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Mining opponents tread on the property rights of all Minnesota citizens

Minnesota DNR

The plan for the NorthMet mine site at year 20, when extraction operations are projected to end. Click for larger version.

Sustainable Ely, an Ely-based project of Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, (NMW) is having problems convincing Minnesotans that the proposed PolyMet mine will pollute our waterways and devastate our northeastern Minnesota economy. With a tiny base of supporters in Ely opposed to mining, Sustainable Ely has begun to shift its effort to the Twin Cities, where it finds friendly supporters and wealthy friends. 

At a forum held in a Minnetonka public library, Sustainable Ely founder Becky Rom tried to convince the audience that nonferrous mining operations will reduce the value of their homes on the White Iron Chain of Lakes near Ely. And most recently Rom appeared before a legislative hearing in St. Paul and said that mining is bad for her area’s economy — “Mining displaces sustainable jobs.”    

In N. Minnesota, 69% approve of PolyMet proposal

There must be much chagrin on the part of NMW with the poll results that were published on Feb. 21 by the Star Tribune. It found that “46 percent of Minnesotans who were polled want PolyMet Mining Corp’s proposal to be approved, 21 percent say it should be rejected.”  It also found that “In northern Minnesota, 69 percent said they thought the state should approve PolyMet’s application.”

“NMW’s new efforts differ from previous Minnesota opposition to mining projects, it seems to me, in four significant ways,” writes Ron Meador Feb. 13 in MinnPost:       

  • “Although it opposes PolyMet, too, the watershed campaign is focused on blocking mines on the BWCA side of the Laurentian Divide.
  • “It is building alliances not only in Minnesota but with national conservation groups such as the National Wildlife Federation, The Wilderness Society and the Center for Biological Diversity, and will seek to mobilize the BWCA’s national constituency.
  • “Where other groups sometimes acknowledge a possibility that PolyMet may prove itself capable of environmentally safe mining and come up with adequate financial guarantees (a position this writer, too, is striving earnestly to maintain) the Boundary Waters campaign just says, NO. No mining in the Boundary Waters watershed. None. Period.
  • “Where other organizations have focused on challenging PolyMet’s plans step by step through the regulatory process, and mounting public-information campaigns along the way, the new campaign seeks to halt mining development at the earliest possible stage, and certainly before a mining plan has reached review stage.”

Right on MinnPost.

When appearing in Ely in support of Sustainable Ely last summer, Don Shelby, who at the time was a board member of Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA), confirmed that NMW’s mission is similar to their own. “You might have to fight your friends and neighbors,” said Shelby, a former WCCO Twin Cities TV reporter/personality urging Sustainable Ely to prepare for a major battle, and said MCEA is solidly behind opponents of copper-nickel mining.  “We are with you and will file suit and make them prove their case.”  Mr. Shelby explained that the MCEA is different from some of the other environmental groups — “Our bite is worse than our bark.”

Citizens statewide enjoy mining’s tax and royalty revenues

Mining has kept northeastern Minnesota alive for better than a century. Sustainable Ely supporters are aware that mining is a statutorily protected endeavor in Minnesota, yet they tread on the property rights of all Minnesota citizens. The tax and royalty revenues produced by mining are enjoyed by citizens statewide – not just the privileged few who act on the proposition that they are the gatekeepers to control access to the Boundary Waters. They seek to take your rights to the revenues generated by your property, i.e., the minerals owned by the citizens of Minnesota. They claim that protecting the water trumps the citizen’s property interest. But to prevail in this “war” they must offer irrefutable facts, not merely their opinions, that nonferrous mining will pollute the waterways. 

So, what’s next, Sustainable Ely? From lawyer to lawyer, I suspect it’s off to court, where several of its founders earned a reputation as environmental litigators. All we can ask is that you are satisfied that your evidence supporting your opposition to mining in the Boundary Waters watershed meets the Rule 11 threshold and that you file your actions in Minnesota federal court rather than in Illinois or the District of Columbia. And, if you fail, that you have the financial resources to make the citizens of Minnesota whole for damages resulting from your actions.

Gerald M. Tyler is chairman, president and executive director of Up North Jobs Inc. 


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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Robert Gauthier on 02/27/2014 - 09:38 am.

    It is not your property rights

    It is the public cost of you exercising them. Are the locals willing to pay for the costs of long term water contamination or will they run to the state? That is the issue for many, who will pay for the inevitable contamination? The State, not the locals is the unfortunate answer. The local communities do not have the resources, nor do they want the responsibility, just the benefits.

  2. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 02/27/2014 - 10:59 am.

    “they must offer irrefutable facts,”…

    …” not merely their opinions, that nonferrous mining will pollute the waterways.”

    So let me get this straight: in spite of the fact there has never been a non-polluting sulfide mine, ANYWHERE, you say it is somehow up to OTHERS to PROVE the PolyMet project will cause water pollution ??

    Quite to the contrary: where is your evidence (FACT, now – not OPINION, right ?) that the PolyMet project WON’T pollute the waters ??

    EVEN PolyMet’s OWN STUDY says it will cause water pollution and speculates it will require Herculean, long-term mitigation efforts for hundreds of years.

    I see that you just recently created your “Up North Jobs” organization last summer (June 2013).

    It would appear that although you show pictures of people at various kinds of jobs on your site, your “News” section is ENTIRELY about mining. So why not honestly disclose that your purpose is to promote and defend mining ??

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 02/28/2014 - 07:59 am.

      Jobs Up North

      The domain name was registered July 17, 2013 and updated on September 16, 2013, which is probably when the web site went live and the DNS records were updated. The domain name was also only registered for a year rather than five or ten years, so it looks like they have no intention of sticking around long term.

      Perhaps the organization’s director can correct me on this, but it appears that this is just an astroturf organization.

  3. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 02/27/2014 - 11:57 am.

    Mining In Minnesota

    Mr. Tyler would be far better off addressing Sustainable Ely’s concerns rather than try and shoot the messenger. Instead of digging in his heals and portraying S.E. as the enemy, give them a call and sit down to lunch with them to hear their concerns. That won’t guarantee that they switch to your point of view, but the tactic such as the opinion piece guarantees that they won’t. And, as an added detriment to your case, you’ve just guaranteed that people like me who read this post will look unfavorably on the mine.

    You’re far better off sticking out an open hand that may get slapped away than putting up barricades and releasing the hounds.

  4. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 02/27/2014 - 12:06 pm.

    Mining Education

    I would suggest that people who are on all sides of the mining issue pick up a copy of Jared Diamond’s “Collapse” and read through it. He specifically addresses mining operations in Montana and the impact they’ve had on the landscape, environment, and economy of the state. They figured it would be cheaper for Montana to buy all the ore elsewhere and simply give it away rather than pay for all the clean-up costs from closed mines.

    But lest you think this is simply a book that bashes the resource extraction industries, there’s also a chapter on companies who understand that environmental stewardship is in their best interests and have taken the steps necessary to minimize their impact. Chevron is a particularly good example that Mr. Diamond cites. Flying in to some of their drilling sites you can’t even tell that there’s a drilling rig and road in the area.

    I’m just about done reading my copy. If anyone wants to pick it up drop me a note and I’ll pass it on.

  5. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 02/27/2014 - 12:41 pm.


    “All we can ask is that you are satisfied that your evidence supporting your opposition to mining in the Boundary Waters watershed meets the Rule 11 threshold and that you file your actions in Minnesota federal court rather than in Illinois or the District of Columbia. And, if you fail, that you have the financial resources to make the citizens of Minnesota whole for damages resulting from your actions.”

    Threatening people with legal terminology you clearly don’t understand is pretty sad.

  6. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 02/27/2014 - 07:22 pm.

    If it’s ours, why give it away?

    If mining is truly in the best interest of all Minnesotans, then why don’t we just do it ourselves? The ore is owned equally by all of us, so why let PolyMet skip town with the profits while we are stuck with the clean up?

  7. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 02/27/2014 - 07:43 pm.

    A proposal

    Here’s a deal for Northern Minnesota, if they do in fact want the mines. Last year outstate MN wouldn’t let the metro area raise taxes on ourselves to improve our transit. So, I say, they let us do that — and we let them mine, enjoy the temporary jobs, and clean up the mess with their money. Let’s see if they come out ahead on this deal.

  8. Submitted by C.A. Arneson on 02/28/2014 - 11:09 pm.

    Protecting Minnesota’s waters takes priority

    Mr. Tyler,
    Sustainable Ely has numerous facts displayed and available for anyone to come in and discuss. Perhaps you missed the opportunity to do so. There is a large contingency in northeastern Minnesota, as well as in Ely, opposed to sulfide mining in Minnesota’s water-rich environment. Several caucuses in the Ely area passed resolutions opposed to sulfide mining, and opposition in Duluth is high. The reason so many people are opposed is based on research, on facts, concerning the impacts of sulfide mining in water intensive areas. They have not simply parroted industry propaganda.

    Are you saying our waters are not worth as much as these metals? They are Minnesota’s waters, not just yours; perhaps you ought to think about whose rights you are trampling on. Do you have the “financial resources to make the citizens [and the waters] of Minnesota whole for damages resulting from your actions?”

    You mentioned the Star Tribune poll article. There are people in northeastern Minnesota as disinterested in getting the facts, as you appear to be. ‘John Cim, 72, of Cook, is one [approve PolyMet]. He said he worked in the taconite industry for many years, retiring from a management job in 1999. He now lives near Lake Vermilion, which he loves for its clean, clear water … “I had no qualms about working for a taconite plant, taking resources out of the ground and using them,” he said. The mining companies and the regulators were careful about protecting the environment, and, he said, PolyMet would be no different.’ (Star Tribune)

    Minntac is currently responsible for elevated levels of sulfates in the Pike River Flowage and Lake Vermilion. It will only get worse because the agencies do not have any viable solutions for future releases from Minntac’s toxic tailings basin; none that would comply with Minnesota’s wild rice standard. Yet the agencies just granted Minntac an expansion. Mr. Cim is right about one thing, “PolyMet will be no different.” It will be far, far worse, because its proposed NorthMet Mine would be in a disseminated copper-nickel sulfide ore body. And variances, licenses to pollute, are common practice in Minnesota.

    Since you brought up real estate, I’ll relate an interesting tidbit that occurred just yesterday when I called a realtor in Grand Marais asking about a piece of property for sale on the Gunflint Trail. He told me he had just spent the day with a couple from Ely, who had been in Ely for thirty years and were now looking to relocate. They did not want to end up living in an area with multiple sulfide mines. Why do you think home sales are down in and around Ely? And who would drive from the North Shore to visit Ely anymore if they had to drive into a sulfide-mining district on its outskirts.

    Now, before you challenge my “credibility” for using the term sulfide mining let me remind you that Brian Gavin, CEO of Franconia Minerals before it was bought out by Duluth Metals, said, “Technically this is sulfide mining and naturally that’s going to raise environmental concerns.”

    Evidently you also missed the second half of Ron Meador’s article; he wrote that Becky Rom had “a potent argument,” after he presented both Twin Metals’ (the company he was writing about) and Rom’s viewpoints. I would also like to remind you that long before Mr. Shelby mentioned “war,” the Ely Echo (in 2009) titled its editorial, “The new war on mining has begun.”

    The Star Tribune poll was fundamentally flawed.

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