firm, shows that 56% of residents in Congressman Stauber’s district (MN-8th) oppose the mine. A February 2020 poll by the StarTribune and MPR showed the same results: 57% of residents in northern Minnesota oppose copper mining near the Boundary Waters. The suggestion Congressman Stauber makes -- that people up north prioritize copper mining over protecting the Boundary Waters -- is wrong.
Q: Hasn’t Minnesota always done mining safely?
A: Minnesota’s laws were not designed to protect an area as pristine as the Boundary Waters from the impacts of sulfide-ore copper mining in its headwaters and upstream of the Wilderness. Water quality in the Boundary Waters is the best in Minnesota, and any pollution will degrade it. State standards for mining allow for pollution, and polluted waters from sulfide-ore copper mines would flow into the Boundary Waters. Once the pollution enters the Boundary Waters, it is impossible to contain the pollution or remove or mitigate the damage. Minnesota’s legacy of mining is based on iron ore, and it is not without impacts (see here about Dunka Pit). There are significant water quality problems and violations associated with many of Minnesota’s iron mines. When asked if Twin Metals could guarantee no pollution, their spokesperson said, “That’s not a fair question.”
Q: Why not let the project go through the regulatory process?
A: The legally proper federal process has been broken under the Trump administration.
The first step in the process was to determine if Twin Metals federal mineral leases should be renewed. For two years, professional staff of the Forest Service conducted a thorough review of sulfide-ore copper mining in the watershed. It conducted numerous meetings in Minnesota and throughout the country. It provided a public comment period and public meetings. At the conclusion of this comprehensive process, the Forest Service determined that sulfide-ore copper mining poses an “unacceptable risk” to the Boundary Waters and withheld its consent to renewal of the leases. The leases were cancelled in 2016. This decision was unlawfully reversed by the Trump administration in 2018 for political purposes.
Second, the proper process for determining if the public lands in the Boundary Waters headwaters should be withdrawn from the federal mining program was corrupted. For more than a hundred years, it has been the policy of the United States that we do not mine federal minerals that are located in valuable or vulnerable places. Scientific evidence shows that sulfide-ore copper mining in the headwaters would pose an unacceptable risk of harm to the Boundary Waters, the most popular Wilderness Area in America. Because of this, the Forest Service applied for and undertook a mineral withdrawal study pursuant to federal law to determine if mining on federal lands and minerals in the watershed of the Boundary Waters should be banned. The study was nearly completed when it was suddenly cancelled by direction of the White House for purely political reasons.
Q: Isn’t the mine needed for jobs?
A: Unemployment in NE Minnesota is around 4% (see Page 6) - in other words, there is a labor shortage in Northern Minnesota, not a job shortage. Further, economic research by prominent economists has shown that a Twin Metals mine would result in FEWER jobs and LESS income than if the existing diverse and sustainable economy continued to grow. If copper mining were to be allowed, it is not surprising that copper mining would cause people to leave the area and find other places to live and vacation. Over the life of a Twin Metals mine, there will be less economic activity in the Ely area with the mine than without. The wilderness-based economy of the Boundary Waters region has accomplished something state leaders have been trying to do for years - diversify the economy beyond just mining. Tourism and the larger amenity-based economy* that is rooted in the Boundary Waters, provide important diversification, resilience to economic downturns, and steady growth each year as the population increases and wilderness areas become more valued. Twin Metals has also said that much of its workforce will come from out of state and out of the country.
Q: Isn’t copper recyclable?
A: Yes, copper is one of the most recyclable (and recycled) of all metals, and companies like Apple are committing to ensuring that more recycling takes place.
Q: Don’t most Minnesotans support mining?
A: Most Minnesotans support iron or taconite mining. BUT, an overwhelming majority of Minnesotans oppose sulfide-ore copper mining on the edge of the Boundary Waters. A 2018 poll of Minnesotans conducted by President Trump’s pollster found that more than 70% of Minnesotans oppose this project. In a February 2020 poll by the StarTribune and MPR, 60% of Minnesotans oppose this project. When asked if providing jobs or protecting the environment was more important when it comes to mining, 66% statewide and 60% in northern Minnesota said the environment was a higher priority.
Q: Doesn’t the dry stacking of tailings make this environmentally benign?
A: No! So-called “dry stacking” - or piling of the 99.5% of ground up rock that remains after most copper and nickel are extracted - was developed for arid and arctic environments. It is a dangerous practice in wet environments (like northern MN). The method was rejected by the Minnesota DNR in 2018 because dry stacking increases potential for generation of acid conditions and leaching of heavy metals, increases the spread of pollutants from wind-borne dust, and requires perpetual collection and treatment of seepage (see Findings of Fact beginning on page 97), and because of the high likelihood of re-saturation of the tailings dump in Minnesota’s wet environment would lead to leaching of acid mine drainage. The pile of toxic tailings would cover 430 acres, and reach a height of130 feet tall. It would tower over the forest, be visible for miles, and present an extreme and permanent risk of failure and pollution to the Boundary Waters. The four mines pointed to by Twin Metals as models for dry-stacking have all polluted both water and land.
*Amenity-based development is economic activity in a host of industries, including recreation/tourism, but also construction, personal and professional services, retail, and others that arrives or stays in a region for the sake of its scenic, recreational, environmental, and quality-of-life amenities. These amenities induce an in-migration (and support the retention) of human capacity (entrepreneurs, skilled workers) that is the real engine of economic development. Amenities also attract and retain consumers, including retirees and working-age people who could do their jobs anywhere, but who would prefer to live in a place with a high quality of life.
Read the statements from those of testified at the H.R. 5598 hearing:
Statement from Tom Tidwell
Former Chief of the U.S. Forest Service
Statement from Jason Zabokrtsky
Owner of Ely Outfitting Company
Statement from Land Tawney
President and CEO of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers
On January 15, MN Rep. Betty McCollum introduced a bill entitled “The Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection and Pollution Prevention Act” in the U.S. House of Representatives (all bills are given a “House Resolution” number for easier tracking, and this one is H.R.5598). We are immensely thankful for the leadership demonstrated here by Rep. McCollum. You can find her summary of the bill here.
The intent of the bill is really quite simple - it is intended to prevent sulfide-ore copper mining of federal lands in the Rainy River Headwaters watershed which drains into the BWCAW (see map below) and Voyageurs National Park. The bureaucratic term that is used is “withdrawal”; this essentially means the federal government removes these public lands from potential leasing for mining activities. Withdrawals can be implemented by Congressional action (as this would do) or by administrative action by the Forest Service after a public review process. The withdrawal would not restrict mining for iron ore, taconite, sand and gravel or granite.
The bill’s proposed withdrawal area of the Rainy River Headwaters watershed is 234,328 acres - and is the same area as was proposed for administrative withdrawal by former US Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell in 2016. In order to abide by the law for withdrawing these lands, the US Forest Service initiated a 2-year study in 2017. It was abruptly halted by the Trump administration 4 months prior to completion, with the claim that “no new information” was being discovered. The administration has refused to release the draft reports, which we strongly believe clearly find that mining is incompatible.
Rep. McCollum, and other House leaders had asked to have the draft withdrawal study released to Congress, and the administration refused to comply. As the administration continued to stonewall, while simultaneously moving the project forward, it became apparent that the only way to protect the Boundary Waters and Voyaguers National Park is a permanent and complete mineral withdrawal. Hence, Rep. McCollum was compelled to draft and introduce H.R.5598.
In addition to Rep. McCollum as the chief author, the bill had bipartisan support as cosponsors. These included: Reps. Dean Phillips (D-MN), Francis Rooney (R-FL), Fred Upton (R-MI), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), with additional sponsors joining every day. The bill will now be heard in the House Natural Resources Committee on Feb. 5, 2020. Rep. Raul Grijalva, the chair of that committee, is very interested in moving this bill through the House. That could happen before summer.
Here are 5 ways you can help protect the Boundary Waters:
Contact your US Representative and ask them to sign onto Rep. McCollum’s bill - H.R.5598.
Contact your US Senators (even if you don’t live in MN!) and ask them to support a companion bill in the Senate.
Make sure you’ve signed our petition, and encourage your family and friends to do the same.
Donate! It takes a lot of resources to fight this toxic mine.
Stay engaged - follow us on social media (FB, Twitter, and Instagram), and keep up to date on what’s happening.
Meeting with your representatives and other elected officials is an important part of what our volunteers do because these visits can be very impactful on a personal level. Hearing constituents’ stories and experiences let them know what you care about and why you care. Here are some tips on how to make an impactful visit for the Boundary Waters:
How to make the initial contact.
Once you’ve decided who you would like to meet with, write a letter to their office requesting a meeting. Addresses can be found on the official’s website. Remember: it’s their job to know what the constituents care about, so they will have time to meet with you. Don’t be shy about it! Most likely, you’ll receive a response from a staff member who will meet with you and pass your information along to the elected official.
Prepare what you’d like to say.
Inform yourself on all sides of the issue so you know what you’re talking about! Craft an argument using data, personal stories and a specific ask. Make a plan, and bring some note cards if you think you might freeze up.
Use science and data to back up your claims.
Your argument should be supported by the evidence. You may want to bring some informational materials for the staffer to pass along, but keep it brief - stick to only one or two items. Too much information, and it’s likely the official will end up reading none of it. Check with a Save the Boundary Waters staff member for ideas on what to bring with you.
Side note: while it’s important to know what you’re talking about, it’s okay not to know everything. If someone asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, be honest! Making something up will NOT give you credibility.
Really leverage those personal stories.
Your stories and experiences have a great emotional impact. Utilize them to get your message across. Really think about why the BWCA is so important to you and why you want to keep it safe.
Have a specific ask.
Make sure you tell your official exactly what you want them to do. Otherwise, it’s much easier for them to brush you off and do nothing. Again, talk to STBW staff if you need advice on what to ask them to do.
Dress like a team.
Attire can vary depending on what office you’re visiting, but the most important thing if you’re going with a group is that you look like a team. If you decide to go business casual, you should ALL go in business casual attire. If you decide to wear a STBW t-shirt, make sure you all wear that same shirt.
Show up on time, act professionally and make a good impression.
Since you’ll likely be meeting with a staffer rather than the official, you’ll be relying on them to pass the message along, and the best way to do that is by making a good impression. Being rude or disrespectful will decrease the chances of your message being taken seriously. That means you should be on time, only take up the allotted time you’ve been given, and most importantly, be kind.
On Dec. 18, Twin Metals Minnesota, the wholly owned subsidiary of Chilean mining giant Antofagasta, submitted its plans to open a sulfide-ore copper mine on the edge of - and in the watershed of - the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. This begins the slow, methodical march towards acquiring permits that will spell destruction for America’s most visited Wilderness. Here’s some information you need about the mine plan.
1. What is a “mine plan”?
A “mine plan of operation” is a combination of maps and information that describes every aspect of the proposed mining operation. It shows where the mine shaft and extraction areas will be, where the ore will be processed, how the massive amounts of tailings will be permanently stored, where electricity will come from, what new roads and rail lines will have to be created, and what kind of chemicals will be needed to extract the minerals. The full plan that was submitted to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) by Twin Metals Minnesota is here.
2. What's in this mine plan?
There is a ton of information in here, but here is some summary information:
Location (see map appended): directly adjacent the South Kawishiwi River and Birch Lake, about 10 miles southeast of Ely and 10 miles northeast of Babbit. The project area comes within 3 miles of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), and all water from the project site flows into the BWCAW. The mine project area is currently forest and forested wetlands, with small streams flowing through.
Size: 1156 acres - almost 2 square miles - of existing national forest will be cleared, filled, graded and converted to an industrial mine site. Within this, a tailings management site will cover 653 acres and the tailings stack itself will cover 429 acres. 156 acres of wetlands will be filled or drained.
Dry stack tailings facility: the stack will be comprised of a silty-sandy mixture - abundant in potential pollutants - and will be 130 feet tall. The stack will be built up over time, with dump trucks and bulldozers running almost continuously to manage the material. It will be permanently located at the site. Given the flat topography in the area, and the proximity to Birch Lake, it will be visible for miles. Prevailing winds will carry “fugitive dust” that is loaded with pollutants and will get carried into the BW. The potential amount of seepage is “not known”, but it clearly will end up in Birch Lake and the BW.
Water: the project will require up to 130 million gallons of water per year from Birch Lake. That's the equivalent to 200 olympic sized swimming pools worth of water. While Twin Metals says there will be no “process water” discharge, the project requires several holding ponds to manage process water and inflows from precipitation. These are located, in some instances, within 350 feet of Birch Lake and on the most permeable and deep soils in the area. Current drainage in the area will be funneled into ditches, and rerouted around the project site. Some 40% of Birch Lake shoreline contains wild rice that is sensitive to sulfides and other pollutants.
Processing facility: several buildings will be constructed on site including an explosives storage building, propane and fuel storage buildings, a 100’ tall coarse ore stockpile dome and the concentrator facility. Most crushing will be done underground, but final concentration crushing will be above ground. There will be 68 vehicles (mostly diesel) working underground, 37 pieces of heavy equipment (mostly diesel) operating at the tailing site, and another 22 vehicles at the processing facility. All of those emissions will be discharged on site.
Air: 2 very large (e.g., 17’ by 20’ diameter) tunnels will be constructed to vent contaminated air from the mine into the forest on site. The exhaust will include fumes from heavy equipment (68 dozers, loaders, etc.), blasting, dust from materials handling, carbon monoxide from propane heaters, and other noxious gases, and be blown from the mine with giant, industrial fans. Dust will be generated above ground from handling of ore, from vehicle traffic accessing and on the site, and from the huge tailings facility (as above, 130’ tall, 430 acres in size, comprised of silty sand). Prevailing winds will carry pollutants long distances, including into adjacent waters and the BW.
Other: a new, 10 mile long by 150 foot wide corridor will be cut through the forest towards Babbitt, and an electricity transmission line will be constructed. Some 100 heavy trucks per day (including up to 80 tractor-trailers) will enter and leave the site via MN Hwy 1; most will route through Ely.
3. How will this impact the Boundary Waters?
There is no way this project won’t negatively affect the BWCAW. The potentially devastating impacts will occur in multiple ways:
Water quality. Today, you can drink the water in the BW straight from the lake. Contaminated water will drain from the mine into Birch Lake via stormwater (i.e., overland flow) and groundwater. Contaminants will include: sulfates, heavy metals, processing chemicals, fuel residuals, sediments and acids. Birch Lake and downstream receiving waters in the BW are currently free of these contaminants, and have no ability to buffer their impact. Once in the water, most of these never settle out, so the loading is permanent. State water quality standards actually allow these pollutants to be discharged, because they were not written to protect a place as pristine as the wilderness.
Air quality. The mine will directly emit significant air pollution from blasting gases, scores of diesel machines, propane heaters to heat the mine, and huge amounts of dust that will be blown from the tailings pile, processing facilities and travel corridors. Once airborne, these pollutants will find their way into adjacent waters - that are the headwaters for the BW - and directly into the Wilderness on the prevailing winds. Indirectly, the mine will require a huge new source of electricity. The mine plan does not address this, but we expect a mothballed coal-fired electrical plant will be brought back into use by Minnesota Power (a strident mine supporter). This will have a huge additional emission of greenhouse gases in the region.
Ecosystem health. The US Forest Service manages the BW as a wilderness - to the maximum extent possible, the ecosystem is intact. That is true, in part, because the surrounding Superior National Forest is mostly intact. But the ecosystem degradation that will result from the mine will also spill into the BW. Aquatic and terrestrial invasive species will be brought in by earthmoving equipment and significantly increased traffic. Destruction of 2 square miles of forest and 10 miles of transmission corridor will allow for non-native plant, animal and invertebrate species to become established and spread into the wilderness. Water quality degradation will result in a cascade effect throughout the aquatic food web, dramatically changing the biota of waterbodies. Even the introduction of constant, low frequency sound by heavy equipment has been shown to affect animals for miles from their source. Expect a much degraded wilderness adjacent to and downstream of the mine.
Other impacts. The permanent 130 foot tailings pile will tower over the trees virtually on the shores of Birch Lake. It will be a permanent visual blight visible for miles. Ditto the transmission corridor and the multiple buildings on site. In addition to the heavy vehicles in use on site - moving material and building the tailings pile - the mine will require semi-trucks to move ore concentrate through Ely to Duluth (up to 80 per day). With other heavy service trucks, more than 100 trucks per day will be routed through Ely. The mine will require up to 130 million gallons per year of water to be withdrawn from Birch Lake, and a new pipeline to supply it. Nighttime lighting and significant vehicle noise will permeate the area.
4. What's next?
The federal government agencies (Bureau of Land Management and US Forest Service) will follow a different - but similar - path than the state agencies (DNR and MPCA). Both governments will spend some time reviewing the many pages of documents to identify if any important material is missing (like the draft reports from the Withdrawal Study!). Then, both will independently announce the beginning of the environmental review process. This will likely be initiated by the federal agencies in January or February, somewhat later for the state agencies. The announcements will also specify when public comments can be provided. This is an important step called “scoping” that is used to decide all the issue areas that must be investigated in the environmental review process.
Federal agencies are under a directive to complete environmental reviews in 1 year and constrained to 150 pages. This is wholly inadequate, and a good indication that the federal government is going to do everything in its power to ram this project through the process. We believe the state rules allow for the MN DNR to hold off on moving the application forward until they have the preliminary reports from the federal withdrawal study. Once they have all the information required by law, they’d start the environmental review process.
5. What are we doing to stop this mine?
Right now, we are actively reviewing the mine plan with the help of several experts. We need to identify all the negative impacts so we can demonstrate to decision makers that this project should not proceed.
We have encouraged the state DNR to stop the process from moving forward by demanding the mineral withdrawal study reports from the federal government (Forest Service). The federal government is hiding these reports and has ignored requests by Congress to release them. We believe the reason is that the reports show clearly that the mine should not be constructed here (why else would the reports be suppressed?). The state DNR should not begin the review process until these important documents are provided. If, as expected, the federal government study has already concluded the project should not be built, why should the state allow it to move forward?
We are also working with our Congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., and especially with Rep. Betty McCollum - a true wilderness champion. She has worked hard to get the hidden withdrawal study released, but the administration is stonewalling. We will continue to work with her to find a way to stop the project. In addition to the above work with the state, we are developing a strategy to get better state standards that would protect the Boundary Waters (more on this as the Legislative session starts in February).
Our lawsuit challenging the federal leases continues in Washington, DC, and we expect a decision in early 2020. If we don’t prevail in the District Court, we intend to appeal to the Appeals Court. Finally, we continue to build our supporter base - and your financial support is critical to our success! - and push hard to get the word out on the mine and it’s devastating impact. We had a great year for media in 2019, and hope to be even more successful in 2020.
6. How do I engage?
Stay informed and stay active!
This project can be stopped if enough people make our federal and state leaders understand this is devastating for the BWCAW and not in the best interests of the state or nation. Calls and letters to elected officials - like Senators Klobuchar and Smith and Governor Walz - are critical and impactful. Letters to editors in your local newspaper are read by many and make a definite impact. Supporting our efforts with your donations and volunteer time is essential - we can’t do this without you. And most importantly, stay informed. We’ll try to keep you updated on this website and through social media about what’s happening. New developments happen fairly frequently, and there are time-sensitive events that require a short turnaround for action. Make sure you get our emails and action alerts, and check back to the website for periodic updates.
Thank you for your support of America’s most popular Wilderness!
Map of the proposed sulfide-ore copper mine.