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LETTER: ... contributing to pollution that is more immediately devastating to the BWCA waters than a mine

Dear Editor:
I took the opportunity to drop in to the Tuesday Group that is held in Ely by what appears to be an informal group of people getting together for an “info-tainment” luncheon to listen to a guest speaker present on various topics.
This past Tuesday’s topic was “Saving the Boundary Waters” which was presented by Becky Rom, who is a Burntside Lake resident and environmental activist.
Curiosity got the best of me and I had to go see what was up since it is a well-known fact that the Boundary Waters usage is declining. That means that it is running the risk of heading into obscurity on a national front as one of the greatest places to visit. We all know the kids aren’t coming anymore.
In her presentation to a majority of elderly listeners, Ms. Rom proceeded with an argument that was against copper–nickel mining in the legally mineable fringes surrounding the park. She claimed that her group, Northeast Minnesotans for Wilderness had “real” science and presented all sorts of numbers and facts garnered and interpolated with data from various other studies made in different states, not Minnesota.
She never once referenced any State of MN studies or scientists, deferring instead to her facts.
She presented many conclusions along with a commissioned study that determined that 51% of Ely is retired with another 44% of them employed. 2% were unemployed and not seeking a job, and 1% were actively looking for employment.
I couldn’t help but notice the “shaping” of the report with a certain vagueness. It is obvious that as our area population declines due to lack of employment there will be less people remaining who are looking for work. This does not indicate population growth and vibrancy but instead, a decline.
It hardly means conditions in Ely are rosy as was her implication that we don’t need more jobs in Ely. If, for example, we were to see the closing of the revenue building, the US Forest Service and hospital, we would see that those who remain in Ely will be either retired or employed. Everybody else will fade away looking for a job in the metro areas as is currently the case and our population silently declines.
Ms. Rom also made the interesting argument that a mine south of Ely would take away jobs instead of increase the employment numbers because she had irrefutable evidence provided by scientists that 26 businesses downstream (resorts and outfitters in the White Iron Chain) would be closing their doors forever. This would be due to all the pollution that this proposed mine would supposedly bring.
How exactly can she predict this future? The scientists said so, of course. Apparently, they are never wrong.
How many good jobs would be gained by a mine start-up? The net gain would probably have the Ely hospital delivering babies once again. That’s just my guess and hope. No scientists helped me arrive at this conclusion.
In her presentation about “Saving the Boundary Waters” she left out a few more current details. I believe it was sometime last fall during a Tuesday Group presentation by an expert hydrologist, who was pressed about the ills of copper-nickel mining and the effects on the watershed.
My understanding was that he stated that run-off from on-site sewage treatment systems (mound systems) of all the homes being built along the non-BWCA lakes including Burntside, were contributing to pollution that is more immediately devastating to the BWCA waters than a mine coming into being some 15 years from now.
I recalled back in the mid-’80s, Becky Rom called a meeting of great importance to the Washington High School Auditorium. I attended that as well.
At that meeting, Ms. Rom presented numerous arguments against a man and his wife who were intending to build three duplex cabins somewhere near Camp Du Nord on the North Arm of Burntside Lake.
I sat in the audience as Ms. Rom vehemently presented at the podium that MN state-approved mound systems for on-site sewage treatment were bad for Burntside and the BWCA watershed. She demanded that he be denied his building permits.
The man sat at meeting, saying nothing in his own defense as she wailed on the evil he dared present to the world – three approved mound systems.
A guy sitting next to me, leaned over and pointed out the sheer irony of the fact that Ms. Rom, while she was tearing down this “sinner” publicly, was having her own mound system built at that very same time at her new home on Burntside. The man and his wife, having been beaten to a pulp by Ms. Rom, left town for good without building a thing.
Since the mid-’80s, state-approved mound systems have changed very little for the most part. That means that Ms. Rom’s sewage-treatment system is much like today’s systems. Since the time of her running the guy with the three duplex cabins off the lake, countless mansions have been built on numerous lakes well within the watershed of the BWCA.
Many of the gargantuan properties have six bathrooms and five bedrooms. That means they need a state-approved mound system to match. For five bedrooms, a hot-tub, pool, dishwasher, guest housing and sauna, those are big systems. They also use a lot of precious water.
Given that Ms. Rom was “saving” the BWCA in the mid-’80s regarding sewage run-off, why did she offer no opposition to the mansions being built within the last 30 years on just Burntside alone?
Apparently, the whole “goose/gander” cliché does not apply when it comes to saving the BWCA. Perhaps she interprets those many wealthy, new developers as societal members whose fecal matter neither stinks nor pollutes. I can’t read her mind but the question remains and the irony is thick.
During her most recent Tuesday presentation, Ms. Rom also pointed out that an invasive species of euro-nightcrawler is incredibly destructive to our eco-system and somehow it turns up when a “bulldozer disturbs the earth.”
So, if that is all it takes to introduce an eco-deadly invasive into the BWCA watershed, I’m wondering how much damage was caused by the installation of her mound system at her beautiful Burntside Lake home? They use bulldozers to build mounds and the Earth is disturbed mightily. Perhaps we should quarantine Burntside.
Instead of telling us that the mine is “guaranteed to pollute and fail,” what if Ms. Rom turned her efforts to the massive developments of private parties who are actively polluting the watershed with impunity right now by flushing their toilets and taking long showers?
How about sled dog run-off in White Iron? What must the water be like along those shores?
It’ll take 15 years for the mine to reach mine-able product if the state permit were granted tomorrow.
When Ms. Rom is 81 years old and living in the convenience of the Twin Cities near her kids and a better health care system, how much of the Boundary Waters eco-system will have been irreparably harmed by the mound systems both she and her supporters all used every day within the BWCA watershed?
How much will remain of the eco-system when the real and present danger of the spiny water flea invasion spreads throughout the Boundary Waters after getting its start in Burntside?
How much of the BWCA will survive 100 years from now as public usage continues to decline due to a lack of interest on both national and world fronts?
How long will it be before those states without water need our clean water to grow crops in the Heartland via pipeline?
And finally, how easy will it be to change legislation to “save the world” if tomorrow’s adults have forgotten all about the Boundary Waters because today’s kids aren’t canoe camping anymore?
Opposing the mine is a distraction from the real unresolved problems which lie directly ahead. In the future of Ms. Rom’s world, the last remaining retiree hold-outs in Ely will not be able to fend off that threat when it arrives.
On the other hand, a vibrant, growing, employed, Ely population, would stand a fighting chance. Every single person I know wants to protect our Boundary Waters. No scientific study is needed to know that.
In summary, I must mention the only question queried to Ms. Rom after her presentation – and it was a good one.
The person asked “Who paid for all of these scientific studies (referenced in Ms. Rom’s presentation)?” To which Ms. Rom answered, “Ummm – My organization did. Northeast Minnesotans for Wilderness.”
I kinda figured.
Joe Baltich, Jr.

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