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Council opposes Biden edict

6-1 vote seeks reconsideration of 20-year mining ban

by Tom Coombe

The city of Ely is now on record opposing the Biden Administration’s recent action to ban mining activity on thousands of acres of national forest land in northeastern Minnesota.

Acting as the city’s economic development authority, the city council voted 6-1 Tuesday - with member Adam Bisbee against - to request that the administration reconsider its decision.

The city council may take up a similar resolution as soon as this week and several members voiced frustration with an edict that  bans mining activity for 20 years and effectively blocks Twin Metals Minnesota’s plans to develop a copper-nickel mine near Ely.

Council member Paul Kess, who serves as EDA president, said the administration’s actions “come as no surprise but a big disappointment.”

“As the city most directly affected, we need to add our voices to that and add our concern directly to the Biden Administration as well as our two senators,” said Kess.

Council member Al Forsman said state and federal officials “have an obligation to take in all the risks involved.”

Forsman criticized the administration “for completely withdrawing mining within this area without considering the process being proposed.”

Omerza, who has fielded criticism from mining supporters on social media for her support of Biden in the 2020 election, joined the council majority in opposing the administration and said she would add the matter to  the Feb. 7 council agenda.

“This does affect us in many ways,” said Omerza.

Omerza pointed to efforts to reduce carbon footprints and Twin Metals’ efforts to do so, and endorsed the statements offered by both Kess and Forsman.

“I can’t say anything more than what you two have said,” said Omerza.

But council sentiment was not unanimous.

Bisbee, Ely’s newest elected officials, told his colleagues “I’m not up to speed on this topic (and) I don’t know enough to vote in favor or against. I need more information to voice my vote in one way or another.”

Kess responded “this is an issue that’s been visible in this community for quite some time.”

“This has been going on so long,” said Kess, who also cited the support of copper-nickel ventures by regional entities including the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools. “Most of the organizations have pursued the permitting of mining on a science based approach. This particular opinion by the Biden Administration seems to be based in politics rather than science.”

Kess added that “Twin Metals has had mineral leases in the subject properties for years, decades.”

The Ely council has passed numerous resolutions in support of the Twin Metals project, which should it come to fruition promises hundreds of high-paying mining jobs.

Longtime council member Jerome Debeltz, who has served continuously since being elected in 1993, pointed to the council’s long support as well as a quest to bring more employment to the region.

“It’s not going to affect the Boundary Waters,” said Debeltz. “It’s not going into the Boundary Waters. I feel we have had a significant amount of people talk about it and most importantly we need the jobs here.”

For several years, the Twin Metals project has been caught in a political back-and-forth, with the Obama Administration taking action to pull the company’s long-held mineral leases and pursue a mining moratorium on thousands of acres of national forest land in the region, followed by the Trump Administration reversing course.

The pendulum swung again when Biden took office, curtailing Twin Metals’ plan for development and again pulling the leases.

Twin Metals has fought back and is taking legal action to restore its mineral rights.

Amid the uncertainty, state regulators have suspended review of the project.

Twin  Metals has pressed for the government to follow existing regulatory processes and has promised to meet and exceed all environmental standards.  It contends the minerals it proposes to mine -copper, nickel, cobalt and platinum group metals – are needed for clean energy technologies that are essential to combat climate change and secure domestic supply chains.

The project has faced significant pushback from environmental interests.

Opponents have sought a permanent ban on mining near the BWCAW and say the Twin Metals project would destroy the region’s water-rich environment and devastate the area’s tourism and amenity-based economics.

The Twin Metals project has spurred the launch of the  national Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, which is fighting on several fronts to derail the new mine.

Ely officials say they will continue to weigh in and offer support for Twin Metals.

“Maybe there will be a chink in the armor and down the line our voice will be heard,” said Kess.

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