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Interior tests the Boundary Waters

Posted: Thursday, April 21, 2016 8:59 pm

Nolan calls reassessment by Obama administration ‘very disturbing’ for 1978 BWCA Act

Interior tests the Boundary Waters BILL HANNA Executive Editor Mesabi Daily News

WASHINGTON — In a speech on Tuesday that touched on issues ranging from national parks to global warming, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell casually tossed in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness as a reason to look back and reassess previous decisions on federal lands and waters.

That has triggered some major concerns that the 1978 BWCA Act that crafted a deal for multi-use in areas of the wilderness area is now open to alterations.

“It’s clear that the Obama administration is clearing the way for a withdrawal action and seems they’ve made their decision based on Twin Cities’ environmental elitists,” said Frank Ongaro, executive director of Mining Minnesota, an advocacy group for non-ferrous mining on the Iron Range.

“It’s disturbing … very disturbing,” said Democratic 8th District U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan.

The speech is touted on the Interior Department website as Jewell discussing “…. the need for a course correction in the way America conserves our public lands, waters and wildlife.”

This is how Jewell references the Boundary Waters:

“We also have work left to re-examine whether decisions made in prior administrations properly considered where it makes sense to develop and where it doesn’t. Or where science is helping us better understand the value of the land and water and the potential impacts of development.

“Places like in Montana or the Boundary Waters in Minnesota or the Rome Plateau in Colorado. These are special areas, and I look forward to making progress on them this year.”

“Seems clear that Secretary Jewell is taking aim at the multi-use land management principle that was foundation of the deal struck with northern Minnesota communities by Congress in the 1978 Boundary Waters Act, and is prepared to contradict that deal under the guise of it being a bad decision, or that there is new science,” Ongaro said.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, responding to an email request for comment from the Mesabi Daily News, said Jewell should not be making policy statements in this manner.

“Decisions on mining projects should be made based on the facts, science, and through the existing environmental review process, not based on offhanded comments in a speech,” she said.

Sen. Al Franken was less direct.

“Mining, as well as environmental stewardship, are long-standing traditions in Northern Minnesota — an area home to both the Iron Range and the pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area,” Franken said.

“Right now, any proposed mining operation has to go through a rigorous environmental review. If at some point the federal government proposes a change to its process, I would have to take a very close look at the details to make sure that both economic and environmental factors are given due consideration.”

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton had reached out to the Bureau of Land Management a few weeks ago requesting the agency not renew current lease holdings of Twin Metals Minnesota in the BWCAW watershed.

Dayton press secretary Matt Swenson told the MDN that the governor had not been in contact with Secretary Jewell prior to her comments that included mention of the Boundary Waters.

“If they seek to withdraw there would be an immediate moratorium for two years while an analysis is done and that could take up to 20 years. This would stop everything immediately,” Ongaro said.

Nolan has been in contact with the White House and the BLM and said he was “assured” by White House officials that there is nothing on a Boundary Waters change in the works.

He was also told by BLM officials that he would be alerted in advance of any policy change.

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