|Written by Mordecai Specktor,
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The controversy over copper-nickel mining in northeastern Minnesota has ensnared Duluth’s Bent Paddle Brewing Company. On March 7, the Silver Bay City Council voted 3-2 to remove Bent Paddle beer from its municipal liquor store, because the brewer is part of a business coalition opposed to copper-nickel mining.
The Silver Bay decision to ban the beer followed on the March 3 approval by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) of the final environmental impact statement (EIS) on the NorthMet project, the proposed PolyMet Mining, Inc. copper-nickel mine south of Babbitt. The DNR’s decision that the NorthMet project “meets the state’s standards for adequacy” will allow PolyMet, which is based in Toronto, Canada, to begin applying for some 20 federal, state and local permits for its mine, and for a processing facility in Hoyt Lakes.
Getting back to the Bent Paddle sideshow, the Duluth brewer is one of 70 local businesses making up the Downstream Business Coalition, which called on Gov. Mark Dayton to reject the PolyMet mine project.
The Pioneer Press reported, in late March, that the Silver Bay City Council is dealing with criticism over its split decision to remove Bent Paddle beer from the liquor store.
The fuss in Silver Bay “demonstrates all the things that are crazy about this situation,” responded Aaron Klemz, spokesperson for Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, one of the many environmental groups that have been sounding the alarm about the perils of copper-nickel mining.
“It goes to show that even folks that take a step modestly in the direction of standing up for clean water, or opposing copper-nickel mining, are subject to disciplinary moves,” Klemz commented.
He noted that the owners of Bent Paddle have been “really articulate about why they’ve taken these actions, and why they’re opposed to PolyMet [bit.ly/bent-paddle]; and I think Silver Bay looks a little bit foolish in their response to it.”
The debate over copper-nickel mining in Minnesota’s Arrowhead region has pitted the foreign mining companies and their supporters against environmentalists, business owners and residents who argue that sulfide mining will be ruinous to the natural bounty Up North.
In the mixed bag of pronouncements last month, after the DNR signed off on the PolyMet mine, Gov. Dayton stated his opposition to another proposed copper-nickel project, the $2.8 billion Twin Metals underground mine near Birch Lake.
In a March 6 letter to Ian Duckworth, COO of Twin Metals Minnesota, Dayton expressed “grave concerns about the use of state surface lands for mining related activities in close proximity to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW).” Dayton let Duckworth know that the BWCAW “is a crown jewel in Minnesota and a national treasure.”
In closing, Dayton wrote: “I wish to inform you that I have directed the DNR not to authorize or enter into any new state access agreements or lease agreements for mining operations on those state lands.”
Also, on the day after Dayton’s letter, the U.S. Interior Department informed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that Twin Metals does not have an automatic right of renewal of the leases on federal lands, and the BLM has the discretion to grant or deny the company’s application. According to an Associated Press report, the Twin Metals leases, which were first issued in 1996, and last renewed in 2004, have expired. Thus, the Twin Metals project was dealt a double whammy in March.
And readers of The Circle should know that there has been little press attention to the role of Minnesota’s Ojibwe bands, as far as the DNR’s decision to let the PolyMet project roll on. Aaron Klemz mentioned that both the state and federal government have “legal obligations” to the bands, which retain hunting, fishing and gathering rights in the territories ceded in 19th century treaties. Simply put, mining ventures cannot be allowed to pollute tribal land and water resources. In the case of sulfide mining, there has been particular attention to the effect of sulfate pollution on wild rice beds; the issue remains unresolved.
Klemz added, “I do know that throughout the history of this process that the tribal resource agencies, as well as GLIFWC [Great Lake Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission], have been really frustrated with the response that they’ve gotten to their comments,” on the PolyMet environmental review.
In April, there will be a consultation between the U.S. Forest Service and representatives of the Ojibwe bands, prior to a Forest Service decision on the exchange of surface land for the PolyMet project, said Klemz. He stressed that, apart from Minnesota’s role, the federal agencies will have a big say in decisions on whether or not PolyMet gets final approval to mine.