Business North: Hundreds attend pro-mining rally
Hundreds of mining supporters attended a Tuesday rally in Virginia to condemn federal intervention that might prevent copper-nickel exploration near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA).
The rally was followed by a half-mile march to a U.S. Forest Service hearing that addressed a potential ban on mineral lease renewals near the BWCA. At the highly animated session, speakers said the proposed regulatory action was politically inspired during the final days of the Obama administration. Later at the public hearing, Ely Mayor Chuck Novak lamented, “My own congressman could not even get an appointment with the administration officials” who proposed the moratorium.
Approximately 234,000 acres would temporarily be placed off limits to mineral exploration if a potential moratorium advances. It would affect public land where Twin Metals Minnesota and its predecessor companies have already spent hundreds of millions of dollars on exploration efforts. The firms previously held mineral leases in the area which, in the past, were routinely renewed.
The rally came a week after Iron Range mining supporters boycotted a similar hearing in St. Paul, complaining it was unusual to gather input in a part of the state far from where a proposal is at issue.
“We are the best stewards of this place we call home,” Jobs for Minnesotans Chairwoman Nancy Norr told the crowd, voicing what many others would say. “We really need to have your voices heard all the way to Washington, D.C.,” she said. “Make them loud and proud.”
U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan was in Washington D.C. but sent staff member Jeff Anderson to relahy his opinion. Nolan is a supporter of both ferrous and non-ferrous mining.
“We have the cleanest water in the state, unlike the Twin Cities,” wrote the Congressman, a jab at Twin Cities environmentalists who have opposed various forms of mining. He urged federal regulators to allow exploration to advance on its merits. ”Now let’s meet the Forest Service and give them a good dose of Iron Range common sense.”
Hibbing mayor Rick Cannata said Iron Range residents encounter opposition every time a progressive mining proposal emerges.
“This is our area and our land,” he said, suggesting Forest Service representatives and other federal regulators ”go back to where they came from.” State Sen. David Tomassoni echoed some of those feelings.
“You are standing in your own back yard. We’re not about to let anyone screw up our water or our air. I am going to name our boycott of St. Paul our ‘declaration of independence’ because we want to be left alone. We need to let Twin Metals drill. They want to find out what’s in the ground. Where in the history of this country did we ever say ‘we are afraid to explore.’ Let us drill!” Tomassoni said.
“We have done mining right for 135 years. Promises were made to the people of Ely when the BWCA (legislation) passed in 1978. They promised us they would have mining, logging and playing in Superior National Forest,” said St. Louis County Commissioner Tom Rukavina.
He and other mining supporters gave even more strident testimony when the hearing convened.
“We’re tired on this attack on our way of life,” said Rukavina, who noted Tuesday was the sixth time he testified to federal regulators on the mineral rights issue alone.
“This action is an assault on all mining,” said State Rep. Rob Ecklund, DFL-International Falls. He and several others noted downstate environmental groups file lawsuits that challenge mining on every front.
“Unfortunately, we’re seeing outside interests putting our way of life at risk. This is overreach. There is a responsible way to conduct mining and protect environmental resources,” testified State Sen. Sandy Layman, R-Cohasset.
The loud and intense pro-mining crowd did not intimidate those who favor the mining lease moratorium. Several testified in favor of the proposal.
Linda Herron said mining activity near the BWCA would upset the peace the natural area provides to wilderness seekers who visit the area from around the world. She also expressed concern about the potential for accident pollution due to human error, accidents or weather events.
Representing Friends of the BWCA, Jane Reyer said non-ferrous mining invariably contaminates groundwater.
“It will last for a very long time, usually1,000 years or more,” she said.
Tuesday’s session was the final public hearing on the proposal, although written comments can still be submitted.