Posts tagged ‘copper’

October 16, 2017

What would Sigurd say?

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

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April 19, 2017

What harm could mining do in the watershed of the BWCA and headwaters of the Mississippi River?

In light of the ongoing process to permit the Polymet to mine copper in Babbitt with a processing center in Hoyt Lakes, I am reposting my article first published in November, 2012:

A view of Northern Minnesota as the battle rages for copper, sulfide mining near the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area.

 

December 30, 2014

Wilderness Tourism versus Mining in the Arrowhead

Bear Head Lake, MN

Bear Head Lake, MN

One of the most beautiful wild areas in the world, with some of the last remaining original wolves … the source of three of the greatest river systems in North America.  This is a portion of the treasure that Minnesota holds in its boundaries.

What will remain if we choose mining over this?

 

January 31, 2014

Arrowhead Aquifers and the Hill of Three Waters

We could speak of the beauty, the wild, the spirit of something greater than ourselves, the sustenance we all gain from these masterpieces.  Such is the Arrowhead of Minnesota

What is the true source of three of the greatest water systems of North America, that of the Rainy River, Lake Superior drainage basin, and Mississippi River? Have underground aquifers and waterways in the Arrowhead been mapped such that we can understand the full scope of these resources?

river.c

Water cascades in great quantity from the “big stoney” to Lake Superior and parts unknown …

Legend has it that various tribes of the Ojibwe were pressed to defend their forests from an invasion of Sioux at one point. Since the buffalo had not returned to their territory as expected, the Sioux were in search of the sustenance they could find in their old territorial lands that were now home of the Ojibwe, abundant and fruitful, forested wetlands of what became known as Northern Minnesota. Since the Sioux were fierce and savvy warriors and could defeat the small tribes of Ojibwe individually throughout the land, leaders decided to unite. They met to decide their strategy on the “hill of three waters”… a unique quirk in geography, one mile north of present day Hibbing where water falling at this precise point can divide and flow in three directions, one to the Gulf of Mexico, one through the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean, and the last to Hudson Bay.

Chiefs of the Ojibwe traveled from Canada, Lake of the Woods, and Nett Lake following water routes in the Big Fork River and Shannon River to unite with other leaders at the “hill”. Leaders of those Ojibwe in the Big Sandy Lake area and Mille Lacs Lake took waters north on the Mississippi and Prairie Rivers to Day Lake and then up Day Brook to the “hill”. Chiefs from Wisconsin, Fond du Lac, and Lake Superior joined their brothers on the “hill of three waters” by taking the St Louis River and Penobscot Creek. Unified, they eventually defeated the Sioux and regained their territory.

Along the Laurentian Divide where the “hill of three waters” is located, white settlers believed that the direction of flow was directly North and South. Native Americans knew long ago that this was not the case throughout the divide, and that water flowed to the river basins of Lake Superior, Rainy River as well as the Mississippi River, particularly at this point, where the Hull Rust Mine is located now. As a result of mining and pollution emerging in unexpected areas, we have learned that unusual geological formations exist in northeastern Minnesota that guarantee a complicated and diverse environment not easily understood.

For instance, portions of the South Kawishiwi River Intrusion and of the Partridge River Intrusion can be found underground at the same Babbitt location in and around mining facilities. Therefore, underground water in parts of Babbitt flow not only into the Partridge River watershed but also into the Rainy River watershed, which shares water with BWCAW. This is complicated even further by overlying and sometimes interconnecting aquifers – surficial and buried, contained and uncontained within varying compositions. Contained aquifers can potentially discharge water a hundred miles more or less from the recharge area or site of pollution. Groundwater and surface water frequently diverge in this area, and so more knowledge is needed concerning Minnesota’s groundwater geology before we can truly begin to understand the consequences of our actions regarding mining of any kind.

Wetlands abound in the “stoney”, along with thousands of flora and fauna, many rare and uncommon. There are orchard orioles, killdeer, snow geese, loons, woodcocks, purple finch, mink, great blue heron, broad-winged hawks, eagles, partridge, beaver, wolves, moose, bear, Canadian lynx, coyotes, blue bills, mallards, night hawks, snowy owls, white-throated sparrows, deer, blueberries, bearberry, rock ferns, caribou moss, and so many other species of plants and animals. What is the potential harm to these populations if the fragile balance of this ecosystem is destroyed, an ecosystem so interconnected with the health of its waters?

Do we sell or do we protect? This is what this decision concerning Polymet Copper Mining comes down to, essentially. There are no real guarantees that Polymet will be around to pay for clean-up once the mine closes and the money runs out of state; and we will never be able to undo the damage of their intrusion into these hydrological treasure troves, a literal mother lode for our planet’s fresh water. Have we already done irreversible damage by allowing almost 2,000 bore holes for copper mining prospectors near the BWCAW?

Groundwater in the area naturally seeps into holes drilled or pits dug in the area. As a consequence, while the mine is in operation, Polymet will continuously discharge water from mining pits and tailings basins to extract the ore. Colby Lake will serve as a source of supplementation and discharge, and widespread discharges will occur in the form of untreated, contaminated water along with altered (treated) water at both sites into the Partridge River, Embarrass River watersheds and the entire St Louis River watershed. These are the knowns.

Since aquifers recharge normally on high ground and discharge in low lying areas, the affected aquifers and water bodies will essentially be mined, as rock is extracted in the Laurentian highlands, instead of recharging (as nature would allow). Loss of pressure, as a consequence, in confined aquifers (artesians) could have devastating and far-reaching consequences; and, of course, we cannot truly know how many wetlands will be lost due to drawdown of the water table and the cumulative effects of long term contamination above and below ground.

Once the mine is closed, the threat to vital fresh water resources would continue, most likely into perpetuity and, therefore, maintenance at an estimated cost of at least $6,000,000 annually. The actual costs will, more than likely, be far greater. In a myopic view alone, what of inflation and the logistics of changing political will and financial realities? How long will water continue to seep into and from the bedrock of the Laurentian Divide contacting waste rock in the mine pits as well as contaminated water in the tailings basins? Do we even know how much water is involved? Can we know?

Ongoing treatment, passive or aggressive, will never return these waters or this region to its original state. Observe ongoing pollution witnessed from mining in the area already. What financial or political assurances would suffice in a tragedy of the scale that sulfide mining would unleash?

From limited hydrological information available to date concerning underground flowage for these vast bedrock formations in the Arrowhead, it seems that the calculations Polymet has made are insufficient to describe the scope of ecological damage possible in this unique environment, and therefore, the effect on freshwater reserves in the stoney of Lake Superior and Rainy River Basins at the very least. Consider the diversity and interconnectedness of the aquifers in St Louis, Lake and Cook counties, the unpredictability of discharge locations from confined aquifers, the potential of contamination by bore holes traversing aquifers. Due to these and so many unknown factors associated with this complex geological area, how is it possible to predict short term or long term consequences of mining this priceless water table for the extraction of any ore body?

It is likely that water in the area’s confined aquifers could be thousands and possibly millions of years old, the implications of which cannot be ignored for any amount of money. We have waste on this earth that could be recycled without destroying our environment, our home. Have we come to a crossroads in our handling of this planet, an ecosystem that we so dearly need for our survival? Isn’t water more important than any profit we can make from mining? Once understood that we cannot mine our water resources without devastating results, perhaps we will favor sane and ecologically sound solutions to those challenges that engage us?

We could speak of the beauty, the wild, the spirit of something greater than ourselves, the sustenance we all gain from these masterpieces. Such is the Arrowhead of Minnesota. What profit is there if not life itself? It is undeniable that people in the area need jobs … although, who of these long term residents came with the intent to mine this jewel? If given the opportunity to work in a sustainable activity, who would not choose to do so? What kind of opportunities could be created with a mindset that encourages positive long term results over short term gains and financial profiteering? Don’t we owe it to ourselves and life itself to make the effort?

Anita Suzanne Tillemans

January 31, 2014

January 23, 2014

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:

http://dnr.state.mn.us/input/environmentalreview/polymet/index.html

On the precipice above Vermilion Falls

On the precipice above Vermilion Falls

September 22, 2012

Would we listen to Leonardo today?

In the words of Leonardo da Vinci:

On Metals – “There will issue from dark, gloomy caves something which will bring great sorrow, danger, and death on the whole human race; to many of those who seek it, it will after much suffering bring delight; but those who do not share in it will die in want and in distress.  It will engender unending treason; it will drive unhappy men to commit more murders, thefts, and acts of oppression; it will breed suspicion among those who seek it; it will destroy the freedom of free cities; it will take the lives of many; it will sow among men much fraud, deceit, and treason. 

O monstrous creature, it would be better for men if you returned to hell!  On account of you great forests are robbed of their trees and countless animals are robbed of their lives.”

On Man’s cruelty – “There will be seen on the earth animals which constantly fight among themselves, inflicting great harm and frequently death on each other.  Their enmity will know no bounds; their savage members will fell a great part of the trees in the vast forests of the world; and after they gorge themselves, they will continue to feed on their desire to inflict death and suffering and sorrow and fear and flight on all living creatures.  Through their measureless pride they will seek to raise themselves to heaven, but the excessive weight of their members will hold them fast to the earth.  Nothing will remain on the earth or under the earth and water that is not pursued, chased down, or destroyed; and it will be chased from country to country.  Their bodies will be the grave and passageway of all the living bodies which they have killed.

O world, why do you not open and hurl into the deep clefts of your abysses and caverns and no longer show to heaven such cruel and heartless monsters?”

Both quotes by Leonardo da Vinci are from Codex Atlanticus, codex in the Ambrosiana Library in Milan.  Published in eight folio volumes by Ulrico Hoepli, Milan for the Reale Accademia dei Lincei 1894-1904 and translated by Wade Baskins in his book, The Wisdom of Leonardo, pages 77-79.