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Progress, minor setbacks mark nonferrous industry’s path

Mesabi Daily News

Charles Ramsay 

Nonferrous mining – for copper, nickel and precious metals such as platinum and palladium – continued to advance, as well as incur some opposition during 2011.

 

No company has started up nonferrous mining in Minnesota yet, with a number is either prospecting or exploratory drilling mode, and the one most advanced, PolyMet, in the midst of environmental review toward obtaining operating permits in the near future.

PolyMet received criticism from opponents several times during the year, most recently at the St. Louis County Board at meetings in Duluth and Ely in December. Opponents say that sulfides mined as part of the process would get into area watersheds. PolyMet received more financial backing during the year from its partner, Glencore AG.

 

One industry setback occurred in October, when state officials decided to delay approval of pending leases by nonferrous companies for six months, due to opposition from residents or mining foes.

 

Twin Metals, a venture between Duluth Metals – which purchased the Franconia Minerals operation in March – and its partner, mining giant Antofagasto, opened up a new headquarters for its operations in the Ely area in the fall.

 

LaTisha Gietzen, PolyMet vice president of governmental and environmental affairs, said that progress had been made on its supplemental EIS and that they continued receiving support during the year. They are “looking at a very busy 2012” on the review and permitting, she said.

 

About a dozen companies are prospecting or exploring in Northeastern Minnesota for nonferrous minerals, said Mining Minnesota Executive Director Frank Ongaro. The organization is a trade group supporting nonferrous mining.

 

The year was a positive one as public policy was encouraging investment in nonferrous mining in the region. But, “it would have been nice to see government move through the environmental review more quickly on the project that’s furthest along, PolyMet,” he said.

Morse Town Hall Overflows for County Mining Resolution Debate

Ely Echo
Tom Coombe and Nick Wognum

After several hours of testimony Tuesday in a jam-packed Morse Town Hall, the St. Louis County Board went on record in support of copper-nickel mining in northeastern Minnesota.

But the resolution ultimately approved on a 4-3 vote wasn't as forceful as a measure originally presented the week before by Ely commissioner Mike Forsman.

Commissioners instead resolved to support "the existing open, transparent and comprehensive environmental review and permitting process in place" for various copper-nickel mining projects proposed for the region and supports "the success of these projects," contingent upon the approval of all federal and state environmental permits.

A more strongly-worded resolution of support stalled at a Dec. 13 meeting in Duluth, and other county business was put aside for more than seven hours Tuesday, when both supporters and opponents of the measure turned out in full force.

As many as 90 people crammed into the Morse Town Hall at times, and dozens more waited outside for a chance to speak or take in the proceedings.

After hearing from more than 50 speakers, most from outside the Ely area, commissioners adopted a resolution that Forsman said was tweaked in part to gain the support of commissioner Steve Raukar of Hibbing.

Raukar joined Forsman, Virginia area commissioner Steve Nelson and Chris Dalberg of Duluth to form a four-member majority.

Raukar called the vote "symbolic" and said that despite the attention paid to the board's decision, the fate of proposed mining initiatives in the region rest instead with state and federal permitting agencies.

"We're not the dog nor are we the tail when it comes to this issue," said Raukar. "But it deserves our attention today."

Ely area leaders, mining company executives and lobbyists were among those who spoke in support of the resolution and urged county commissioners to back projects that promise hundreds of new jobs.

They were countered by opponents who charge that copper-nickel mining puts both the region's environment and tourism economy in peril.

Duluth commissioner Steve O'Neill, who was joined by Peg Sweeney of Proctor and Duluth's Frank Jewell in voting no, said the county vote was premature.

"Symbols are important," said O'Neill. "I think there is more research to be done. I'm not ready to support this resolution."

Jewell called the resolution "bad policy" and that the county was "supporting something that's in the purview of the state and federal government."

Foes including Cindy Peterson of Duluth also downplayed the economic impact of proposed new mining projects, pointing to the region's existing mining economy.

"If mining saves communities, the Range should be thriving," said Peterson.

But Forsman responded that "mining isn't as temporary as some people would say."

"My son is 24 years old and is making 60-some thousand a year in mining," said Forsman.

Ely area resort owner Steve Koschak reiterated his opposition on environmental grounds.

"It's not our daddy's mining," said Koschak. "This is a mining that will lead to toxic waste."

Opponents say that projects such as the PolyMet initiative between Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes and the Twin Metals Minnesota project outside of Ely will create sulfuric waste that will damage area waterways.

But PolyMet chief executive officer Joe Scipioni disagreed.

"The technology is there," said Scipioni. "The process is there to be able to do this… It's a big deal for the county and it won't be done unless it's environmentally correct.

Raukar said he wouldn't characterize the issue as an "either-or" proposition.

"I think we can have both," said Raukar. "I want jobs and a clean environment. Mining is a dirty business. In Hibbing we experience dust and delays, but these kinds of trade-offs are the things we live with. Do I have reservations? Yes. But I feel today we have to move forward."

It was, to say the least, a very long day.

A crowd outside peered in the window, two people sat on the floor in front of the board table. A bus with mining supporters arrived from Hibbing shortly after 8 a.m. and by 8:30 a.m. the room was full.

The first disagreement came over the list of people signed up to speak. Reid Carron became upset when a sign-up list with names already on it was presented. Carron claimed he was at the meeting before those people.

There were over 80 people in the room when the meeting started at 9:40 a.m.

Speaking at the start of the meeting were Morse supervisor Bob Berrini and Ely mayor Roger Skraba.

Berrini said the Morse board voted unanimously in support of copper-nickel mining and that all three supervisors live on a lake.

Berrini also thanked the mining industry and elected officials for the $289 in taconite tax relief he received.

"And anybody here that's against mining, please if you don't want that money, send it to the Town of Morse and we'll pave our roads," said Berrini.

Skraba said Ely has been a mining town and that numerous public bodies in the area have supported copper-nickel mining. He said he and others believe companies must meet and exceed environmental standards.

"None of us want it to go unless the standards are met and exceeded," said Skraba. "We care about the environment; we also care about jobs. I've watched my community lose people for the last 40 years. We have an opportunity to provide more jobs and more manufacturing in our community with the natural resources. We have logging, we have tourism and we have mining. All three need to be there to support our community. Not one is better than the other."

Discussion on the resolution got underway at 10:19 a.m., continuing the five hours of testimony from the week before.

Raukar said a Duluth News Tribune article oversimplified the issue as being a choice between clean water and mining. Raukar was also critical of a Mesabi Daily News editorial on the subject, calling it biased.

Forsman read the resolution as it was presented at the board's Duluth meeting and moved for approval, with Keith Nelson supporting the resolution.

Nelson said he represents 28,000 people and urged people to be civil in the discussion. He said the resolution involved copper-nickel mining, not sulfide mining. Nelson compared the use of the words sulfide mining to "Obamacare" being offensive to some people.

Commissioner Frank Jewell said people who opposed the resolution were civil and said Nelson's comments on people's choice of words was not something the board could control.

Rick Canata, the mayor of Hibbing and representing a labor union, said he is for jobs and clean air and water. "I want to make sure this is safe but we need the jobs too," said Canata. "Wouldn't we rather have our jobs in Minnesota rather than overseas?"

Reid Carron said he lives in the town of Morse and that he opposed the resolution. Carron said the mining being proposed is sulfide bearing ore. He said this type of mining creates environmental destruction.

Carron also said tourism would end with the industrialization of the area.

Becky Rom, the wife of Carron, spoke and opposed the resolution. Rom said the resolution sounded fine and dandy but that no one knows if the facts are correct. Rom cited the waste rock to be generated by the PolyMet project and said it would "likely damage the water."

Art Linn of Hibbing spoke in favor of the resolution and said state regulations are in place to protect the environment.

Tony Seme of Ely said "we know how to do it wrong" and cited copper mines in California that have environmental problems. "I don't want the mines, I need the mines," said Seme who cited the economic problems in the world today.

Lori Fedo of the Hibbing Chamber of Commerce said non-ferrous was the future of the area and needed for the Iron Range economy.

Bill Whiteside said his family has been in the Ely since the 1800s. He said he was in support of copper nickel mining in the area. "If we stop here and we don't go on we'll be very sorry in the future," said Whiteside.

Andrew Urban said he lived in Eagles Nest township and cited the first day of Hanukkah. He opposed the resolution and said if it can be done right in Minnesota, it must be done wrong everywhere else. He said the reason mining is being done wrong is because of either being done for profit or that it can't be done right.

John Fedo, an economic development consultant, said there is no easy way to do job creation.

"The bottom line is that at some point we have to believe the science and when you believe the science you have to pull the trigger," said Fedo. "People have to believe the elected officials can get it right if given the opportunity to get it right."

Richard Watson of Ely said the issue is sulfide mining and said the resolution is premature.

"I've been asking a lot of people if they prefer health or wealth and of course they say health. This full bore charge for jobs, jobs, jobs will not make this a balanced, healthy community," said Watson.

John Grahek said he was representing the 2,000 men and women for the building trades in northeastern Minnesota.

"We support the mining projects on the Range," said Grahek. "It's a good resolution; it makes sense."

Pamela Thompson said she was from Brimson where she grows wild medicinal herbs. She opposed the resolution and said the area would lose the same amount of jobs to gain the mining jobs. Thompson said resorts on Birch Lake would be lost.

Babbitt Mayor Glenn Anderson distributed a copy of the resolution passed by the Babbitt city council the night before by a unanimous vote.

"We do support this mining operation," said Anderson. "I have three grown children living in the Cities who I would love to have back in this area…but that is not possible, we do not have the jobs. Peter Mitchell when he came to Babbitt wasn't on a tourist trip, he was looking to start a mine and he found it."

Anderson said if people think there is a problem with mining, there are two lakes in the Northshore Mining operation with walleyes, northern and trout in them.

Margaret Hodnik of Minnesota Power and a native of Aurora spoke in favor of the resolution.

"Minnesota Power strongly supports the non-ferrous mining industry," said Hodnik. "This region including the entire county should be allowed to thrive. This region along with the entire county should be allowed to have healthy rates of employment and highly skilled jobs, outstanding schools and strong physical and social infrastructure that non-ferrous mining employment, mineral leases and taxes would help support."

Hodnik said her job includes dealing with regulatory agencies.

"I can tell you personally these agencies operate with the highest standards and highest degrees of professionalism and that's why Minnesota has a national reputation for environmental leadership and quality.

"Beyond that the people that work at our plants and the people that work at the mining companies and really the people in the region have an extremely strong environmental ethos. And they care about what happens because they live here," said Hodnik.

She also pointed out the state has statutes and rules that require financial assurances, contrary to what some speakers have asserted. And in order for companies like Minnesota Power to have wind turbines, non-ferrous minerals are required.

Babbitt city council member Jim Lassi spoke in favor of the resolution. He said Babbitt is working with the University of Minnesota in looking at what's going to happen with the Peter Mitchell mine 80 years down the road when it closes.

"We are working in consortium with them. This has never been done before and we hope to have a project that could be a prototype for all mines when we're done with this. We're working with the mining company so as they close portions of the pit we're asking that they slope things and perhaps leave bumps so eventually when the pit fills with water it could be another Lake Tahoe in another 80 years," said Lassi.

Rod Eikkila of Hibbing said he started a company that employed 11 people on the Range and supports the project. In reference to anti-mining people went to foreign companies, Eikkila said his company kept the earnings in the area, "although some people may construe anything I do as Finnish."

Eikkila also said there are misconceptions with the mine in Ladysmith, WI.

"They really didn't increase the pollution there, it was there before they ever opened the mine up," said Eikkila.

Jane Koschak of Lake County and owner of a resort on Birch Lake urged the board to vote no and said this mining is too risky.

"What would anyone want this in their backyard for?" said Koschak. "I urge you not to endorse this. Tourism is and remains the very lifeblood of Ely."

Brad Boos, president of API Electric, said he employs 200 people and that there has been 30 percent unemployment in the construction industry for the past five years. "I think it's time now to get behind this. We need these jobs and we can do this right."

Tim Jefferson, a geologist for Twin Metals, pointed out that neither the BWCA or the mineral deposits can be moved.

"It is absolutely imperative that we are able to not create an environmental mess if we mine these things. I believe we have the technology to do that. I say that honestly. I would not be a part of this mineral exploration effort if I didn't believe that.

"The platinum group elements is a very important part of this deposit. And they are just an incredibly wonderful, environmentally positive mineral once you have it at our disposal," said Jefferson.

He said the minerals are used in catalytic converters, medical supplies and fuel cells.

"It's truly a wonder metal. Will we impact? There is nothing in life including breathing in and out without having some impact. It is the mining companies highest interest to get it right," said Jefferson.

"We are all consumers, we are all members of this planet. We need these metals. We can talk about jobs. The state of Minnesota and the federal government owns the majority of mineral rights in this area. I honestly believe we can mine this right. We will not destroy the Boundary Waters or the South Kawishiwi River," said Jefferson.

Nancy McReady of Fall Lake and president of Conservationists with Common Sense said the group encourages the development. She said Ely and other communities across the Range are not healthy, citing vacant businesses and declining school enrollment.

"Tourism has an impact of $120 million per year while taconite mining has an economic impact of $3.1 billion a year…unless people are willing to give up cellphones, iPods, etc. we have to mine these minerals," said McReady.

Bill Skradski, a member of the Ely school board, said he was responsible for the board's decision to pass a resolution in favor. He said it was done for the survival of a school district and the survival of a community.

Skradski said two mines operated in Ely in the '50s and no environmentalists said they wouldn't come to Ely because there were mines there.

"Everyone's talking about pollution. Ely Minnesota in the 1950s and 1960s had tremendous problems and had a thing called stinky ditch.

Ely was putting raw sewage in water that developed into algae growth and it moved into Fall and Basswood Lake. Ely Minnesota fixed this problem. If a problem is created there's a solution to it."

Jeff Anderson, a Duluth city council member, Congressional candidate and a fourth generation Elyite spoke as well.

"I come today to speak in favor of this resolution. For over 130 years we've mined in northeast Minnesota and we've done so being good stewards of the environment."

He encouraged the board to think of the next 130 years and to support and invest in these projects for the next several generations.

Bill Erzar, a lifelong resident of Ely, said he worked at Minntac, following his father and grandfather in the mining industry. "We will be able to provide some very good jobs here and produce products for the state and the country," said Erzar.

He pointed out that countries such as China do not have the same strict environmental laws as there are here.

"We here have the environmental laws on the books to do this in an environmentally responsible manner," said Erzar. 

Vern Baker, president of Duluth Metals, asked for support of the resolution. 

"We have been working in the area since 2005 and one of things that has become evident is how blessed northern Minnesota is. In addition to the tremendous resources of the Iron Range which has been going for over 100 years…we are blessed with strategic metals that are in the top of the world class resources as far as the economic value. We see a resource that can provide a tremendous economic benefit for generations, with no doubt. 

"As a state we are blessed already with strong regulatory agencies that are used to regulating mining and we have some of the strongest environmental standards in this country, which has some of strongest environmental standards in the world. We are committed to meeting and or exceeding all the standards that are set here in Minnesota to bring what will be an economic powerhouse and can provide a tremendous number of benefits to the people of Minnesota as well as doing it in an extremely environmentally responsible manner."

Rep. Tom Rukavina spoke in favor of the resolution as well. He said he was proud of the culture of mining in St. Louis County.

Rukavina said the mining industry has been very supportive of the tourism industry with taconite tax dollars. 

"I think we're all environmentalists and I want to tell young people in room in the late 1970s I stood in front of a group and opposed copper nickel mining because at the time the range was booming. My comments then was there'll be a time we'll need to mine this ore. It wasn't at that time. Since then there's been a lot of changes in mining. The environmental concerns are legitimate and they have to be met. But the bottom line is county built on mining and we need the support of both the Duluth and the Range commissioners.

"We're going to do things right if we want the windmills and the solar panels and my new knee is filled with molybdenum, titanium and chromium. We need it whether you need a heart monitor or whatever. Let's do it, let's do it right here in northern Minnesota."

Bob McFarlin of Twin Metals Minnesota said his company is pursuing an underground mine 12 miles from Ely and that the company employs 35 Minnesotans and that number will grow to more than 50 in the coming year.

He said since 2006 his company has invested $150 million and is currently supporting 100 direct and indirect jobs.

"We are very proud to be part of the economic community of St. Louis and Lake counties. Our project has the potential to create thousands of construction jobs and hundreds of and possibly thousands of permanent mining jobs for decades for generations of Minnesotans.

"In the next few months the details of our underground mining project will come forward as we move forward in the environmental review process. That process is going to be rigorous, thorough, lengthy and governed by multiple state and federal agencies.

"Our project is going to be held to the strictest of environmental standards and performance. We will meet or exceed those standards. We will not be allowed to move forward unless we can prove we can meet and exceed the regulations.

"This is not a choice between jobs and the environment. We don't have to make that choice and we're not going to make that choice. We can protect the environment and we can have economic development.

"We all want good jobs, we all want a strong economy and we all want to protect the environment. Your support is also very important for the local employees, local contractors and local businesses that are working so hard today to achieve this vision of economic growth and environmental protection of this area. They want to know that their elected representatives support their efforts and their dreams for the future."

Julie Richard of Ely said she was in favor of clean air and water and said the study of this mining was still an experiment. "We are for jobs but we can create jobs in other ways," said Richard.

Christine Kohl said she grew up on Lake Vermilion but owned land in Lake County and said she was directly threatened by the mining interests in the area.

"The last year that I spent on my land has been the most important and powerful in my life. I know that it will only be over my dead body (my land) will be affected by mining," said Kohl. She said the board should imagine the earth as their body. 

Gena Dupretto of Virginia said she had formed a relationship with the land. She said this type of mining was unprecedented and unproven. 

Marcy Wood, a Duluth resident, spoke in opposition saying she opposed sulfide mining anywhere.

Marko Good from Grand Marais said he owned land in St. Louis County. He said he appreciated the board considering not being in support of the "juggernaut coming our way." He said this type of mining can't be done without damaging the environment. 

Adam Harju of Grand Marais said he lived in northeastern Minnesota for the quality of life. He said he was concerned about clean-up projects from mining.

Frank Moe of Beltrami County thanked the board for letting outsiders speak to the board. He said sulfide mining will pollute the environment. 

Bill Travis, president of Idea Drilling, said his company's 120 employees live in the area. He said 2011 has been very successful with the company growing from 68 to 120 employees and looking to add 20-30 employees.

Travis said Idea Drilling has added four drill rigs at a cost of $4 million and added a new building as well.

"Jobs isn't just about jobs today, it's about jobs for our children in the future. It's also about national security and providing a foundation for long-term financial health. Our existence is tied directly to these projects. Without these projects we wouldn't have a company.

"We believe in the individuals that make up our regulatory agencies and make up the companies being talked about. A lot of them are Minnesotans tried and true and they're going to make the right decisions based on the rules that are set forth to make sure our environment is safe and secure not only for today but for the long term. I ask you to consider that this is our environment, the people in this room, the employees of Idea Drilling and the employees of PolyMet, Twin Metals, Duluth Metals and the companies we've talked about. 

"We ask for your support. Give the regulators, give the companies a chance to prove they can do this. If they can't do it, it won't happen. 

Virginia city council member Charles Baribeau said he was a pharmacist and noted, "There are sulfates, sulfides and sulfites in medication that you take every day internally."

Baribeau said PolyMet will create 500 jobs probably at approximately $70,000 a year for a $35 million per year in payroll and to multiply by five the impact in the area plus thousands of spinoff jobs.

"I'm satisfied as a city councilor this is imperative to move forward with this…I have a resolution from the city council of Virginia, this was done in 2008 for PolyMet. They started in 2005, how can it take seven years to get through…that is unthinkable."

Ely city council member Heidi Omerza said one of the area's most valuable resources is its children.

"I look around Ely and all I see are children leaving Ely and not returning to Ely or St. Louis County. We need jobs up here so they can stay up here," said Omerza.

Andrew Slade of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership said he used to live in Ely and served on a committee with Mike Forsman in 1999.

Slade said polling has shown 62 percent of people in the state support sulfide mining with that number rising to 69 percent in northeastern Minnesota.

"However Minnesotans also want to strong environmental standards…80 percent of people in Minnesota support strong environmental standards. I'm really glad to see wording in the resolution that talks about having this resolution be contingent on the approval of all environmental permits. People are concerned about the potential for underlying those standards. Four out of five Minnesotans support requiring better enforcement of existing regulations. There's a real concern some kind of end run is going to happen."

  

Editorial: Good vote by County Board

Mesabi Daily News
Editorial 

What a great showing from the Iron Range on Tuesday in Ely to help get a majority vote by the St. Louis County Board in support of nonferrous mining in the region.

And what a predictable and disgusting display of anti-job and anti-Iron Range sentiment by three commissioners – Peg Sweeney, Steve O'Neil and Frank Jewell – from Duluth who voted against a resolution on copper/nickel/precious metals mining.

Commissioners Keith Nelson of Fayal Township and Mike Forsman of Ely deserve great credit for working this resolution through the County Board.

We applaud Commissioner Chris Dahlberg of Duluth for showing his support for all of the county by voting for the resolution.

And it was also good to see Commissioner Steve Raukar of Hibbing back the resolution. However, his wholehearted support should have been locked in from the outset, rather than wanting to put the vote off until next year and trying to mollify the three Duluth commissioners who never had any intention of supporting a nonferrous resolution, no matter how watered down it could have been altered.

Residents from across the Range rallied in Ely to speak on behalf of the resolution and to display a strong showing of public advocacy for nonferrous mining. It was especially heartwarming to see a busload of Hibbing residents at the meeting. That united East Range/West Range collaboration for good projects that create real, good-paying jobs for the area is vital to seeing the region through uncertain economic times and into a more prosperous future.

We strongly defend the rights of opponents to voice their concerns about nonferrous mining. To do so represents the American way of public dissent.

But we do not appreciate the tactics of some preservationists who use extreme language in trying to tar those who support copper/nickel/precious metals mining and attempting to portray them as unconcerned about the environment and wanting to "poison" the precious waters of the region. There is no dignity in such offensive and unwarranted personal attacks.

Nonferrous mining's future was advanced in the public domain on Tuesday in Ely when the largest government body in the county went on record to support projects that meet state and federal environmental standards.

That vote was necessary, relevant and definitely timely.

Reader’s view: PolyMet workers will feed future protesters

Duluth News Tribune
Wally L. Avello 

May I remind those writing signs protesting the PolyMet mine that it will be the taxes paid by the future workers of PolyMet and other working people that will allow protesters to maintain their lifestyles. Therefore, in the future, protesters will be able to occupy Duluth or whatever other noble cause they choose to pursue, knowing they do not have to worry from where their next meal will be coming.

Wally L. Avello

Duluth

Labor Group Cuts Ties with Occupy Duluth

Post-Bulletin
Brandon Stahl

About a month ago, members of local labor unions marched with Occupy Duluth during the National Day of Action. Now leaders of the two sides might not even be exchanging Christmas cards.

The Duluth Central Labor Body, which represents more than 17,000 union members in the region, voted recently to disassociate itself from Occupy Duluth.

Central Labor Body president Dan O'Neill said his group held a special meeting to discuss comments made by two Occupy Duluth members in a recent issue of Business North, where they spoke out against copper mining. The paper also published six official stands of Occupy Duluth, one of them being: "Oppose all forms of mining."

"When we saw that, that's not why we were supporting Occupy Duluth," O'Neill said. "We were steadfast in our support for Occupy with their stands on corporate greed, with their stands on anti-unionism.

"But what happened was they got sidetracked onto this one issue of mining," O'Neill said. "In this area we represent over 60 different union affiliates, a lot of them having to do with the iron ore industry, and other types of mining that are being looked at."

Occupy Duluth members said their initial statement to Business North was a mistake, and they have since clarified their position. Occupy member Nathan Ness said the group has never opposed all mining but instead focused their protests primarily on PolyMet, which aims to mine for copper near Hoyt Lakes. Critics say it will result in high levels of acidic runoff from sulfur that will damage the environment.

"Occupy Duluth is opposed to sulfide mining and not all mining in general. That would be political suicide," Ness said.

 

Ness said he believed the Labor Body voted to sever ties with Occupy for reasons other than disagreements on mining.

"I think it's related to our unwillingness to support the Obama re-election campaign," he said. "We don't buy into the Obama administration. And at least as for me, as a former union organizer, I believe the labor unions in Duluth were trying to co-opt the Occupy Movement in order to support this president, who has done the exact opposite of what the Occupy movement is about."

O'Neill called those comments "B.S."

"He's trying to divide," O'Neill said. "That topic was never brought up. That's crazy."

While the Labor Body has never officially voted to support PolyMet, Building Trades President Craig Olson said many other state trades throughout the state have voiced their support. Olson said Occupy Duluth was opposing PolyMet while "misrepresenting themselves as labor."

"We want to make it clear to the Duluth community that labor does not support that," Olson said.

Occupy Duluth member Tyler Nord said despite the dispute, he hopes the two sides can work together in the future.

"We have to agree to disagree with the unions on PolyMet," Nord said.

  

St. Louis County Board votes to support copper mining

Duluth News Tribune
John Myers 

ELY — St. Louis County commissioners voted 4-3 Tuesday for a resolution throwing their support behind copper mining projects planned for Northeastern Minnesota.

The vote came after about 60 people testified over five hours in the tiny Morse Town Hall, where nearly 100 people packed inside and another 40 were forced to wait outside for their turn to enter and make their statement.

Commissioner Steve Raukar of Hibbing, who offered an amended resolution that ultimately passed, called the vote “symbolic in nature,” noting the county has little regulatory authority over the projects. But the favorable vote was seen as important by mining officials, who said the resolution showed support for new jobs and economic development in the county.

Mining company executives, a state legislator, a congressional candidate and myriad local officials joined labor leaders, environmentalists, tourism business owners and local residents in testifying for and against the resolution in an often passionate but always civil debate.

Supporters of PolyMet’s open-pit mine proposed north of Hoyt Lakes and Twin Metals’ underground mine proposed southeast of Ely — which would be Minnesota’s first copper-nickel mines — said the projects are critical for the future of the region, especially high-paying, highly skilled jobs for young people.

“I have three children, all living in the Cities because they can’t get jobs up here,” said Glen Anderson, the mayor of Babbitt.

The PolyMet project alone is projected to cost $600 million with 360 employees for 20 years or more with a $40 million annual payroll and about 500 spinoff jobs.

“This is about the survival of a school district. The survival of a community,” said Bill Skradski, an Ely resident who serves on the school board and urged support of the resolution. The Ely School Board, City Council, city of Babbitt, Lake County, Hoyt Lakes and other local governments also have passed resolutions in favor of copper mining. A few townships have opposed copper mining.

Supporters of the projects said they cherish the region’s lakes and forests as much as environmentalists who oppose mining. And they said the projects can be successful without damaging lakes, streams or clean air.

“These are shovel-ready construction jobs right here at PolyMet,” said Jim Boos, president of API Electric, which serves the mining industry. “We need those jobs and we can do this right.”

But others said the board was acting too soon, before state and federal regulatory agencies have completed the environmental review for any projects and before the companies’ proposals have been approved as environmentally sound.

“It’s premature. We don’t know the facts,” said Becky Rom, an Ely native and longtime environmental activist. “I urge the county commissioners to be cautious.”

Opponents say the biggest concern is that the rock that holds copper and nickel is often high in sulfur, which, when exposed to air and water, can spur sulfuric acid runoff. While mining company officials say they can control and treat that runoff, skeptics remain.

Jennifer Cummings of Duluth said the promise of long-term jobs is false, noting the Iron Range communities most hurting for jobs now were once booming mining towns where mines are no longer operating or that employ a fraction of the workers of decades past. She said profits from mining would leave the region along with the minerals, with little left behind for the communities to deal with any environmental problems.

“The jobs that mining companies offer will not bring prosperity to us. If mining companies’ promises were true, this would be the wealthiest part of the country,” Cummings noted, referring to 130 years of iron ore mining in the region. “The wealth dug up here will go outside the country.”

But Joe Scipioni, president of PolyMet, said the company already has invested $35 million in environmental review along with $100 million to pinpoint where the minerals are located. “Far from a fly-by-night operation.”

“I’m a third-generation miner. It’s what I’ve done with my life. We know how this works,” Scipioni said.

The environmental review could be completed for PolyMet in 2012, with permits to mine issued in 2013 and mining in 2014. Twin Metals is conducting a pre-feasibility study for the mine, with a move into environmental review expected soon.

County commissioners had taken nearly five hours of testimony on the same issue last week in Duluth before tabling the resolution. Commissioners Raukar, Chris Dahlberg of Duluth, Keith Nelson of Eveleth and Paul Forsman of Ely voted for the resolution. Commissioners Peg Sweeney of Proctor and Steve O’Neil and Frank Jewell of Duluth voted no.

·  In other action, the board approved a $3.9 million construction project to resurface 2.3 miles of County Highway 43 in Gnesen and Fredenberg townships in 2012. The board also approved a labor agreement with the county’s deputy sheriffs’ union for 2010 and 2011 with no pay raise included.

What passed

“Be it resolved that the St. Louis County Board declares its support for the existing open, transparent and comprehensive environmental review and permitting process in place for various non-ferrous mining initiatives currently planned for development in St. Louis County, Minnesota, and supports the success of these projects, contingent upon the approval of all federal and state environmental permits necessary for these projects to move forward.”

 

St. Louis Co. Board Votes in Support of New Mining Ventures

WDIO-TV
Alan Hoglund

After a full day of public comments at the Morse Town Hall near Ely, the St. Louis County board voted in support of bringing copper-nickel mining to Northeastern Minnesota.

Four voted in favor of the resolution, with Commissioners Peg Sweeney, Frank Jewell and Steve O'Neill voting in the minority.

The crowd pushed 100 in size Tuesday, and public comments went on for hours. From the outside, the town hall looked quiet, almost calm. But inside, it was a different story. The place was bursting at the seams.

One after another, dozens sounded off to St. Louis County commissioners.

 

"We can do it right," a supporter of new mining said. "We can do it right."

Christine Cole, of Isabella, said "mining has undeniably irreversible effects."

The board has been considering supporting new mining for weeks. Their last two meetings have been unbelievably well-attended. At times, so many people wanted to get in on the meeting, some had to wait outside because the building's maximum occupancy had already been reached.

Copper-nickel mining is a contentious topic, and critics like Jane Koschak, of Ely, made their concerns very clear.

"It makes absolutely no sense to do this kind of invasive extraction in our water rich environment," Koschak said. "It simply is too risky."

Some critics said mining will taint the water and destroy the environment. But a majority of speakers supported it, like Rep. Tom Rukavina, (D) Virginia, and congressional candidate Jeff Anderson.

"I think the next generation of prosperity in Northeastern Minnesota is out there, if we invest in projects like these," Anderson told commissioners.

Supporters argued new mining will create hundreds if not thousands of jobs, and allow access to metals in high demand. But Julie Richard, a critic of new mining, calls it an experiment that shouldn't be tested at the expense of the environment.

"I hope we can come to the technology in the future where it won't be an experiment," Richard said.

Both sides are set on protecting the environment. Supporters said regulations are in place to make sure copper-nickel mining is done in such a way that it doesn't hurt the environment. However, it's not an argument many critics are willing to accept.

County Board Backs Nonferrous

Mesabi Daily News
Charles Ramsay

The St. Louis County Board is on record in support of nonferrous mining, after narrowly approving a resolution for it Tuesday on a 4-3 vote.

But it took a lot of talking to get there.

Commissioners heard from dozens of speakers, both for and against nonferrous mining, in a packed Morse Town Hall that had many persons standing outside in the cold waiting to speak.

Four commissioners supported the resolution – Chris Dahlberg of Duluth, Steve Raukar of Hibbing, Keith Nelson of Fayal Township and Mike Forsman of Ely. Three commissioners voting against were from the Duluth area – Steve O'Neil, Frank Jewell and Peg Sweeney.

Changes to the resolution included a clause added on environmental cleanup for mine closure, and that the County Board supports existing environmental review and permitting process in place; and that the board supports the success of nonferrous mining initiatives currently planned, upon approval of all permits necessary.

The UMD School of Economics' assertion that nonferrous mining would result in many construction and permanent jobs as well as economic benefits to the region also was made part of the modified resolution.

PolyMet, which is seeking to start up the first nonferrous mining operation in Minnesota, has been working with regulatory agencies in the environmental review process for a number of years. It is seeking to mine and process copper, nickel and precious metals like platinum and palladium. Several other companies, including Twin Metals, are doing exploratory drilling.

During the public hearing on the resolution, speakers generally lined up for clean water and against sulfide mining, or for jobs and economic development with mining.

A bus from Hibbing brought in about 25 mining supporters, starting off with Mayor Rick Canotta. He told the audience that both issues got support.

People "are for clean water. We do care about the environment. And we do need jobs," he said.

Becky Rom of Ely spoke out against sulfide mining, questioning if facts for mining were accurate. "We're going to lose jobs with this," she said.

Tony Sene of Hibbing said he had lived in California for decades and that state has problems with abandoned copper mines. This time in Minnesota, nonferrous mining will be done right, he said, adding that the economy would likely crash, and "we need to create some wealth" in the area.

Lori Fedo of Hibbing's Chamber of Commerce spoke for nonferrous mining, as "we believe this is our future."

Deborah Kleese said there was uncertainty with such mining, and that numbers of closed nonferrous mines also became "Superfund" sites for cleanup.

John Grahek of a building trades union spoke in favor of the nonferrous mining projects, while Pamela Thompson of Brimson said that as many jobs in tourism and resorts would be lost as any new mining jobs added.

Ray Jensen of the Hibbing Community College and Babbitt Mayor Glenn Anderson spoke in favor, Anderson noting that mining pioneer Peter Mitchell, "when he came up here, wasn't on a tourism trip."

Margaret Hodnik of Minnesota Power also spoke in favor of nonferrous, that mining helps communities do well with jobs, schools and infrastructure.

 

Rod Iteola of Hibbing said he is a geophysicist and that pollution cited as a problem with mines such as the one at Ladysmith, Wis., had similar pollution levels before a mine started there.

Jane Koschak of Ely spoke against mining, which she said would be tearing up lands and wearing on highways with vehicles.

"I don't think anyone would want this in their backyard," she said.

Brad Boos, who runs an electrical contracting business, told listeners that there has been more than 30 percent unemployment in trades for a number of years.

"We need these jobs and we can do this right," he said.

State Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, said he was "proud of our culture of mining, and that taconite production taxes provide 12 percent of local property taxes paid on the Range.” Tourism doesn't generate funds for local projects as mining does, he added.

He acknowledged that he has spoken out against nonferrous mining in the 1970s, but innovations had improved that a lot.

"We are a county built on mining, and we need the support" of Duluth and Range commissioners for nonferrous, Rukavina said.

Julie Richard, an Ely-area resident, said that the technology in nonferrous was still experimental and when a big business such as a mining company moved into the area, some of residents' local control was lost.

Gina DeBreta of Virginia said that sulfide mining "technology has not been proven in field tests."

Marci Wood of Duluth urged commissioners to visit the Sudbury, Ontario area to see sulfide mining effects, which "is other-worldly," she said.

Bill Travis of IDEA Drilling of Virginia said that the nonferrous projects would help provide jobs to the area.

Virginia Councilor Charles Baribeau was one of several officials speaking in support. He noted the Virginia council had passed a resolution in 2008 supporting PolyMet, and that as a pharmacist, "some of the chemistry put forward [by speakers] was inaccurate." 

Ely Councilor Heidi Omerza said that the mining projects would benefit towns and schools.

"We need jobs up here," she said, "so this can stay up here."

  

St. Louis County Board Supports Non-Ferrous Mining

Northland's News Center 

 

ELY, MN (Northland's NewsCenter)–The St. Louis County Board passed a resolution, 4-3 in support of non-ferrous mining.

 

New language in the resolution strengthens environmental and clean up regulations.

 

Both supporters and critics of non-ferrous mining showed up at their meeting in Ely.

 

Mining experts say with the vast supply of non-ferrous mineral resources throughout the Iron Range, support from the county board will open up the global marketplace to the region.

 

"When local units of government in the area where a project is proposed are supportive, that sends a very positive message to the global investment community looking at bringing hundreds of millions of dollars for each and every project into the state of Minnesota," Frank Ongaro, Executive Director of Mining Minnesota said.

 

Critics say the resolution is premature and irresponsible, a debate between health and wealth.

 

Many say there is no reason to rush the decision and would like the board to wait until mining companies can prove their commitment to maintaining health and environmental standards.

 

"It will poison the water for thousands of years, the Polymet draft EIS says that it will," Reid Carron, of Ely said. "The ecosystem will not recover without a tremendous amount of public finance after the mining companies have declared bankruptcy and left."

 

Many supporters say a resolution of support from the board will make sure future generations continue to live on the Range and bring money and jobs to the region.

"We need to have economic development here or people will suffer," Bill Whiteside of Hibbing said. "We need to have resources, minerals that are important to not just us, but people throughout the United States and throughout the world."

 

Fourth District Commissioner Mike Forsman says any project must meet state and federal standards before moving forward.

 

"I think the technology has evolved to the point where it can be done right and the regulatory agencies aren't going to let it be done any other way," he said.

 

The boards decision came just before 6 p.m. after nearly 8 hours of discussion.

 

EDITORIAL: County Board should be on record backing nonferrous mining in region

Mesabi Daily News 

The St. Louis County Board on Tuesday was comprised of two steadfast commissioners and five wimps when it came to an issue of mining job creation in northeastern Minnesota.

It was an absolute shameful act on Tuesday when only two certain votes – Commissioners Keith Nelson of Fayal Township and Mike Forsman of Ely – could be found for a resolution in support of copper/nickel/precious minerals mining on the Iron Range.

The PolyMet project, currently in the final stage of the Environmental Impact Statement process, and other ventures such as Twin Metals would create several thousand permanent jobs and thousands more in construction work and spin-off employment.

Yet five of the commissioners, in varying degrees, displayed negligence regarding the need for jobs that these mining projects will bring to St. Louis County.

There is absolutely nothing surprising about the anti-mining and anti-Range sentiment of Commissioners Peg Sweeney, Steve O'Neill and Frank Jewell. They show their true colors in that regard often. They love the resources and dollars that flow from the Iron Range to Duluth, but when it comes to really showing support for the Range they are usually Missing in Action.

Commissioner Chris Dahlberg of Duluth, in a post-meeting interview, said he was supportive of mining, but then hedged. He said such "opinion" resolutions placed before the board distract from what should be the government body's focus.

Huh? A resolution in a support of a project that would bring jobs and revenue to the county is not something that should be part of the board's focus? Come on commissioner, if you're for mining as you say, then vote for it.

Then there's Commissioner Steve Raukar from – HIBBING ON THE IRON RANGE. Certainly he must be someone who understands the importance of mining and the jobs it produces to the Iron Range specifically and the county in general and would back this resolution? Well, guess again.

Raukar, in a post-meeting interview, said the nonferrous mining resolution is "not a time-sensitive issue" and such mining is regulated by the state and federal agencies and a consensus of the board was that more dialogue is needed.

Ruakar must have gotten an A-plus in "Bureaucracy 101." That is the most evasive bureaucratic answer on the issue possible.

Not "time-sensitive"? It's only the biggest jobs issue that's been facing the county for some time and is at a critical crossroads when it comes to public support. And it's an issue many other elected government bodies across the Range have backed with resolutions of support.

More dialogue needed? This thing has been dialogued to death.

Come on commissioner, take a firm stand one way or another. Waffles are good for breakfast; but waffling is a sorry trait in an elected official.

Let's be clear here and cut through the usual unfounded hysteria raised by preservationists who oppose nonferrous mining, no matter :

• The safeguards in place for the project.

• The strict state and federal regulations that must be met.

• The modern era technological improvements that have advanced nonferrous mining when it comes to environmental impacts.

• The great need for the minerals in the United States.

• The great need for the jobs that will be created.

• That the minerals will be mined elsewhere in the world in a terribly environmentally-unfriendly manner.

• That the so-called "Green Economy" they worship is reliant on the very minerals that would be mined in the projects they oppose.

• That those in opposition devour the same minerals in so many items of their daily lives, ranging from catalytic converters in the vehicles they drive to computers that are their lifeline to work and social venues to medical devices that make their lives more comfortable or may even mean the difference between life and death.

Bottom line: A resolution like this carries the most necessary and proper stipulation that support of nonferrous mining is contingent on the project(s) meeting state and federal standards.

Commissioner Nelson deserves high praise for drafting and seeking support for this resolution. And we are pleased to see that Commissioner Forsman will put the issue back on the table at a County Board meeting in Ely next week.

We encourage a strong showing by pro-nonferrous mining people at that meeting – let all board members and everyone in the county know that Duluth does not dictate to the Iron Range; nor do its officials determine policy for the entire county. 

And if Commissioner Dahlberg supports mining as he says, then his vote should be in favor of the resolution. And Commissioner Raukar should have a hearty morning dish of waffles for breakfast to fortify himself and then join his fellow Iron Range commissioners in support of it.

A 4-3 vote would put the County Board on record supporting more jobs and tax revenues for the region, and that would be good policy for St. Louis County.