Copper Mining the Arrowhead?

I journeyed to International Falls last autumn to visit Lake of the Woods and Voyageurs National Park.  The colors could not have been more subtle and more beautiful.  As I traveled around the Kapetogama and Rainy Lake areas, it occurred to me that these were all linked to waters running from the Laurentian Divide and through the BWCAW.  As a consequence, the journey took me to Vermilion Falls on my return home in search of Crane Lake and the western end of that wilderness area.

As Minnesotans and stewards of the Arrowhead, which is at heart of three of the greatest river systems in North America (Rainy River, Mississippi River and St Louis River watersheds), we are on a precipice.  What greater security is there than keeping our water systems safe?  International interests, determined to mine copper in the big Stoney seek permission to do so.  Should we open this Pandora’s Box at any price?

Once copper sulfide mining has begun, the entire region, by precedent, will succumb to other like-mines in and surrounding the BWCAW, which lies on this prospect, that of the Duluth Gabbro Complex or the big Stoney.  There are already over a thousand prospecting holes, which have been drilled at the boundary of the BWCAW and along Kawishiwi River and Birch Lake to date.

Estimations through computer modeling have determined that 20 years of the proposed Polymet mine would destroy at minimum 912.5 acres of irreplaceable wetlands at the mining site alone, and as a consequence flora and fauna dependent on these waters, leaving at least 500 years of clean-up.  Affected areas outside of the mining and processing sites are essentially unknown.

Consider that the St Louis watershed consists of 3,696 square miles of mostly open wetlands and high quality habitat for plants and animals… including, as an example, the home of “100 Mile Swamp” between the two watersheds of Embarrass and Partridge rivers .  St Louis River’s headwaters are located at Seven Beavers Lake near the proposed Hoyt Lakes processing plant and a few miles south of the mining site in corporate Babbitt.  It’s headwaters flow for 179 miles before becoming a 12,000-acre freshwater estuary near Lake Superior, where it enters the body of the Great Lakes.

The mine site will be located in Babbitt, which hosts both the St Louis River watershed and the Rainy River watershed.  Can we be assured that the water in contact with waste rock there and therefore, discharge of sulfuric acid and other contaminants will not be shed into the Rainy River Basin which contains the BWCAW, Voyageurs National Park, Vermilion Lake and River ….?

The processing center, also, is located in a complicated geological area of the Laurentian Divide at Hoyt Lakes.  The Embarrass River and the Partridge River on either side of this Divide will be affected.  In addition, the Vermilion River watershed is adjacent to the Embarrass River watershed on the north.  What long term effects will be seen here as well?  This is one of many unknowns.

For our national security, for the health of this planet, big Stoney of the “mother of waters”, Lake Superior, should be considered of far greater importance than any short term gains that may be had through mining this precious and priceless natural resource.  Please let the National Forest Service, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and the Bureau of Land Management know that you do not want the St Louis River watershed, a scenic and wild river system (already of concern), to be used as a chute for wastewater and, therefore, Lake Superior as a dump, for any amount of time.  There are no guarantees but this, that water will find its way to the sea through our Great Lakes from these proposed mining operations.  Are we prepared for the consequences?

Comments are being taken until March 13, 2014 on Polymet’s proposal.  You can find more information on the SDEIS and how to comment at:

On the precipice above Vermilion Falls

On the precipice above Vermilion Falls