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Old attitudes die hard….You can’t have it both ways!

February 25, 2013 

BWCAW Boundary Waters Canoe Area WildernessEditor The Ely EchoCopper Nickel Sulfide mining in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Dear Editor:

Old attitudes die hard, as Joe Folio’s letter in the February 23 Echo demonstrates. Ely is rightfully proud of its iron mining history. However, the current effort to romanticize that history ignores much of its dark underside. Ironically, Mr. Folio’s letter underscores one of those darker aspects. Mr. Folio’s paean to mining and the way he says Ely used to be contains these important facts: “the mines closed and 400 people lost their jobs.” So goes the boom and bust of mining. Few things are more foolish for a community than hitching its economic wagon to the resource extraction star. Our neighbor Virginia is surrounded by mining and related activity, and Virginia has been losing population for decades; it fell from 14,034 in 1960 to 8,712 in 2010. Every census after 1960 shows a decline. Economic studies consistently prove that resource-extraction communities are poorer and less well-educated than communities that look elsewhere for economic well-being.

Further, the metallic sulfide ore mining being proposed for the Spruce Road/Kawishiwi River/Birch Lake region has little in common with the labor-intensive iron mining that occurred in and around Ely. The copper and other minerals encased in the sulfide ores are economically recoverable only because mining technology has developed to allow massive increases in output with fewer employees. If we as citizens in fact allow these mines to operate, employment will be a fraction of the employment in the iron mines, and most jobs will not go to local people. More important, as anyone who has been paying attention knows by now, metallic sulfide ore mining is a poisonous and destructive enterprise. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reported that hardrock mining-which is simply another name for the metallic sulfide ore mining that the multinationals propose to inflict upon us-accounts for more than 40% of the Superfund sites in the United States.

Ely cannot have it both ways. As painful as it is for many to admit, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness saved Ely. Mr. Folio rues the loss of population and businesses after the mines closed, but the attraction of one of the world’s great wilderness areas kept people coming here. It enabled many existing local businesses to stay afloat and inspired the creation of new businesses. Some people left Ely for careers elsewhere, were successful, and returned to invest in the community. Others who were not originally from Ely came here, saw an interesting and active community in the midst of a beautiful landscape, and laid down their cash. Those kinds of investments will come to a screeching halt when Basswood and many other lakes are polluted by the flow from the Kawishiwi, the groundwater is no longer drinkable, and gaining access to key entry points to the BWCAW requires traversing an industrial mining zone. Property values have already been hit hard in the exploration areas.

Mr. Folio repeats the common charge that people who are opposed to metallic sulfide mining here are “selfish.” Who is more selfish? People who invested significant portions of their lives and savings in businesses and property because of a pleasant community, relatively clean water and air, and a healthy forest, and who want to preserve those things in the face of a mining juggernaut? Or mining companies who will run roughshod over public and private lands, and over everybody’s water and air, to enrich themselves without regard for the businesses, homes, and lives that others have built?

Reid Carron
Town of Morse

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