A letter from the future: it could happen here
Nancy Jo Tubbs

August 12, 2013

Dear Mom and Dad,

It felt so good to graduate (hmmmm…what will I do with that political science degree?) and then to pack into the Boundary Waters for a week of paddling and camping in that August paradise. Saw a moose and her calf, fried our fish catch every night, and were stuck in camp for only one day of rain and wind. We came off the lake Saturday exhausted, happy, and ready for a hot shower and a couple of rare steaks.

Ely is as nice as I remembered it from when we came up north with you both five years ago. It was interesting to me that here, like in so many other places, people are hassling with development-vs-environment issues. If it’s not fracking or tar sands, the XL Pipeline or urban sprawl, it’s mining issues, like in Ely.

It could have blown up into one of those old Boundary Waters conflicts (remember when you were here in the 70’s, how ugly it was then?), but the town has really grown up.

We hit one of the bars Saturday night and sat next to some construction workers from Ely who said that things started to get cantankerous in spring when a group that opposed copper-nickel mining in the area opened a shop called Sustainable Ely to lobby about their point of view on the city’s main drag.

The mining company had come to town and was in the process of seeking permits to operate mines about 15 miles southeast of Ely and 10 miles east of nearby Babbitt. They had been exploring and found copper, nickel, palladium, platinum and gold that they estimated to be in the billions of pounds—the biggest deposits this side of South Africa. They’ve invested more than $160 million in the project so far. And talk about jobs! They say there’ll be 5,000 in construction, alone. And then in the mines, think 1,300 workers if they are operating at full steam. Then, imagine the potential for new service and retail jobs in the nearby towns.

But (and there’s always a but) this is sulfide ore, and if drainage from the rock is not contained, it can result in sulfide and metal poisoning in the watershed of the nearby Kawishiwi River and right on into the Boundary Waters. Folks at the coffee shop in town the next morning filled us in on their worry, which is that this kind of mining has never yet been done safely for the environment. It has left behind dead zones in rivers. And mining companies involved have gone bankrupt, leaving states and the feds (taxpayers) holding the bag for gazillions of dollars in clean-up costs.

So, once again, two good things—economic development and the health of the environment—are in conflict. But something amazing happened over the last couple of months in Ely. The mining company had been doing lots of community-based public relations. They gave donations to local non-profits like the food shelf and ran paid PR pieces in the local press. Their public statements were measured and positive. When Sustainable Ely opened its doors, they didn’t overreact. In fact, spokespeople said they welcomed the dialogue. When a few folks tried bratty name-calling in Letters to the Editor pages in the papers, the mining folks asked them to stop.

A local businessman who was heading up Sustainable Ely received a few shots, but others, including his daughter, stood up for him. And pretty soon it became clear that the rackin-frackin, poop-head, school-yard epithets were just not going to be tolerated. It was also pretty silly when the Sustainable Ely guy was called a carpetbagger, having moved to Ely decades ago, when the mining companies could hardly be considered local. Neither of the major players in this debate had grandparents buried in the Ely cemetery.

Folks on the sidelines also tried trashing each other’s motives at first. “You’re just making that donation to soften up the community.” “Well, you’re just bringing up controversy to recruit members and donors.”

That strategy didn’t last long either. It was easy for people to see the true values of saving the environment and the legitimate values of economic development. My old philosophy prof was right when he said that the toughest conflicts are between two positive things.

And a brilliant thing happened in Ely. People on both sides of the issue worked to claim the moral high ground. Neither group wanted to get a reputation for fighting dirty after it became evident that the community just wouldn’t stand for it!

I loved that thing Mahatma Gandhi said. It was something like, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

So, anyhow, both sides kept doing PR, talking with folks, making their best cases. You could see “Mining Supports Us” and “Clean Water Supports Us” all over town. Sure, there might have still been emotions boiling beneath the surface, but the pros and cons of both sides were the focus of lively public discussion.

The local newspapers took on the job of fact-checking, running regular columns that clearly explained the issues, and rating statements by both sides as true, mostly true, half true, mostly false and “pants on fire.”

And folks who had been worried about the conflict boiling up and scalding the visitors to Ely with bile were able to relax. Tourism is doing just fine this summer. If anything, the adult way people in Ely have been handling this conflict makes me proud to be a Minnesotan. I’d come back here for a visit any time. It’s August, and I’m thinking about winter already.

Want to go on a dogsled trip in January? Think about it. We are.

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27 comments on this item

Sorry Nancy. I'd rather travel up the Little Indian Sioux or up to Knife with my 6 horse Johnson strapped on the side of my 17' Alumacraft Quetico, just like the old days. I'd rather use my Ski-Doo Tundra to go lake trout fishing on Knife or Thomas or Trout, just like the old days.

Grown up? Who are you talking about? Sustainable Ely is about as adolescent as any group of people I have ever witnessed.

Get out of your cocoon, Nancy. Your side is immature, childish and recalcitrant. Go outside and smell the fresh air, complete with the feedback from old-timers.

I just knew when I read the op-ed that the "wisdom" of he who wants the boundary waters as his own little play area would come flowing.

Nancy ... right on. Keep up the good work ... all derived from good, clear critical thinking ... rather than personal greed.

I see where the Arizona "Thing" is back. No substance, just blather.

It does wonders for the soul when one's positioning statement goes unchallenged!

To Ms. Tubbs ... I so wish your paragraph reprinted below might someday be the way of not just the newspaper ... but the readers too.

"The local newspapers took on the job of fact-checking, running regular columns that clearly explained the issues, and rating statements by both sides as true, mostly true, half true, mostly false and “pants on fire.”"

Facts are, Arizona Armadillo, that mining existed here for well over 100 years. We are all still here, that is whose families came here at the turn of the 20th Century.

We used outboard motors and snowmobiles in the BWCA since they first became available. Even the Wellstone Wacko's hero, Sig Olson, ran around on Basswood with twin 25's. Poor Sig, lost his memory in old age and when Jake Pete recalled Sig's past as he sat with his long-haired hippies who adored him, couldn't remember those days.

There are hundreds and thousands of people, both local and non-local, who crave their outboard motor and snowmobile rights be RESTORED to the BWCA.

As to a private playground, Never have I ever said people who wish to paddle canoe, cross-country ski or sled dog through the BWCA should be denied. They have always been welcome. Only your pieces of human excrement choose to deny the rest of us the rights we were once guaranteed.

But you, of course, are from Arizona, the land of John McCain.

Note to TIMBERJAY: trusting you have source material which might aid readers in better understanding the clear differences between "fact" and "opinion". Maybe offer seminars ... or print a study guide ... a workbook.

Another suggestion: wonder if a story interviewing these thousands of people interested in taking the wilderness concept out of the BWCA would have much appeal? I have not noticed any mention in the other news sources up in your area (wonder why?). But you could be the first to feature this ever so popular idea.

And not necessarily your territory, TIMBERJAY, but if there is a good debate coach in the area ... and I'm sure there must be ... perhaps they could put on seminars on how ridiculous it is to use name calling ... as if that is going to help support ideas in a debate or discussion.

(Probably too much to suggest a course in the native plants and animals of Arizona so I'll hold on that one.)

And you have never used name calling........that is why you are known a Mr. Hypocrite.

Ah, Mr. Berg, my good man. I have not used name calling ... I have applied adjectives which describe the attributes of the individual.

But that seemed have have flown over your head.

But thanks for accepting my assessment of Mr. Country. appreciated!

Mr. Hypocrite, of course you knew I was talking to you and not Mr. Country, or you wouldn't have answered me. Seems you stepped in it again.

So if I were to say, as an example, you are a butthead, you shouldn't get mad, I' m just describing your individual attribute. Right, just trying to get clarification.

Absolutely. You as Mr. Country before you, are substituting a defaming word for someone, not applying a descriptor. "Butthead" may have some meaning to you ... or "Arizona Armadillo" to tother guy ... but they are basically just a poor debaters sign of weakness. Shows lack of ability to actually approach the subject.

That is the common flaw that I regularly look for ... the weak, meaningless arguments based on opinion rather than fact. Then i apply my adjectives such as inane, ignorant ... whatever word best describes the effort that had been made.

But then, I truly do not expect you to undertand this ... at least given the extent of the back and forth i have noted to date.

As to "stepping in it" ... not at all sure what you are talking about. But as usual ... not surprised.

I was taught that the Bible tells us that God created Earth and commanded us to be good stewards of his gifts to us while at the same time warning against defiling, depleting and destroying them. Boy, have I been led astray by all those Christian ministers. They didn't look like long haired hippies to me but one cannot be overly vigilant in detecting environmental wackos in clergy vestments.

Mr. Hypocrite, if you don't know what stepping in it means than I guess you are rather ignorant.

Mr. bonfire, what do you mean by environmental wackos?

Sorry Mr. Berg ... we have moved on.

Oh, and while I enjoy the compliment ... I admit I know little about medicine. But thanks anyway. Glad you care.

"Hippocrates of Cos or Hippokrates of Kos was an ancient Greek physician of the Age of Pericles, and is considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine."

jt: I suspect you weren't referring to me when you cited opinions v. facts. I have always presented irrefutable facts in my writings, which is justified by the fact that you can't debate them. You only blabber about nonsense, and then call upon your uncle Marshall Helmberger to come to your rescue. Give us some substance for a change or just shut up.

bf: a long haired hippie is just exactly what it is...a long haired hippie, with dirty clothes and in need of a good sauna to clean up. Also, stay off that wacky tobacky, it stinks and makes them lethargic, impedes their thought process, those long haired hippies. No name calling here, just describing their personal appearance.

I love the land, I respect the land and never do anything to destroy the land. That, too, jt, is fact, not fiction.

Well, actually ... it was exactly you i was referring to. But seems to just increase the obvious need for the TIMBERJAY ... or whomever ... to come up with the learning experiences to help folks differentiate. You clearly have not. (oh, and perhaps look up "irrefutable" in the dictionary)

Bonfire ... he is yours now ... but note he continues with his inanity, insanity and ignorance.

Or is it worth it? Perhaps beyond help? (or no question mark needed)

No question marks needed.

"Irrefutable". To paraphrase Inigo Montoya, " I don't think that word means what OC thinks it means".

I like your idea of learning experiences to help folks differentiate. I'm sure there are folks that would appreciate it but it won't be OC who has himself said Fox is the best thing since sliced bread because they confirm his own "irrefutable facts".

I wish the TIMBERJAY had a "like" button

Mr. bonfire, who do you mean by environmental wackos?


Sarcasm....how does it work?

bf, sarcasm???? I was trying to get some facts from you. Who are you talking about?

JayBerg: I think you have effectively debated and won the blather presented by jt and bf.

jt: Nowhere have I been able to discern that you have an M.D. or D.O. in medicine, with a discipline in Psychiatry. Yet you carelessly throw out "opinions", not facts, that I am insane. Present your professional credentials to support your comments. Otherwise, you are regarded as nothing more than a wisecracker, with dim wit.

bf: You use some fictional character named Montoya (any relation to Juan Pablo Montoya that drives the Ganassi owned Target NASCAR in the Sprint Cup Circuit?), yet you purport to be factual. If you can't use a real person to create an analogy with me, you are fiction yourself. As JayBerg has successfully asserted.

Hopefully the pair of you will continue participating in this newspaper's blog site. But before you do, do some soul searching first. You will feel better.

Further proof of my assertions. This is too easy.

And even the name calling continues. Oy!

(hint hint ... look up "sanity" ... and work from there)

Readers: There she goes again.

She was asked to provide professional credentials to support her expressed opinion of me that I was insane.

She did not provide credentials. She doesn't have any.

And then, she throws out sanity again, and expects me to look it up. As if I am a toddler.

Note to TIMBERJAY: please offer your readers information on determining the sex of an individual.

Meanwhile, I must give up on expecting help in creating better rational thinking.

Again, do you have a medical degree, specializing in Psychiatry? Or don't you?

Just answer the questions for the readers.

The only reader is you ... but let's just say that my degrees allowing me to accurately assess your ability to know fact from fiction ... oh, sorry ... make that opinion ... are fully adequate to also determine your apparent sanity regarding your recent comments.

However, I must at this time bid a fond adieu. I know the TIMBERJAY is likely sick and tired of this inanity filling up their alloted internet space ... none of it recently having anything to do with the original op-ed (and, yes, I will take some blame for that). And furthermore, I must pack to head to MN ...

Babble if you wish.

Bonfire ... we must arrange for a brew or coffee this summer.

Once again, she refuses to answer the question. Instead, she throws out another medical opinion that I exhibit irrational behavior.

Do you have a degree in medicine, specializing in Psychiatry? Or don't you?

Simple question, requires a yes or no answer. The readers, of which there are many, have inquiring minds and want to know.

Just answer the question.

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