Mining foe: No. No matter what; Twin Metals project, MINER Act injected into Joint Powers meeting

TALKING MINING - Sen. Al Franken aide Pete Makowski, Babbitt council member Glenn Anderson and Ely school board member Rochelle Sjoberg at the Grand Ely Lodge for the legislative meeting on Monday.

by Tom Coombe
An item that wasn’t even on the agenda stirred some of the most passionate discussion at Monday’s sit-down with area legislators and other key officials.
One of the area’s leading opponents of copper-nickel mining, Ely business owner Steve Piragis, declared that he’d continue to oppose the Twin Metals Minnesota project even if federal regulators conclude it would “meet or exceed” current environmental standards.
That came during a mini-debate with Aurora Mayor-Elect Dave Lislegard and was spawned by discussion of the MINER Act, legislation approved just days earlier by the U.S. House of Representatives.
As the bill advanced by U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN) awaits action in the Senate, Elyite Becky Rom railed against it in an appeal to aides of both U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D), and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
Rom, who heads the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, called Emmer’s legislation “toxic” and a “rural job-killing bill” that stands only to benefit Twin Metals Minnesota, which is proposing to develop an underground mine south of Ely,
Last month, the Ely council went on record in support of the MINER Act, and most elected officials in northeastern Minnesota are in favor of copper-nickel mining development and its promise of hundreds of new, high-paying jobs.
Before she was cut off by Morse Supervisor Bob Berrini, who chaired the annual Joint Powers session at Grand Ely Lodge, Rom made an array of arguments against the MINER Act, which would reverse an Obama Administration 11th-hour ban on mining activity and exploration on over 234,000 acres of federal land in northeastern Minnesota.
Rom called the neighboring Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness “the Yellowstone of Minnesota‚” and and the focal point of the region’s “growing amenity-based economy.”
More than 4,500 tourism based jobs in three counties are at risk, Rom charged, as well as thousands of other jobs.
The Twin Metals project would also destroy property values in the area, according to Rom, and she said that Emmer’s legislation goes against public will and peer-reviewed science and would turn “Minnesota into a banana republic.”
Rom came under fire this year and later apologized for remarks, printed in the New York Times, in which she denigrated mine workers. In another piece published this year, Rom is quoted as saying mining opponents will turn public sentiment “one funeral at a time.’
Piragis said people are “speaking in Echo chambers,” called for participants on both sides of the mining debate to listen to the other and “get outside of our comfort zones,” and pressed Ely Mayor Chuck Novak to initiate a community conversation on copper-nickel mining.
While Ely area leaders steered clear of the mining discussion, the remarks generated some push back from others, including Lislegard, who was in Washington the week before lobbying for the MINER Act.
According to Lislegard, mining opponents aren’t taking technological advances into consideration when they charge mining can’t be done safely.
“It’s like comparing 1957 Chevrolet technology to a 2017 Hybrid,” said Lislegard.
Lislegard said he believed it’s too early to take a stand on the Twin Metals project because it has not yet submitted a mine plan or gone through environmental review.
Nancy McReady, president of Ely-based Conservationists with Common Sense said the legislation was the result of “last-minute shenanigans by the Obama Administration.
“That’s why Emmer’s bill was needed,” she said.
Glenn Anderson, a council member in Babbitt, disputed notions that the area economy is centered on tourism.
Noting the work of mining pioneer Peter Mitchell, Anderson said “he didn’t come for tourism.”
Anderson also disputed notions that mining destroys the environment, pointing to “clean water and the largest walleyes in the state” in former mine pits.
“We are proud of our water,” said Anderson. “Our water is clear.”
Piragis would also stress that he is “not anti-mining,” but rather “deeply concerned about a sulfide-ore mine at the edge of the Boundary Waters wilderness.”
Nan Snyder of Ely asked that other considerations be part of the mining debate, including the potential impact of both noise and light pollution of the Twin Metals project.
Snyder said that BWCAW visitors “can hear the sound of silence,” and charged the Twin Metals project would destroy that experience.
That prompted a response from Rochelle Sjoberg, an Ely School Board member, Sjoberg said Snyder was being “speculative,” given the absence of a mining plan and blueprints for Twin Metals’ proposed mine.