Skip to main content

LETTER: ... Will other environmental groups come to the table and be a partner in such an agreement?

Dear Editor,
My husband and I attended the Save the Boundary Waters presentation on sulfide mining at Vermilion Community College. It was a nice slide presentation of the layout of the area, depicting the Boundary Waters, what makes it special, the watershed, the mineral deposits, the aquatic and forest ecology, etc. Many of us who support the proposed copper/nickel mining projects have heard similar presentation several times before by Becky Rom and her friends.
What was different this time, before a group of about 100 people, was that the question period was literally shut down by Rom at 7:30 after two questions. Was she intimidated by the dozen or so supporters of mining projects and what questions they would ask? I talked to Dave Marshall who schedules events at Vermilion and he said the theater was booked until 9:30.
Bill Erzar asked about the sulfide content of the ore body of Twin Metals. Rom said she didn’t know the number, yet she knew the copper content is 5%. Erzar asked isn’t the sulfide content an important number to know. Rom said it was in their reports.
The next question was asked by Warren Johnson about misleading people by saying all the ground moved would have sulfide content. This is when Brad Sagen stepped in to explain that all the waste rock would not have sulfide content, and he ran out the clock for questions.
Rom pulled a Hillary: Avoid further questioning, and shut down the show.
Questionable statements made in the presentation included: “Sulfide mining has never been done without harm to the environment.... Sulfide mining is always toxic.... All our trees will be black spruce with mining.”
Well, with research and cut and pasting from various websites, here is some information on safe sulfide mining that is being done around the United States. I believe Minnesota can mine just as safely, if not more safely.
The Henderson Mine and Mill near Denver, Colorado. A molybdenum sulfide mine and mill have maintained a spotless environmental compliance record since 1976. Denver residents regularly use areas adjacent to the mine and mill sites for fishing, camping, picnicking, hunting, hiking, skiing and snowmobiling. Treated wastewater from the operation supports a thriving population of Boreal toads. Streams downstream from both the mine and mill facilities are excellent brown and brook trout fisheries. Both the mine and the mill are located in Denver’s watershed.
The Viburnum Mine No. 27 is developed in geology similar to that found in southwestern Wisconsin’s lead-zinc mining district, the water from this lead-zinc sulfide mine, which operated from 1960 to 1978, is so clean it has served as the primary domestic water source for the town of Viburnum, Missouri since 1981.
The McLaughlin Mine is a gold mine acknowledged by regulators, environmentalists and the mining industry to be a model of effective environmental practice. Since its development in 1985, the mine has operated without environmental harm, and has not only protected but actually enhanced the quality of both on-site and downstream habitats and improved downstream water quality. Ultimately the entire mine site and attached buffer lands of thousands of acres will become a wildlife preserve and an environmental studies field research station for the University of California.
The Cannon Mine is a gold mine that was developed in 1985, one block south of the Wenatchee, Washington, city limits. This agricultural community of approximately 40,000, is known as “the apple capital of the world.” The Cannon Mine is a model of environmentally responsible mining in an established urban environment. The mine, which operated for nine years, is now in the final stages of reclamation and nearly all traces of this once bustling underground mining and milling project are gone. All of the millsite buildings have been removed, the area regraded and replanted; the mine portal has been plugged; and the tailings management area has been reclaimed and planted with natural grasses.
The local school district has converted the mine buildings into offices and an equipment maintenance facility. As quoted in a July 2, 1996 article entitled “A Promise Kept - Mine Tailings Cleaned Up” in the Wenatchee World, a local official states that the mine has done a good job living up to its promises - “The scale of the (reclamation) work is just amazing. It’s been a good project.”
Southwestern Wisconsin Historic Lead-Zinc District - At least a dozen historic (i.e., closed) mines in the lead-zinc district southwestern Wisconsin and adjacent parts of Iowa and Illinois meet the arbitrary operating and closure criteria.
Mining in this district began as early as 1825, long before the enactment of federal and Wisconsin environmental laws and regulations. Mining in the district continued, with the last zinc mine closing in the late 1970s.
Most of the mines in southwestern Wisconsin were abandoned without formal reclamation; many were simply plowed under and today remain as nearly indiscernible features in the rolling farmlands characteristic of this part of Wisconsin. Although a few isolated and localized water quality problems are known at several mines in the district, there are literally hundreds of historic mines that do not create surface water or groundwater pollution problems.
The ore bodies in this district contain abundant acid-generating iron sulfide minerals (pyrite and marcasite). However, ARD is not a problem in this district due to the high acid neutralization capacity of the carbonate host rocks. A number of communities in the area including Platteville and Dodgeville, Wisconsin; Dubuque, Iowa; and Galena, Illinois and are built on top of and adjacent to these historic mines.
The Flambeau Mine is located in northern Wisconsin, partially within the city limits of Ladysmith and immediately adjacent to the Flambeau River. The open-pit, copper-gold mine began operations in July 1991. Ore shipments from the site began in 1993 and continued for more than four years. Backfilling of the pit took about 1.5 years and reclamation activities at the site were completed by the end of 1999.
Storm water runoff from sulfide waste material and the operating open pit, along with groundwater infiltration into the pit, are treated in a state-of-the-art water treatment facility that produces mine discharge water which has proven safe at 100 percent concentration (i.e., without dilution) for the most sensitive aquatic life and meets state drinking water safety standards. Examinations of fish, crayfish, macro-invertebrates and dragonfly; sediment sampling; and habitat characterization both above and below the mine discharge point prove the mine water has not adversely affected river life. Yes, water monitoring will continue for many years.
City officials credit the mine with creating an economic miracle for the local community of 4,000 people. Tax revenue from the mine stimulated an economic development boom in Rusk County where the unemployment rate fell from 15.3% just prior to the mine opening to 4.0% in October 1996. The Flambeau Mine is one of Rusk County’s top tourist attractions, with over 30,000 people per year visiting the mine’s information center.
How about that! The Flambeau Mine is a tourist attraction!
Closer to home, we have Dunka Pit. The Minnesota DNR has learned from a taconite mine called the Dunka pit. Sulfite rock exposed there in the 1960s was leeching metals into a nearby creek. The state compelled the mining company to build wetlands that now largely absorb the metals. The site has been monitored since 1977 and monitoring will continue.
DNR mining researcher Paul Eger said you can’t just walk away from a closed sulfide mine. “We’ve learned a lot,” Eger said. “New mines can operate with much less maintenance and much less unexpected water quality issues.”
Jim Kuipers, an expert in hard-rock metals mining, said sulfide mining can be done well, with the best chance in a state with mining history like Minnesota. “If we can encourage good mining companies, with good solid deposits to do the right thing, we might actually make some advance in terms of environmental protection, and things like that,” says Kuipers.
Dissolved oxygen tests in Dunka River are very high. That means it is very healthy. That also means the lake is NOT polluted. Some really nice fish coming out of Birch Lake.
Lastly, I want to mention Stillwater Mine. It is in southern Montana in the magnificent Beartooth Mountains on the northern edge of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, about 30 miles north of Yellowstone National Park. This platinum-palladium sulfide mine is an excellent example of environmentally responsible mining in an extremely beautiful and sensitive environment.
Operating since 1987, the Stillwater Mine has maintained a clean environmental record. This underground mine is recognized by regulators, environmental groups and industry experts for its excellent concurrent reclamation activities, wildlife enhancement projects, community support programs and responsive environmental management.
In addition to its scenic attributes, the area around the mine is also recognized for its recreational opportunities - the mine is adjacent to the Stillwater River, a Montana Blue Ribbon Trout Fishery. Stillwater Mine is in the process of expanding its mine operation a mile east of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area on the Custer National Forest in known bear habitat.
In 2000, Stillwater Mining Company and three local environmental groups signed a historic, legally binding agreement called the Good Neighbor Agreement to iron out differences transparently. Applying rigorous environmental practices to the mine’s operations will protect two important Montana watersheds.
In the past ten years, Stillwater Mine has been chosen to receive the Bureau of Land Management’s Sustainable Mining Award twice. Stillwater Mine was nominated by the Boulder River Watershed Association. The recent award is for community outreach and recognizes the economic benefits of mineral development along with contributions to the health and quality of life in local communities.
As president of Conservationists with Common Sense – CWCS, I plan to ask our board to recommend a similar agreement with Twin Metals and PolyMet. Will other environmental groups come to the table and be a partner in such an agreement?
Nancy McReady

Sign up for News Alerts

Subscribe to news updates