ELY – Advocates of sulfide mining will rally in front of the Twin Metals Minnesota facility in Ely Tuesday night and march along the streets of Ely to a second listening session regarding the …
ELY – Advocates of sulfide mining will rally in front of the Twin Metals Minnesota facility in Ely Tuesday night and march along the streets of Ely to a second listening session regarding the renewal of two mineral leases the company holds within the Superior National Forest.
“We will march arm in arm to the hearing to show our support for Twin Metals,” said Mayor Chuck Novak, an outspoken critic of the environmental advocates in his community. He refers to Ely as “ground-zero of the anti-mining crowd.”
He also rescheduled the regular Ely City Council meeting from the night of the listening session to Thursday, July 21. “We want as many people as possible there,” he said Tuesday.
The additional public comment and listening session begins at 5 p.m. on Tuesday at Washington Auditorium on the campus of Ely Schools. The facility has a seating capacity of approximately 950 people and is expected to be filled to capacity.
The additional hearing comes on the heels of the first hearing, held Wednesday in Duluth.
Northeastern Minnesota politicians and officials held a rally at the Veterans Memorial in Virginia earlier this month to tell the U.S. Forest Service that they wanted a hearing on the mineral lease renewal applications closer to the Iron Range. The Range Association of Municipalities and Schools organized that rally.
“We made it crystal clear to the U.S. Forest Service that people on Minnesota’s Iron Range must have every opportunity to weigh in on the Twin Metals mining initiative near Ely, in their own back yard,” said Rep. Rick Nolan. “I’m pleased the U.S. Forest Service has made that decision.”
The Ely listening session will begin with a short presentation by Forest Service staff describing the status of the leases and determination to be made. The session will include a lottery system to identify which attendees will have the opportunity to provide a three-minute oral presentation.
The Forest Service listening sessions are part of a 30-day public comment period that runs through July 20. The Forest Service is seeking the input as part of their decision-making on whether to approve or reject to the renewal of two longstanding mineral leases that expired at the end of 2013. Twin Metals is seeking renewal of the leases, which are critical to their proposed mining operation. While the Bureau of Land Management has the ultimate authority to decide on the renewal request, BLM officials have already indicated they won’t pursue a renewal without concurrence by the Forest Service, which controls the surface rights.
The proposed mine would be located several miles southeast of Ely along the Kawishiwi River, a major river system within the watershed of the adjacent Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The mine’s proximity to the wilderness and its potential for water contamination have prompted concerns among environmental groups and land managers that the risk of the project outweighs the potential benefits. Last month, Forest Service officials indicated they were leaning against renewal of the mineral leases, noting “grave concerns” about impacts to the adjacent BWCAW.
Process moving forward
Public input on the renewal of the Twin Metals leases may be submitted via U.S. Mail to the Superior National Forest Headquarters: Superior National Forest, ATT: Twin Metals Lease Renewal, 8901 Grand Ave Place, Duluth, MN 55808; or emailed to TwinMetalsLeaseInput@-fs.fed.us, or presented verbally at a public listening session. A summary of the public input received will be posted on the Superior National Forest website. Updates regarding the lease renewals, including the Forest Service determination regarding consent, will be publicly announced and posted online at: www.fs.usda.gov/superior.
The Forest Service plans to submit its final determination to the BLM in the weeks following the close of the public input period and the agency’s examination of the issue.
A community divided
At the recent Virginia rally, St. Louis County Commissioner Tom Rukavina called Ely “strongly supportive of mining.” But Mayor Novak said Ely is not of one mind on the issue, and he acknowledged it has become a divisive issue that has fueled animosity within the Ely community.
That was borne out during the recent Fourth of July parade in Ely, when members and supporters of Sustainable Ely, a group opposed to sulfide mining near the Boundary Waters, were booed and jeered as they marched along the parade route. Residents and parade watchers on the north side of Harvey Street between 3rd and 4th avenues doused the group with copious amounts of water from squirt guns and garden hoses.
The Ely Klown Band, again this year, stopped playing as they passed by the environmental advocacy group’s office at 206 E. Sheridan Street, much to the delight of many nearby parade watchers.
Despite the divisions, Minnesota’s U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken strongly advocated for bringing the listening session to Ely. “It is good that the U.S. Forest Service finally heeded our call and will be holding a public comment/listening session on the Iron Range,” said Klobuchar. “I believe that it is important for Iron Rangers to be able to voice their opinions in person.”