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Behind the scenes: MinnPost’s Walker Orenstein reporting on Twin Metals

When you support MinnPost, you’re supporting the hardworking reporters in our nonprofit newsroom. What does that work look like? We asked Walker Orenstein, our environment and workforce reporter, to show us a little bit of what happened on his recent trip to Ely to report on the Twin Metals mining project.

If you value what Walker or any of our talented journalists do to help you understand the context behind the headlines, we hope you’ll be one of 150 new/renewing members who’ll donate by Sept. 20 to help us hit our summer drive goal.

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And now, on to Walker.


I had not been to Ely since my public elementary took a field trip to Camp Widjiwagan. So when MinnPost sent me north this summer to meet with mining company Twin Metals Minnesota, I learned a few things about the town. One, hotels fill up fast during the Blueberry Festival. And two, even your beer might have whole blueberries in it. (OK I didn’t order it, though I was tempted.)

The Kawishiwi River, near Ely, as the sun sets.
Courtesy of Walker Orenstein
The Kawishiwi River, near Ely, as the sun sets.
Most important, however, I learned from Ely residents and visitors what copper-nickel mining near the Boundary Waters could mean for the town. As you might imagine, the debate is far from settled. Chris Ellerbroek, who owns an Ely marketing and graphic design business, told me even talking about mining can be tough in the community. “It’s been a challenge to engage in conversations because people are so adamant about their positions,” he said.

Twin Metals showed me around their property — largely forest and water monitoring equipment right now — and taught me about their research to prepare a mine plan for state regulators. Afterwards, I took pictures of beautiful Birch Lake and the Kawishiwi River, which are next to the potential mine site. I also took a side trip to Hibbing for a possible collaboration with local journalists. Oh, and I saw the overlook at the Hull Rust Mahoning Mine pit, which famously provided a rush of iron ore for the World War II effort.

A very tall truck (and me) at the Hull Rust Mahoning Mine overlook.
Courtesy of Walker Orenstein
A very tall truck (and me) at the Hull Rust Mahoning Mine overlook.
I’m thankful to work for a news organization that can dispatch reporters across the state. But in-depth reporting isn’t free and I need your help to keep me out chasing stories.


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We need your help to make sure that Walker and our other reporters have the resources they need to deliver critical in-depth reporting. If you believe in this work, will you donate to MinnPost today?

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Bill Hansen on 09/19/2019 - 02:35 am.

    With all due respect, I feel that your reporting on Twin Metals has been superficial. I encourage you to dive deeply into the many facets of these complex issues. It is an opportunity to do real investigative journalism. Taking a tour with public relations people and doing “man on the street” interviews is not, in my opinion, effective journalism.

    I don’t deny having strong opinions about sulfide mining in Minnesota, but I welcome all evidence that challenge my opinions. This is why I’ve supported Minnpost from the beginning and why I’ve withdrawn my annual support now.

    You can do better. Minnesota deserves no less.

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