LETTER: ... a wonderful example of standing-the-truth-on-its-head
Reading the article in the June 27 Echo about the House Mining Committee is like a trip into a strange land where down is up, black is white, fiction is fact, and, maybe, the water in Birch Lake flows uphill. Northeastern Minnesota is an interesting place.
For reasons that surpass understanding, we elect politicians (1) who shill for foreign mining companies that will destroy our land and water and (2) who gleefully and repeatedly try to bury our community. Politicians who suggest that the closing of a Pizza Hut is the death knell for Ely (it’s amazing that Duluth is still with us - according to the Duluth News Tribune, two Pizza Huts have closed there). Politicians who can’t bring themselves to recognize Sir G’s (and the great pizzas it cranks out year after year), the Steakhouse, Burntside Lodge, Grand Ely Lodge, the Chocolate Moose, and more. Politicians who would never deign to acknowledge the new Insula and the new Gators - both busy with diners every time I have been there. It’s like local businesses don’t exist.
To these politicians, a lot of the rest of the Ely area apparently doesn’t exist either. Voyageur Outward Bound School, River Point Resort and Outfitting Company (owned and operated by an Ely family since 1944), Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge, and many other businesses - not to mention $320 million of assessed value in waterfront property alone from the South Kawishiwi and Birch Lake to Fall Lake - will likely see their businesses and property values devastated if Twin Metals is permitted to create an industrial mining district on thousands of acres of land southeast of Ely.
Waters flowing into the Boundary Waters through Fall Lake and from other sources along the southern edge of the Wilderness will carry acid mine drainage into the most popular Wilderness Area in the country. The lifeblood of this region will be poisoned. I do not expect Antofagasta from Chile to care about that. But it is beyond bizarre that local politicians don’t care. It’s as if the thousands of people who do in fact keep Ely humming don’t exist unless they work in a mine now or retired from a mine job.
I understand why some people get fooled into drinking the Antofagasta Kool-Aid. As a parent of three sons who live in other parts of the country, I sympathize with the Ely parents who say they would like for their children to find jobs and stay in Ely. The sad thing is, the article shows that Antofagasta is unlikely to help with that. Antofagasta’s PR guy, Bob McFarlin, admitted as much when he listed the University of Minnesota, Michigan Tech, and the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology as the places Twin Metals would look for future employees. So, it sounds like any Ely kid who wants a job in a Twin Metals mine needs to be planning on leaving town to get an engineering degree.
I suppose an Ely parent could hope that McFarlin is simply poorly-informed. There is evidence of that, after all. He admitted in testimony before this same Mining Committee in St. Paul that he did not know which way the water flows in Birch Lake. That’s kind of a significant knowledge gap when you are claiming that the acid mine drainage from mines and waste piles on the shores of Birch Lake and the South Kawishiwi won’t pollute the Boundary Waters.
In a wonderful example of standing-the-truth-on-its-head, McFarlin asserted that an obstacle to Antofagasta’s plans is “deliberate misinformation” about a “secret open pit mine.”
You want deliberate misinformation? How about McFarlin’s claim that the mine will be underground when the Twin Metals “pre-feasibility study” touted in the article says that the Maturi Southwest deposit, on the shore of Birch Lake, “will likely be mined to the surface...” (Twin Metals NI 43-101, p. 14-30). Some secret.
And if you ignore that gem, how about Antofagasta playing the worst kind of cynical word games with “mine?” The pre-feasibility study shows that even if all ore extraction was underground, the concentrator site and related infrastructure near Birch Lake would cover more than 1,000 acres, the tailings storage facility and associated works would cover at least 7,000 acres, and four paste plants, access roads, and pipelines along the South Kawishiwi and Birch Lake would cover untold more acreage (Twin Metals NI 43-101, pages 4-29 and 16-28). Underground mine - really?
House Mining Committee member Dale Lueck hauled out the mining industry’s Flambeau Mine myth to help McFarlin spin the story. Lueck made the false assertion that the Flambeau Mine in Wisconsin operated for nine years and that it shows sulfide-ore copper mining “can be done and has been done with no pollution of any kind.” Lueck is either ignorant of the facts about Flambeau or he is simply willing to say anything to support the mining companies. That mine operated from 1993 to 1997 - four years, not nine years.
The closed mine is polluting surface water and ground water with copper, zinc, and manganese in amounts well in excess of legal limits. The mining company’s own reports to the Wisconsin DNR show that water in a monitoring well only 125 feet from the Flambeau River has average manganese levels that are 14 times greater than the permit standard. At the request of the Wisconsin DNR in 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued an “impaired-water” designation for a tributary of the Flambeau River that flows across the mine site. The mine site has polluted the stream with copper and zinc at levels that harm aquatic life. Finally, the Flambeau Mine, besides operating for only four years, was a tiny open pit that covered only 38 acres. Antofagasta controls tens of thousands of acres.
This past Saturday, at the Ely Community Resource fundraising event at Amici’s - another great locally-owned business - I talked with a young woman from another state who moved here a few years ago for her job. She and her husband and their young daughter love living here. They love to fish. Birch Lake is the usual destination. A Twin Metals industrial site stretching for miles along Birch Lake and the South Kawishiwi would likely put an end to that - for her family and many others.
Town of Morse