People can say what they want about sulfide mining inside the Rainy River Water Shed; Twin Metals of Duluth put up a fine looking building in the business park. Everyone seemed pleased with the good turn out, but then nothing brings people out like a free bag of neat stuff, and their building in the business park is first rate. So how could you not like Twin Metals of Duluth? Most of the people wearing the company badges looked like darn nice people, but they are all strangers. How do I know if they are telling me the truth, or just feeding me a company line in order to get a foothold in the second richest deposit of copper and nickel in the entire world? I have friends here in Ely who have mixed feelings about opening Pandora’s Jar of surprises in order to enjoy the period of prosperity that would come with mining such a vast deposit of low grade ore that would scar the land close to Ely.
There is no single mindset that describes how Ely feels about things like sulfide mining and wilderness; there never has been a unified opinion here about anything, and perhaps that is the way America was meant to be. I was talking to a fellow who wanted to know what kind of place Ely was? I was looking for the right word to describe my hometown, and I chose the almost right word, when I told him that Ely was a liberal place. That person was of a conservative nature, and the word liberal caused him genuine offense. It was my fault. Ely really isn’t a liberal or a conservative place; Ely is a tolerant place where people are free to have their say, without fear of retaliation for expressing their opinions. People will let you know if they don’t agree with you on certain things, but I have never been afraid to express my opinions. Ely doesn’t like hypocrites or fools, but if you live the way you talk, then Ely is a good place to be.
The other year Ely was voted by some magazine as the coolest small town in America, and sometimes I wonder what makes it cool? I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that Ely sits in the heart of hundreds of beautiful lakes and rivers next to the only genuine wilderness east of the Mississippi River. I would love to see a tee shirt that called Ely the luckiest small town in America. We were very lucky that the iron mining here was as benign as it was, and that there is very little negative lasting impact from that iron mining.
This year the politically correct stand for anyone thinking of running for local office about sulfide mining is: If it can be done well and won’t have a negative lasting impact on the area; then I am in favor of sulfide mining. But if it can’t be done safely and cleanly, then I am not in favor of it. The trouble with that safe political stand is right up there with people who tell me that they are not opposed to mining, but rather that they are in favor of clean water is that by the time anyone realized there was a problem would be years down the line.
I am not concerned with the generations who might make a living from sulfide mining. I am concerned with the generations that would follow when the mining was finished, and what kind of country we would hand over to them, and what they would do in another post mining era. What we do here during our time will judge us to the latest generation. Ely is surrounded by beauty. I hope it will always be a beautiful place where people can come to enjoy the spirit of the Quetico-Superior Wilderness.
By: Iron Mike Hillman