Sigurd F Olson believed that beauty could be destroyed by a sound or a thought. He spent his life championing protection of all wilderness, in particular the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area. He lived in Ely, Minnesota and built a cabin on Burntside Lake where he meditated and found peace. He knew that the appreciation of beauty was love at its essence, a profound appreciation of wilderness; and beauty, a necessity for our survival.
In northern Minnesota spans the wilderness he held so dear; and he lived his life in appreciation of wilderness through his writings and his advocacy. He helped spare the BWCA from an onslaught of interests that would have destroyed it through the construction of roads, permits for motor boats, planes and eventual development. Would he have failed to stand up to copper mining interests?
As Minnesotans and stewards of the Arrowhead, at heart of three of the greatest river systems in North America, we are on a precipice. What greater security is there than wilderness, clean water and air, the beauty and the silence of untouched wild areas? International interests, determined to mine copper in the big Stoney, the great Minnesota Arrowhead, 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 a toxic environment for hundreds of years, perhaps into perpetuity. The boundaries 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, Crane Lake and others?
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.
I feel certain that Sigurd Olson would have stood up to copper mining interests. He would have stood up to interests that threaten to destroy the wilderness of northern Minnesota. He spoke plainly and with an understanding that the battle goes on forever and that we must all have a hand in protecting wilderness.
Through blasting, transportation corridors, energy needs like the coal fired plant in Silver Bay, water pollution, air pollution, noise pollution … what will be left of this wilderness that we now know as the north woods of Minnesota? The smallest creatures, insects, fungus, flora, fauna will be poisoned by these mines and this will affect the larger creatures that depend upon them, like birds, deer, wolves, lynx, creatures great and small.
Polymet alone will be applying for over 20 permits. Included in these are “water appropriation permits”, which is a benign way of saying water mining permits, dam safety permitting, permits for taking endangered species and others needed to make this mine palatable.
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 and the Great Lakes to serve as a conduit for wastewater from a copper sulfide mine in the Arrowhead.
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? The health of this planet may be determined by our will to continue the fight.
Comments submitted to the DNR on September 7, 2017
RE: “NorthMet Water Appropriation”
The guarantees are clear. The proposed North Met Project will mine tens of millions to over a billion gallons of water every year sent downstream, 10 percent of this untreated, to the Lake Superior Basin. This permit will allow the mine to pump billions of gallons of water from its site into streams in the St Louis watershed at the extreme headwaters of the St Lawrence Seaway in the Lake Superior Basin.
Even after closure, for an undetermined amount of time, the amount of water released from the mine naturally and otherwise will be in the millions of gallons annually, treated and untreated. Filters from “treated” water will be concentrated into a toxic sludge left behind in tailings ponds; and the water from this proposed copper-sulfide mine will need ongoing treatment perhaps forever. Effects from this toxic pollution will span centuries if not thousands of years.
Average annual water required for mine operations has been estimated at 275 gpm, or between 20-810 gpm (SDEIS report), which translates from 10,512,000 gallons of water per year to as much as 425,736,000 annually. This has been revised into the billions since then, for this permit. Greater than 90% of this water would be captured and treated using reverse osmosis, a process that poses its own risks, including demineralization (2006 by the World Health Organization’s report in Geneva, Nutrients in Drinking Water, Chapter 12), leaving anywhere from 1,0512,000 gallons to over 42.5 million gallons of untreated water that will be sent downstream from the plant (each year). This water appropriation permit will allow even more.
The Uplands in the Arrowhead of Northern Minnesota include varied and complex aquifers connected along pathways underground that have not been charted and cannot be known. This fact, coupled with the extreme weather variables of our times, should give anyone pause. For instance, there can be no guarantee that the earthen tailings ponds holding toxic waste sludge from Polymet’s proposed copper mine could withstand a 1000-year flood of the sort that inundated Houston Texas this year, in August 2017.
What cleanup would be possible of toxic buildup in streambeds and the inevitable contamination of flora, fauna and fungus over hundreds of years resulting from copper mining in this water-dependent, varied and complex ecosystem of the Arrowhead? The St Louis watershed is uniquely positioned and vulnerable to the toxic effects of a copper sulfide mine.
Water, one of the greatest solvents, can be guaranteed to seek its level through paths of least resistance, many unknown. The water in the St Louis watershed of the Laurentian Divide has been seeking its level over tens of thousands of years to the Hudson Bay Basin, the Mississippi River Basin and the Lake Superior Basin of the Great Lakes, through glacial waters of Lake Agassiz, other glacial lakes and the Laurentide Ice Shield. Just as naturally, the waste rock and toxic waste ponds from this proposed open pit mine will leach into the ground water; and through rains, ground water seepage, and faults in the bedrock find its way downstream, a guaranteed outcome that cannot be controlled or predicted accurately.
Polymet, admittedly, needs a water permit in order to pollute and mine these vital waters; but loss and degradation of these waters will only be the beginning. Since the proposed mine site is an important and complex recharge area, artesian wells could be depressurized and other ground water resources diverted or diminished unexpectedly. Tourism will suffer from the related activities of a large mining operation near the BWCA in Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes where blasting, processing, transportation of products and supplies, road construction and repair will be ongoing while the mine operates. Wetlands like the 100-Mile Swamp between Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes will ultimately be lost.
A copper mine, then, will change the surrounding landscape, since mining activities know no boundaries. The dimensions of this mine could change as deposits are discovered and, through precedent, threaten one of the most pristine water-dependent ecosystems, one of the wildest and most beautiful places in the world, the BWCA. There will be no end, once begun, and this will change the meaning of “north woods” as we know it. The Rainy River Watershed and throughout the big stony of the Arrowhead, where copper leases abound, the whole of St Louis, Cook and Lake counties could essentially be affected.
On a balance sheet, what is the price of real wealth, clean water, air, naturally fertile soil, insects, birds, mammals and all manner of life that support the health of this planet? What price freshwater? Are there truly any acceptable limits to the pollution and draining of the St Louis watershed?
Who, essentially, will profit in the long term by putting these freshwater resources at risk in order to permit this private for-profit enterprise, the NorthMet Project? It will certainly not be the air quality and the peace, environmental health, the integrity of this wilderness. What will be left if we allow any and all lands, no matter the cost, to be developed for the profit of a finite term at the degradation of the infinite?
I close here with my formal objection to this water appropriation permit. I make this objection on the grounds that this permit will allow mining operations in a water-dependent ecosystem that knows no equal, a wilderness that will be changed forever by copper mining. Mining and pollution of millions of gallons of water each year is not in the best interest of those who live in NE MN, those who live downstream, or those who depend on potable water, the wilderness, for its beauty, its wildlife, flora and fauna, its sustenance. We will all be less for having lost this gem by defaulting on our responsibility to raise the standards of protection for our freshwater.
Anita Suzanne Tillemans
Natural systems favor those who are the most well-adapted to their environment; while money ensures a limited pool through the implementation of an educational hierarchy.
Why is it so often true that the worst of us run the rest of us, causing the suffering of so many? Many of these leaders, as Benjamin Franklin put it in his famous oration of 1787 on “Dangers of a Salaried Bureaucracy,” are “the bold and the violent, the men of strong passions and indefatigable activity in their selfish pursuits.”
In the beginning it is said, there was the Word; and human civilization, since, has been built on propaganda that favors the rich and powerful … language, then, the tool of those in power, ultimately determines the appropriation of quality educational resources as a result.
For a society to flourish, it is essential that all children have access to an equal education. It is particularly harmful to communities when women are denied this opportunity; because they are ultimately the ones tasked to raise, protect and educate their children, children who are more likely to suffer a harder life if she fails.
One of the most important choices a woman can make, then, one that determines her quality of existence, is the choice of a mate … better made with a sound foundation and education at the heart. With knowledge, she is more likely to choose a partner rather than a ruler; and as a result, she will, then, be more likely to build self esteem in her children.
As a consequence, there can be no better way to improve the condition of society than improving educational opportunity for women and girls. For, when a woman benefits, the whole of society benefits. Seeing to it that there are no “best schools”… all schools offering the best tools possible for everyone who enters in, boy or girl, man or woman, creates better odds that our leaders will be fit and that society will thrive.
Manipulated by propaganda that tells us self-worth is in our wallet, we lose a natural propensity for good sense. As my father said to me once: “The rich put their pants on one leg at a time too.” We know the truth but too often are swayed by the flashing lights.
Money will not make America great again … it’s the character of our citizens that will do this. We had a courageous leader in George Washington who believed that we must: Vindicate our rights with firmness and cultivate peace with sincerity. It will take courage to stand up to the powerful interests that prevail today; and to understand that power, to be respected, must have a base in truth and respect for all life. When we develop a society with equity in education, and dare to get money out of the political arena, perhaps we will have leadership that speaks to these values as well.
Over a century’s toll of mining iron ore in the uplands of the Laurentian Divide:
For the sake of our waters and the northern ecology of this priceless watershed, please send your comments by September 12, 2017 to:
On a walk through one of our parks a few years back, I noticed this growth on the trunk of a tree … a fairly reliable sign that the tree was dying. New growth from old on a day in October. It seemed poetic in all the splendor of that fall day.
I had long ago decided to be happy … but got distracted along the way by so many things that occurred to cloud the issue, the issue of living honestly and with integrity … finding joy as a child would, naturally.
One cannot be happy without this and there is no wealth without it either. Where do you find your joy?
To be satisfied with what one has; that is wealth. As long as one sorely needs a certain additional amount, that man isn’t rich.
Dear Governor Dayton,
The headwaters of the Mississippi, the Rainy River and the Great Lakes, as we know, originate in northern Minnesota extending through the heartland of this country to the Gulf, the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean and the Rainy River to Hudson Bay; and, so, water knows no boundaries, especially those drawn on a map. It permeates all of life. It is our base. Words will not change the truth that we, as Minnesota citizens, have a responsibility, not only to ourselves but to the entire biosphere, now and into the future, to preserve this vital, rare and important aquifer that is Minnesota.
I have watched the prescient actions of your office involving our water legacy … the studies and the foresight to do things that have been lacking for too long. For over one hundred years, the state of Minnesota has condoned mining in the Laurentian Divide and for one hundred years, the Mississippi has suffered all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. The Great Lakes, too, have seen damage. The waters of the St Louis River are imperiled because of mining. Even the Rainy River watershed has not escaped mining pollution. Elevated levels of lead and mercury … not including acid rain from coal-fired plants that support mining operations, smelters and other correlated equipment have done their part to imperil this once pristine aquifer and landscape, where the great inland freshwater sea of Lake Agassiz drained its cache.
In spite of this over one-hundred year history of mining in Minnesota, the mention of damage done by one of the river’s greatest polluting industries is rarely mentioned, if at all, in regard to the resulting pollution downstream. In fact, the Environmental Impact study done on the NorthMet Project for Polymet was done using computer simulations … as if there were hardly any field studies at hand.
I hear that Polymet will “create jobs”. I hear that the XL Pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline will create jobs too … the failsafe claim of these polluters. How much better to create jobs that sustain the environment rather than destroy? What better than to change the framing of this picture? Desperate measures to sustain an industry that will destroy these vital water reserves, in an ecology that has no precedent on Earth, will serve no one in the long term.
By allowing mining of the precious waters of northern Minnesota, we endanger a vital resource for the entire planet. Mineral leases in the watershed of the Rainy River will ensure damage to the Quetico, the lands surrounding the Superior National Forest and the BWCAW. Granting Polymet the right to mine and process the waste in Babbitt and in Hoyt Lakes will be a grant to mine, not only copper, but water. The pollution will find its way into the deep reserves of the area, to the Great Lakes and possibly into the BWCAW, as it will set precedent for further mining of the sort.
Can we excuse this for any number of jobs, jobs that will be here today and gone tomorrow? Neither you nor I, Governor Dayton, will be here when our children and grandchildren have to answer for the decisions we make today. We will not see a clean-up of these waters … for there is no clean-up possible once copper mining begins. It took 10,000 years, or more, for the pristine, glacial waters of Agassiz to permeate this precious aquifer. There is no knowing the extent to which it could be damaged by copper sulfide mining.
No one person can make the necessary changes in toto. These must be made by all of us changing the way we work and play, the choices we make. As Governor of Minnesota you have a mandate above and beyond that of a resource manager as you so aptly prove. You are the designated caretaker of this important aquifer, duly elected by the people of Minnesota and that role cannot be overstated. Your water initiatives and the two summits give hope. It would be well that the Minnesota legislature works with you to accomplish this very important work.
Anita Suzanne Tillemans
The Department of Natural Resources plans to hold a sale of state-owned non-ferrous metallic mineral leases in Beltrami, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake of the Woods and St Louis counties. This acreage totals about 195,324 acres.
The notice was published today in the EQB Monitor and State Register, Monday, Jan. 30. For information on the sale and solicited public comments, please view the DNR’s website and the link below:
At the recent water summit in Morris, Minnesota, Governor Dayton reported that 40% of the water in Minnesota is unfit for human recreation, in some areas this percent is over 90%. In the Gulf of Mexico, there is an area of over 120 miles where there is no life … a dead zone, my words not his. He made the point that, in effect, what we do with our water is everyone’s business. So true.
It is right and good that we work to protect our waters by educating the public on conservation and clean up measures. The most effective and best real long term measure, though, would be to stop pollution at the source.. Do we accomplish this by selling the very land and waters that need protection to those who would exploit it?
These leases are being sold now for exploration and this means more intrusions into an already endangered aquifer. The DNR would not sell leases if there was no intent to grant mining permits. Twin Metals and Polymet are only two interests that seek to mine for copper in these invaluable northern aquifers.
In effect, by selling mineral leases at the source of the Rainy River, the Mississippi or the Great Lakes, and linking money made from any of these leases to public education, the state of Minnesota creates a dichotomy, since mining of these water reserves endangers the future of the intended beneficiaries. Better yet, invest in equitable education by creating the kind of environment with a future in it.
In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.
– Iroquois Maxim (circa 1700-1800)