Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Looking into a crystal ball,Twin Metals leader anticipates big economic impact

Keith Vandervort
Posted 11/1/18

ELY – Dean Debeltz, Director of Operations and Safety for Twin Metals, provided an update on the mine development process to a crowd of more than 100 mining supporters here last week.

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Looking into a crystal ball,Twin Metals leader anticipates big economic impact

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ELY – Dean Debeltz, Director of Operations and Safety for Twin Metals, provided an update on the mine development process to a crowd of more than 100 mining supporters here last week.

The project update, presented by Up North Jobs, revealed little that was new about the proposal to extract copper and other metals from an underground mine on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

“It has been difficult for us,” Debeltz said, and talked mostly about the anticipated economic impact the project could have in the Ely area if it eventually opens.

“Hopefully you will leave here recognizing that there will be more changes (to the project) until we get this whole thing figured out and submit a (mining) plan,” he said. “Once we do that we will work with the agencies and see what other changes would make this a better plan.”

Debeltz described “looking into a crystal ball” as he described Twin Metals’ plan for a $1.2 billion investment to get the project to the construction phase. There will be “several million” labor hours to build the mine, he said. “We are planning on 650 direct mining jobs with a two-to-one spin-off, creating about 1,300 spin-off jobs,” he said.

He looked to highlight the mining project’s overall impact to the local economy. “These are just jobs, and this number could change,” Debeltz asserted. “I’ll be honest with you. Is that a solid number? I don’t know, quite frankly. That is the best information we have today. That is the number that we believe will support this mine.”

He told the audience that technology (driver-less trucks and other automation) eliminating jobs is not a big issue. “We use technology today and quite frankly it doesn’t take away the jobs that we use it for,” he said. “We use drones to do safety inspections in areas that I don’t want to go to…But there are people behind that technology.”

As for wages, Debeltz noted that industrial jobs tend to pay well. “If you look at all industries the average in Minnesota is roughly $52,000. Mining wages are a lot higher in Minnesota than in the country as a whole. They are good paying jobs,” he said.

He dismissed the “rumors” that mining would lead to a boom-bust cycle, though this has been a well-documented aspect of mining for hundreds of years. “We’ve been through that kind of stuff,” Debeltz said. “We’ve been through slow-downs. We’ve been through that kind of situation.”

He said that his grandfather worked for 42 years as a miner. His father had more than 30 years in the mines. “I’ve had 15 years in the mines so far and hope to do quite a bit more,” Debeltz said. “I’m a proponent of mining. I like mining. I think mining jobs are good jobs.”

Next steps

The Twin Metals project still remains in the planning stage, noted Debeltz. “We’ve been there a long time,” he said. “We have changed our plans. We still have planning to do.”

Debeltz said he hopes that Twin Metals will be able to release a final mine plan within 18 months. “I think it will be sooner than that,” Debeltz anticipated. “Once we hit that point, we get into the EIS, the rigorous environmental review that is tailor-made to what we propose. There is no known period of time that this takes place in.”

He acknowledged that the mine project is in a sensitive area, within the watershed of the Boundary Waters. “We can’t move the deposit,” he said. “The environmental review process will take time. It will go through iterations, and a lot of changes, until we get to the point of permitting and construction leading to operations.”

He said that the length of the mine permit will be about 25 years, but that depends on a number of issues. “We believe we have the resources for well over 100 years of mining in that area,” Debeltz said.

Currently, Twin Metals is conducting many studies concerning the potential impacts of the mine, including wild rice studies on local lakes and air monitoring studies. “We have just kicked off our hydrogeologic study to help understand the hydrology of the area,” he said. “There has not been a study in this area that is that comprehensive. We are installing wells specifically for that purpose. All of those wells have to be permitted.”

The studies will remain ongoing, and once the mine plan is submitted “it kicks us into a public scoping,” he said. “There is a lot of opportunity for public input, and its important that that public takes that opportunity. That is the only way that we will produce a really good, world-class project.”

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