Mining resolution debated

Joint Powers meeting yields further talk of Twin Metals project

by Tom Coombe
Representatives of local governments have come out yet again in support of the Twin Metals Minnesota copper-nickel mining project and against efforts that could derail those plans, but not without controversy.
The Dec. 20 meeting of the Community Economic Development Joint Powers Board included a last-minute resolution that mirrored many that have already been passed by area governing bodies.
This one, which opposed the Biden Administration’s efforts to seek a 20-year moratorium on mining on national forest land near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, failed to gain formal approval when it was passed by only four of five voting members.
Tom Omerza, who represents the school district on the Joint Powers Board, abstained and said the late nature of the resolution - which was not part of the agenda prepared prior to the meeting - offered little time for consideration.
“How can I vote when I am not able to consult with the school board and the administration?” asked Omerza. “I don’t know why you put me in this spot. I can’t vote when I haven’t discussed this.”
While the resolution is largely symbolic, at least for now it’s not part of the Joint Powers’ record as all Joint Powers decisions require a unanimous vote.
The resolution, offered and presented by Gerald Tyler of Up North Jobs, Inc., also sparked some opposition from the audience, including Elyite Becky Rom, who is leading a national campaign in opposition to the Twin Metals project.
Rom urged local officials to shoot down the resolution and instead support state and federal studies “to look at whether this watershed is the right place for copper-nickel mining.”
Opponents of the Twin Metals project contend it’s too environmentally risky to be done in the region’s water-rich environment, and that it could pollute the nearby BWCAW and wreak havoc with the region’s tourism and amenity-based economy.
Last fall, the U.S. Department of Interior and the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a joint statement, calling the BWCAW a “unique, natural wonder,” and reinstating plans for a moratorium that were first announced by the Obama Administration in late-2016.
That decision was later reversed by former President Trump, a Republican.
The current Democratic administration shifted course again, creating uncertainty for a project that has been in the works for more than a decade, and promises hundreds of new mining jobs while facing opposition from environmental groups.
As part of the most recent action, the U.S. Forest Service has applied to the Bureau of Land Management for a 20-year mineral withdrawal of more than 200,000 acres of federal land in a watershed that includes the Boundary Waters.
The Forest Service will also restart a previously canceled study of the environmental, cultural and economic impacts of mining near the Boundary Waters.
Twin Metals has indicated it would meet all environmental standards and has called the actions politically motivated. Mining supporters say Twin Metals will provide the minerals necessary to combat climate change and secure domestic supply chains.
The resolution presented by Tyler called for the Joint Powers Board to strongly oppose the Biden Administration action and contends the moratorium and mineral withdrawal would “stagnate and devastate economic development and job growth in northeastern Minnesota.”
While the resolution sparked discussion at the Joint Powers session, local governments have already passed numerous resolutions and have consistently and publicly backed proposed copper-nickel mining ventures, including both the Twin Metals project as well as the PolyMet project near Hoyt Lakes.
Twin Metals remains in the development stage and is controlled by Chilean mining giant Antofagasta. Should it come to fruition, the project is expected to bring hundreds of new high-paying mining jobs to the region, as well as spinoff employment.