ELY- The St. Louis County Board of Commissioners revisited the copper-nickel mining issue when they met before a standing-room only crowd at Semers Park Pavilion in Ely this week.
A resolution opposing a proposed Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for the National Superior Forest was endorsed by the board, acting as a committee of the whole, earlier this month. This meeting brought forth formal action by commissioners on the resolution.
After more than two hours of sometimes passionate and emotional testimony from almost two dozen area residents who mostly spoke in favor of the environmental impact statement, six commissioners voted in favor of the resolution opposing further mining study. Commissioner Frank Jewell abstained from voting.
During the May 27 County Board Committee of the Whole meeting, Commissioner Keith Nelson said that he would be bringing a resolution to the June 3 meeting in opposition to a proposed Programmatic Environ-mental Impact Statement (PEIS) in the Superior National Forest by the United States Forest Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He indicated that several Iron Range area communities had already passed such resolutions .
“The work that has been done in permitting stages by various mining companies, whether ferrous or non-ferrous, has been extensive,” Nelson said. “This board is on record supporting non-ferrous mining once the permitting process has been completed and I see this as another stall tactic or delay tactic that is being used by individuals as they assault the middle-class communities that I serve and that’s why I bring this resolution forward.”
Comments from the public were limited to five minutes.
Gerald Tyler, chairman and executive director of Up North Jobs, of Ely, was the first to comment. “At the present time, neither Twin Metals nor any other mining company has a mining project that has reached project status and therefore cannot be evaluated by preparing a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement,” he said.
He contended that preparing a regional or PEIS to evaluate mining in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is inconsistent with federal law, “and is a costly and inefficient use of federal resources and would be a study that is not necessary and would duplicate contemplated, site-specific analyses required under federal and state law.”
Reid Carron led a parade of mining opponents to speak against the proposed resolution. “(The) resolution refers to the PEIS as being duplication,” he said. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is the first step that is required under federal law. Any time that federal agencies are considering action that would have cumulative or connected affects they are required to completed a (PEIS) about potential environmental impacts of those actions. It could not be clearer. A PEIS is the first, necessary step before anything else.”
Carron continued, “Ely has not been a mining town since 1967. By any measure, Ely is one of the most prosperous communities in northeastern Minnesota.” Reaction to that statement disrupted the meeting.
Chairman Michael Forsman objected to the outburst. “In all fairness to all speakers, let’s be respectful.” he said.
Carron continued, “The numbers don’t lie. This is one of the most prosperous communities in northeastern Minnesota. I would like to see a resolution from this commission in support of the BWCAW and the federal government which is protecting this area and is the reason why Ely is so prosperous.”
“If we allow sulfide ore mining in the BWCAW it will kill the goose that has laid this golden egg. People will not come here. People won’t retire here. And the hundreds of thousands of tourists that come here, won’t return.”
A list of well-known mining opponents continued to speak against the commissioners’ action, including Becky Rom, Sue Schurke, Brad Carlson, Barb Garza, Chris Chandler, Lindsay Lang, Sara Malick Wahls, Steve Koschak, Carol Orban and Bob Tammen.
Hans Olsen said he happens to be someone from the “thriving Ely area” who supports mining. “Copper-nickel mining would be great for our economy and I understand why most of our politicians support it. Jobs are important and I’m convinced that this could be done in a way that protects the environment,” he said.
“Having said that, I think you are making a serious mistake with this resolution. Does anyone here think that we are going to evaluate one mining company that is going to operate for 20 years and then close? We are evaluating a trillion-dollar industry that will have a dozen mines that operate for 100 or 200 years. In that sense it is important that these agencies evaluate the entire industry. Not just one mine. I urge you not to be afraid of the PEIS. It’s a fine thing; it’s what’s required,” Olsen said.
Susan Bowman, of Hoyt Lakes, spoke in favor of the resolution. “I respect everybody and their views, but what really bothers me is that so many of you who are against mining in this area are still using cell phones, still driving cars, everything that requires copper so you are supporting what we need to live in this area by using these items and that creates jobs,” she said. “I don’t understand why you don’t trust Minnesota and the EIS that was done already and shows that it can be done safely. Instead you trust other countries that do not have the regulations.”
Several other mining proponents made their views known, including Lori Fedo, Charlie Barbeau, Joe Scherer, Nancy Norr and Ted Spaulding. Tyler asked for another five minutes to speak but was denied.
Commissioner Nelson led off the comment period by commissioners by disparaging the environmental movement. “What I see happening in northern Minnesota is a microcosm of what’s happening in the state and in the nation,” he said. “What we have created is an industry (around environmental law and studies) that makes Microsoft look like a Kool-aid stand. You have individuals that make hundreds of thousands of dollars representing groups and it’s happening every place. They take those dollars and they buy influence at the highest levels of government.”
A member of the audience objected to the statement. “The mining companies don’t do the same thing?” asked Spaulding. “I know I’m out of line, but that’s crap,” he said.
Forsman asked everyone to respect each other when they are speaking.
Nelson continued, “Shaking your head no while someone else is making a statement is also very disrespectful.”
“But you’re lying,” Carron said from the audience. He was asked to leave the meeting. Another break was requested for everyone to cool down.
Nelson continued, “I would like everyone in this room to understand that respect goes both ways.”
Commissioner Forsman said he supports the resolution. “I believe that with the supplemental EIS that has been done already and the additional work that has been done, there is no question in my mind that the work has been done and is continuing to be done. This will be done as safe as it could ever be done in the world.”
He continued, “This board is just joining a number of jurisdictions that are opposed to another roadblock in the efforts to bring jobs into our community. And the other thing I want to say that might be a little bit jabbing is that I’ve heard all about multi-nationals and their profits. I can almost bet that when this room clears, I can almost guarantee that the environmental people will get into their multi-national Hondas and Subarus and the profits go to some other country that is not the United States of America and that most of the people who are pro-mining are going to get into their Chevrolets or Fords or something with a domestic moniker.”
Commissioner Steve Raukar said he supported the resolution. “It should be known that this is an advisory resolution,” he said. “It has no real authority. We’re not the dog wagging the tail in this fight. We pass resolutions about a lot of different things. I support this resolution but not without reservations.”
Commissioner Jewell said he had talked about abstaining from voting on the resolution because “this will be decided by others. “ I decided not to vote against this because Commissioner Nelson has the votes,” he said.
The other commissioners, Chris Dahlberg, Patrick Boyle and Pete Stauber all voiced their support of the resolution.
A voice vote on the resolution appeared to be unanimous. A roll-call vote was requested by Commissioner Nelson. County Attorney Mark Rubin noted that abstaining from a vote cannot take place without a reason. Jewell abstained. The motion carried with six affirmative votes.
WHEREAS, The St. Louis County Board of Commissioners understands that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is being asked to conduct a duplicative Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for the Superior National Forest (SNF) that would cause unnecessary delays and could affect not only future mining opportunities, but current mining and associated operations; and
WHEREAS, Proposed nonferrous mining projects and other mines within the
SNF are already subject to rigorous and responsible environmental oversight by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and relevant federal agencies; and
WHEREAS, The St. Louis County Board has declared its support for the existing
open, transparent, and comprehensive environmental review and permitting process in place for the various nonferrous mining initiatives planned for development on the Iron Range, and supports the success of these projects contingent upon approval of all state and federal permits necessary; and
WHEREAS, None of these strategic metals mining projects will achieve permits
to mine without approval from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and relevant federal agencies; and
WHEREAS, The Iron Range legislative delegation is opposed to the proposed
PEIS because of its unnecessary cost, redundancy and negative effect on mining and related jobs in the region; and
WHEREAS, The Iron Range legislative delegation has asked the USDA not to
accept or move forward with the dilatory PEIS; and
WHEREAS, U.S. Congressman Rick Nolan has met with high level United States
Forest Service representatives and has expressed his strong opposition to a PEIS; and
WHEREAS, Minnesota’s and the Iron Range economy cannot afford further unnecessary or duplicative delays in mining permitting;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, That the St. Louis County Board hereby
opposes the proposed Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement being asked of the United States Department of Agriculture for the Superior National Forest.
RESOLVED FURTHER, That the St. Louis County Board implores its elected
leaders, including but not limited to Governor Dayton, Senators Klobuchar and Franken, and Congressman Nolan, to demand that the USDA reject the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement currently under consideration for the Superior National Forest.