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?

 

no place for mining …

Loon on a lake in the Arrowhead of Minnesota

We could speak of the beauty, the wild, the spirit of something greater than ourselves, the sustenance we all gain from the masterpieces of creation. 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

 

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Will a copper mine in Babbitt reach the dimensions of the Hull Rust Mine?

If lawsuits fail to stop copper mining in the Arrowhead of Minnesota, the dimensions of copper-sulfide mining could reach the proportions of the Hull Rust Mine in Hibbing, Minnesota. 

Babbitt, where the proposed NorthMet copper mine would be located, is the doorway to the BWCA at Birch Lake and located in the Laurentian Uplands,  a recharge area for three of the greatest river systems in North America.  Can we, can the world, afford to ignore the impact of our failure to protect precious water resources in such an area?  Water, the most precious of resources.

A few articles on what is happening now as the process moves on appeal:

PolyMet water permit heads back to Court of Appeals

DFL committee adopts resolution calling for moratorium on copper-nickel mining, again exposing rift within party

PolyMet permit: Secrecy, manipulation and a low bar for Minnesota agencies

 

On pending Polymet copper mine and Enbridge oil pipeline #3 …

As we move forward into a new era where the prospect of fossil fuels has become a nemesis to our survival long range, there are major decisions we must make concerning how we will transition to a new energy economy without destroying the natural resources we need so dearly … like water.

Copper has become an “essential” tool in the new age economy, but how do we “mine” this resource sustainably without endangering our natural resources?  I suggest that mining in a water dependent area like the Arrowhead is not the way.

As the State of Minnesota moves forward with the permitting of a copper mine (Polymet’s NorthMet project) in the center of this ecological treasure (approval of which both Governor Dayton and Amy Klobuchar have supported) lawsuits are in progress.  In an effort to defend the state’s bad decision under the direction of our new governor, the taxpayers, unwittingly, will be paying for the defense of something the majority of Minnesotans did not want … and in the long run, once begun and into perpetuity, will also pay the consequences.

As an additional note of great consequence the comment period for the Enbridge Pipeline #3 pending permits is open until May 17, 2019; and you can comment here.  I have also included the link to my article What we should all know about Enbridge’s replacement line 3 in Minnesota.

For the sake of our wilderness let’s make our voices heard.

 

Some articles of interest on Polymet and the Northmet Project:

https://www.duluthnewstribune.com/business/energy-and-mining/4574933-walz-looks-boost-legal-funds-defend-polymet-other-decisions

https://www.duluthnewstribune.com/business/energy-and-mining/4573778-lawsuit-filed-obtain-epa-documents-state-polymet-permits

https://www.mprnews.org/story/2019/01/31/fed-judge-lifts-hold-on-lawsuits-against-polymet-mine

http://www.timberjay.com/stories/mccollum-requests-release-of-epa-comments-on-polymet,14863

http://www.honorearth.org/polymet_and_the_great_lakes

https://www.wbur.org/onpoint/2019/02/20/amy-klobuchar-minnesota-mining-polymet-defense-spending

http://duluthreader.com/articles/2018/11/08/15044_daytons_toxic_legacy_and_the_permitting_of_polymet

 

Enbridge comment period open from March 18 to 4:30 p.m. May 17, 2019:

https://www.duluthnewstribune.com/business/energy-and-mining/4586403-dnr-opens-comment-period-enbridge-line-3-license-and-permit

https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/line3/index.html

As we prepare for decisions affecting our survival …

 

What are the sustainable jobs and practices?

Birch on Chequamegon Bay on Lake Superior

From “Forbearance” written by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

 “Hast thou named all the birds without a gun?
Loved the wood-rose, and left it on its stalk?
At rich men’s tables eaten bread and pulse?
Unarmed, faced danger with a heart of trust?
And loved so well a high behavior,
In man or maid, that thou from speech refrained,
Nobly more nobly to repay?
O be my friend, and teach me to be thine!”

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?

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 in lands claimed by the Ojibwe, abundant and fruitful, forested wetlands of what is now 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

originally published

January 31, 2014

Cook County, MN

Polymet Gets Crucial Permitting for the NorthMet Project and Copper Mining in the Arrowhead

On November 01, 2018, our DNR announced through Tom Landwehr, commissioner, approval of ten crucial permits that Polymet, a Swiss-based conglomerate, needs to start a copper mine in Arrowhead of Minnesota at the extreme headwaters of the St Lawrence Seaway.  This will open the door to an expanded footprint for the proposed NorthMet Project once begun, allowing for greater extraction of water resources from this water-dependent ecosystem, along with the taking of endangered species, Canada Lynx, Timber Wolf, birds and fowl, plant species etc that interfere with this project.

The permits granted on November first: six water appropriation permits, two dam safety permits, a public waters work permit and last (but not least) an endangered species takings permit. The project still needs water permits and air quality permits from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and a wetlands permit from the Army Corps of Engineers.

Other important points:

Since the project is now deemed less profitable as proposed, Polymet in all probability, will need to mine faster and expand the proposed footprint to make the money investors expect.  This means that the proposed mine, with its assured potential of 500 + years of pollution, approved by the DNR, will dwarf the damage of the mega-mine actually needed to fullfill its promise and its bottom line.  This will be in direct conflict to any environmentally sound promises.

To quote DNR commissioner, Tom Landwehr,  the NorthMet project “meets Minnesota’s regulatory standards for these permits.”  Wth such confidence as a foundation, and since our citizens are the ones who will suffer the consequences of a poor decision, being the ones who will more than likely “foot the bill,” why would the DNR under Landwehr reject the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy’s request for a contested case hearing, an independent judicial review, a chance to prove that this decision could stand such scrutiny?  Why has it taken over 10 years to permit this mine?  Why do the majority of Minnesotans reject this proposal?

Funding clean water projects, and the like, without reducing point source pollution seems a poor way to protect our resources.  Is it a radical idea that the health of our freshwater trumps the profits of an international corporation?

 

 

Common Loon NE MN waters

State of Minnesota issues permits for PolyMet mine proposal

https://anitatillemans.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/arrowhead-aquifers-and-the-hill-of-three-waters/

Link to Public Comment by Duluth for Clean Water concerning NorthMet Project

Risk Analysis of Probable Maximum Flood and Climate Change at the PolyMet Flotation Tailings Basin Prepared for Clean Water by Tom Myers, PhD, Hydrologic Consultant

Appreciation of beauty is a moral test. Will we pass when it comes to protecting the extreme headwaters of the St Lawrence Seaway and Hudson Bay in Minnesota?

Do we appreciate the beauty of the Arrowhead in this one-of-a-kind wilderness, enough to say no to copper sulfide mining?  Will the DNR choose short term profit over the long term welfare and profit of this valuable and beautiful ecosystem?

Many comments that were made concerning the SDEIS for the Northmet Project in 2014 are as telling today as they were then.  Though some dates, names and numbers have changed, the substance of these objections to mining and the safety of the aquifers in this water dependent environment remain true.

I include my own comments on the SDEIS in 2014 below:

 

(North Met SDEIS.dnr@state.mn.us)

March 7, 2014

 

RE: Comments on the SDEIS for the North Met Project

 

The proposed copper mine in Babbitt should be a concern to all of us since it will threaten water resources in an extremely important hydrological area of the North American continent and at the source of the largest fresh water body in the world, our Great Lakes.

 

Copper mining leaks sulfuric acid into waters above and below ground and is one of the worst polluting mining processes in the world historically.  Metal mining requires prodigious amounts of water and copper mining has historically degraded those resources.  The facts prove this true and reverse osmosis, which Polymet contends will successfully filter contaminants, has significant dangers as well. 

 

Average annual water required for mine operations has been estimated at 275 gpm, or between 20-810 gpm for this report.  If we were to accept these numbers, then uses could vary from as little as 10,512,000 gallons of water per year or as much as 425,736,000 gallons per year.  Greater than 90% of this water would be captured and treated using reverse osmosis, a process that poses risks as outlined in 2006 by the World Health Organization’s report in Geneva, Nutrients in Drinking Water, Chapter 12.

 

According to studies done since the 1960’s when reverse osmosis filtration began, demineralized water has proved dangerous in many ways.  It will aggressively attack contacted materials by dissolving metals and some organic substances in pipes, storage tanks, hose lines and fittings.  Because of this, it poses an increased risk of filtering toxic metals into the groundwater, wetlands and streams at the source and particularly down stream.  Time would be an important factor in determining the extent of damage to various plants and animals in the watersheds.

 

Without the protective or antitoxic protection of calcium and magnesium additional, increased risk of cardiovascular disease occurs in humans from drinking water treated by RO, and reserve minerals in the body are often depleted.  This in time results in other adverse effects on animal and human organisms.

 

Filters and membranes are subject to bacterial growths and would present their own problems.  Significant factors are toxins from the filters or membranes would be highly concentrated, and the problem of disposal would remain.  Has the SDEIS calculated the very real danger of RO processed waters on plant and animal organisms as well as the disposal of these concentrated toxins?

 

Estimates of contamination in the SDEIS are based on models that do not take into account inevitable accidents and failures.  Without these risks factored into the equation, this SDEIS cannot predict consequences with any success.  The model can only be as good as its basis in fact, field study and experience.

 

Mining wastes would be altered by geologic process but would not degrade; and so the hazards of controlling contamination would continue into perpetuity.  Discharges of mining wastewater would continue as long as it rains, with water seeping into pits and ponds and leaching of toxic mining byproducts into groundwater.  Potential failure of tailings dams, concentrate spill into streams and wetlands are historically valid concerns and need to be addressed since these will add to the pollution.

 

Clean up of polluted river beds and aquifers would not be possible.  The damage done, no financial assurance would replace the irreplaceable.  In addition, the cost of perpetual treatment of waters that would continue to spill and leach toxins into the environment forever, including the dangers of the RO process, would outweigh the profit of a relatively few, finite years.  The damage would be permanent and the jobs would be gone.

 

Fond du Lac Indian Reservation is downstream from the proposed mine.  Indigenous cultures have lived and sustained themselves in the St Louis River watershed for over a 1000 years.  Wild rice beds can be found all along the St Louis watershed, rice beds the Ojibwa depend upon in this highly connected and diverse aquatic habitat.  Laws that were made to protect the environment within the ceded territory have eroded away.  Promises made ignored.  With the proposed land exchange, this will be affirmed by further eroding these treaty obligations and allowing Polymet to operate outside of protections promised in the treaty.  Effects will be felt outside the boundaries of Polymet’s land and no compensation credits would bring these wetlands, the wildlife or the wild rice back.

 

The affected wetlands are highly connected diverse and water dependent lands in unconsolidated sand and gravel aquifers of ecological significance and sensitivity.  Much of these surficial aquifers are shallow, with bedrock features lying only 3.5 to 17 feet below the surface.  In spite of this, the SDEIS has no bedrock groundwater samples available from the plant site and the tailings basin, and no testing was done in the Biwabik Iron Formation for these sites.  For what reason?

 

The report assumes that most all water in these wetlands is recharged by rainfall and that the underlying bedrock is of low conductivity.  I could not find substantial proof of this in the report.  There are no long term records and field reports of rainfall over many seasons and years.  Even so, the assumption seems to be made that there are no fractures, no artesian aquifers of significance in the area, ignoring reports of the fractured nature of igneous and metamorphic rock prevalent throughout NE Minnesota.  More study needs to be done to get a clearer picture of the interaction between bedrock and surface aquifers of the region.

 

The surficial aquifers have developed highly diverse ecosystems over thousands and millions of years, with organic matter that acts like a sponge for waters arriving from above, below or laterally.  Excesses disperse through the high connectivity of these wetlands such as 100 Mile Swamp to others in the St Louis watershed.  Therefore, polluted water will affect not only flora and fauna that depend on these wetlands, it will, eventually, affect Lake Superior and the Great Lakes.  

 

Since contained aquifers often recharge in outcroppings along the uplands, and since mining will be done in the Laurentian uplands, contained aquifers of igneous, metamorphic rock and sand and gravel should be of great significance in determining the impact of copper mining on underground water.  All of these aquifers are present in the area.  The distributions and flowages along nonconforming wavy bedrock formations in the area should be prominent factors in the decision-making process and at the forefront of the SDEIS.  The Laurentian Divide runs through the middle of the tailings pond at 1700-1800 feet and very little is documented to date about the complex underground flows from this area.  In fact, there is more study necessary before we understand specific recharge and discharge areas in this divergent geological and hydrological area of the Mesabi.

 

Once copper mining is begun, contamination of groundwater cannot be prevented in the Laurentian Divide.  Water will be contaminated as aquifers are traversed, through cracks, joints, fractures, and bore holes in bedrock aquifers and in direct contact with waste rock as it is mined.  It can also flow along bedrock under glacial drift to locations unknown from the site of contamination, seeping into and out of these mining pits and tailings bins without being captured.  What technology would be in place to prevent this? 

 

Polymet admits that seepage will occur.  Once the mine is closed, seepage and discharge from mining pits of waste rock, slurry and tailings basins will continue into perpetuity.  No reliable, extensive studies have truly been done, nor can they be, to determine how much water will actually seep into and from the mining pits and tailing basins at these sites over hundreds of years.  In spite of this, the SDEIS has provided a figure of 31 gpm at closing for untreated seepage; and tells us that this would be less than 5% of the total wastewater discharged.  Using these figures, this estimate calculates to an annual wastewater discharge of 1,208,880,000 gallons, 16,293,600 gallons, of which, would be untreated each year.  These discharges will continue for an undetermined amount of time.

 

In NE MN, groundwater flows frequently diverge from surface topography.  No substantive studies have been done to determine the recharge and discharge areas for all aquifers along the Laurentian Uplands, including the Embarrass and Partridge River watershed aquifers.  How much of the pollution will discharge into unexpected waterways from contamination in the recharge areas?  Extensive and conclusive reports need to be produced on these flowages, especially of the Pre Cambrian metamorphic bedrock layers.  Do we know what vital waters are supplied by particular aquifers in the Laurentian Divide at the proposed sites?  With inevitable variables over hundreds of years, and without additional, extensive, field work and research concerning these aquifers, what reliable calculations can be made to predict drawdowns, potential depressurization of artesians and upwelling of brackish waters among other possible dangers?  There are few wells on site and very little detail concerning underground water flowage at the sites proposed for Polymet’s operations.

 

A great concern is that water will be drawn continuously from surficial and possibly bedrock aquifers, as well as St Louis watershed streams and Lake Colby in order to mine copper for 20 years.  Once begun, it will be necessary to perpetually discharge water in order to mine the rock; and, so, what guarantees can there be that groundwater will not be mined as well, as levels of ponds, pits, and rivers are managed to maintain certain levels?  It is impossible to predict the effect that global warming will have on water reserves, nor is it possible to predict weather from year to year.  “Existing conditions” are variable. 

 

Wetlands destroyed will not be replaced in kind.  This has been admitted.  Included in the area of concern will be 100-Mile Swamp.  The name alone gives us a clue as to the nature of the area proposed for copper mining and discharge.  These wetlands are open and continuous, one feeding into another along the entire watershed of the St Louis River.  What will the accumulation of polluted water from the mine over decades, hundreds of years do to the St Louis River estuary?  The St Louis River is already an AOC.  What will happen to the entire wetland area of St Louis County?  What of algae bloom, reduction of oxygen and creation of a dead zone at the mouth of the St Louis River and Lake Superior?  Polymet would be using the river for a chute to dispose of copper mining wastewater essentially into the largest body of freshwater in the world, the Great Lakes.  This should be of concern to every person on the planet.

 

Once granted permits to mine, Polymet will, of course, set a precedent.  Copper mining will then most certainly extend into the Rainy River watershed, since there are others waiting to mine and have already been granted exploratory permits on the border of the BWCAW.  Would NFS have granted these drilling permits if it had not considered allowing copper mining so close to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness?  Once noise, air, water pollution have been granted at these levels, even higher levels will then be more acceptable.  It is easy to see then how lovers of wilderness, the BWCAW, the Quetico … might be threatened by a copper mine in Babbitt.

 

Lake Superior is known as the “mother of waters” and the Mississippi, the “father of waters”.  I wonder, the true mother of both.  Do we know the actual source of the Mississippi?  Could it be that aquifers of Giant’s Ridge are the true source of the Mississippi, St Louis River and the Rainy River?  Could it be that we do not know enough about the aquifers that underlie the Laurentian Divide?  Minnesota is a land of more than 10,000 lakes, a land of waters, water that has no boundaries essentially.  When one area is polluted, the effects are felt like a ripple.

 

Concerned members of the Ojibwa Nation have indicated that groundwater seepage is greatly underestimated.  This is from experience of hundreds of years, perhaps thousands of years.  Without studies of rainwater, and seepage over many seasons and years, how can the SDEIS predict outcomes confidently?  Where little allowance has been made for fractured and folded metamorphic rock in the area, fault lines, and percolation from confined aquifers that are also in the area, it would seem that the report is flawed.  This error could cause other faults in predicting leaching, groundwater effects, toxin releases and solute levels in wetlands, lakes and streams.

 

Technology is only as good as it is applicable.  What technology could predict fllowages of unseen aquifers or prevent water from eventually dispersing underground and returning to unknown points of discharge?  Copper mining will pollute one of the most precious resources we have, our fresh water, in an area of complex aquifers that depend heavily upon each, interconnected in ways that we have yet to understand.  Without consideration for loss of wilderness, which would be great enough, pollution and drawdown of our water table on the scale that Polymet could bring would be disastrous for a much wider area than this report has addressed.  What financial assurances would restore these priceless reserves of water?

 

As water and air know no boundaries, moving millions of tons of ore, discharging millions of gallons of slurry and wastewater will have effects beyond pipeline, tracks, and roads within the specified corridor and mining sites.  Transportation, alone, will extend from Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes areas to the shores of Lake Superior.  How many more trains will be traveling through and over the wilderness of Superior National Forest and the Arrowhead?  How many more trucks?  How many earth movers, ATVs, OTVs, roads, how much dust, cumulative noise pollution from 24/7 mining operations (explosions, drilling, digging, crushing, processing, hauling etal)?  In twenty years, how much of the remaining wilderness will survive?

 

Wilderness by definition is not managed.  The introduction of roads into these wetlands will most certainly change patterns of drainage and endanger plants and wildlife.  These losses are impossible to calculate.  The whole nature of the St Louis River watershed and estuary will be altered and no mitigation efforts would spare it or bring it back.  The scope of the SDEIS does not address the actual extent of operations related to this project and effects that will most definitely exceed the actual boundaries of the two sites and the transportation corridor.  How can any of these facts be ignored?

 

In spite of promises, one truth remains.  Consequences will go beyond the limits of liability for Polymet, and their operations will endanger lands and waters that neither Polymet nor the National Forest Service owns.  It is also clear that the words “directly” and “indirectly” have no meaning in a place that stands over aquifers of the complexity, quantity and caliber of those in the Arrowhead region of Minnesota.  Although “direct” impacts are considered to be within the boundaries of mining operations, permanent, irreconcilable impacts will have no boundaries.  Pollution will reach underground into the water table, above ground into our air, and down stream most certainly into our oceans through vital freshwater resources.  Water and air will find paths and pay no attention to lines drawn on a map.

 

The SDEIS considers addressing pipeline failures and spills speculative and beyond the scope of the study.  What then is a study based on assumptions and predictions hundreds of years into the future?  There is already an abundance of information on copper mining around the world; and these facts alone would be enough to forbid this project in a critically important hydrological region like the Arrowhead of Minnesota.  Water should take priority over all else for good reason.

 

As political realities change, it is conjecture to state with assurance what regulations if any will provide protection to the public from inevitable consequences of copper mining in this highly ecologically sensitive environment.  We do know some things though.  For instance, we do know that once the land exchange is made, that much of the treaty obligations under the ceded territory and wildlife and wilderness protections will no longer have any teeth.  As any corporation, Polymet will follow their bottom line.  If they can pay a fine and get a variance, they will.  Observe taconite mining of the Iron Range.  Will our environmental laws be eroded even further with copper mining?

 

SDEIS promises that safeguards and standards will be established in the permitting process, but these are not given in this report and cannot be assessed for the public view.  There are too many unknowns, it would seem, for a solid foundation on which to build a positive outcome.

 

The SDEIS calculates that 533 million tons of waste rock and ore will be removed in 20 years and that 113,000 tons of copper, 18,000 tons of nickel/copper, and 500 tons of PGE annually or a total of 2,630,000 tons of marketable product will result.  If these figures are correct, then, that would mean 2,260,000 of this product would be copper.  Using these figures, it appears that 198,700,000  tons of spent ore would remain along with 308,000,000 of waste rock.  Is it correct that less than .004 of the mined material will be copper at the cost of so much pollution?  A trade like this does not seem to be in our best interest.

 

If concentrate spilled into a stream, it would settle forming sediment, highly toxic unless dredged which would have disastrous effects.  This sediment would persist for decades and eventually end up in Lake Superior.  Wetlands are susceptible to spills releasing slurry, return water, diesel fuel, solutes, leaching into water tables.  Reduction in wetlands due to degradation of habitat and wetlands ability to support fish and invertebrates would result in an incalculable loss of wildlife population abundance. 

 

There are multiple uncertainties in planning, designing the construction and operation, as well as, the closing of a mine.  Models that forecast behavior of a system engineered with inherent human error, undetermined factors, predicting the outcome of centuries of management and untested at length are Idealized and cannot be considered accurate representations of what may occur when the plan becomes reality. 

 

It is “reasonably foreseeable” that weather will change and is unpredictable, even in the short term.  No scenario that forecasts over hundreds of years can be taken seriously.  It is obvious from a logical standpoint and the facts that present themselves from mining of 123 years in the Mesabi Iron Range, that the water and environment will be permanently changed and that no mitigation will return our waters and wilderness to pre-mining condition.

 

As Minnesotans we stand as stewards at the source one of the world’s greatest resources for freshwater.  Will we learn from past mistakes and reject this copper mining proposal?  There is no financial assurance that could provide good reason for what is simply a bad idea, one that will have devastating consequences into perpetuity.  What precious metal or mineral can trump the importance of protecting these waters and maintaining the balance developed over millions of years, laid on a foundation created billions of years ago?  Mining operations will cease along with the jobs and profit, long before the degradation has run full circle.  What will Minnesota and the world have in return for a few years of jobs and cash if we fail to act as responsible stewards?  There are no financial assurances that would cover the cost of such a tragedy.

 

Simply because man can do something, does not necessarily mean that he should.  Because nature has no boundaries, man does have a responsibility to consider the consequences of his actions.  We need to take into account the over-reaching consequences of this project in an irreplaceable and unique, geological and biological ecosystem that is Northern Minnesota, the source of three of the greatest river systems in the North America, essentially sourced along the Mesabi Range.  The fate of lands, air, and water in and around this project are linked by a unique geography that has no precedent and for this reason is impossible to map or predict, with certainty.  What can be seen through experience is enough to forbid this project.

 

What will be the consequences of the land exchange, once Polymet owns the surface and mineral rights to the land on which their operations occur?  What powers will the NFS, BLM, DNR and other parties have and exercise to control and monitor damage to our environment then?  What will be lost due to changes in trade agreements like the TPP and other legal and political challenges affecting Minnesota’s rights to protection of its own lands and waters?

 

Downstream from the proposed Northmet project, where all mining water, sediment and dissolved particulates from this plant will eventually go, Jay Cook State park is home to 181 species of nesting and feeding fowl.  There are bear, deer, wolves, coyote among 46 animal species in the park.  Sax-Zim Bog in the St Louis River estuary is world famous wintering grounds for great gray, borial, hawk owls and other boreal forest birds.  Over 60,000 raptors migrate over Hawks Ridge National Preserve in the St Louis River estuary each year.

 

There are other points of interest.  The Laurentian Divide is home to 155 nesting birds and 40 wildlife species.  In Embarrass, just north of the LTV site, there are birding and nature trails, river canoeing and fishing opportunities.  At Babbitt, lies beautiful Birch Lake feeding into the BWCAW through the Kawishiwi River.  So close that mining cannot help but affect the whole area. 

 

The Superior National Forest Scenic Byway tour begins in Two Harbors and goes through Silver Bay to Aurora through Hoyt Lakes over 145 miles of untouched wilderness with relatively few roads.  There are wolves here and Canadian Lynx, only a few of the animals that are attracted to this area.  Wolves are of concern in particular, since the DNR has still yet to make a count of the existing wolf populations.  This, after two hunting seasons.  How do we know the threat to this vital apex predator without a study to determine its numbers?

 

The Erie Mining Company Railroad runs over the Laurentian uplands at 1573-1700 feet above sea level in the transportation corridor, over Partridge River waterways like 100 Mile Swamp, Stubble Creek.  Polymet’s trains will traverse open wetland networks linked to Dunka River, North River, Ridgepole Creek , Seven Beaver Lake, Swamp Lake, Big Lake, and Yelp Creek, among a few.

 

There are 318 species of birds, 200 regular in the Superior National Forest of which 36 are uncommon, 30 rare and 61 very rare, among these the Pie billed Grebe and the Red breasted Merganser.  With 155 nesting species, the SNF has the greatest number of breeding birds in any national forest.  The BWCAW is of incalculable value biologically, ecologically and a popular wilderness area with over 200,000 visitors annually, with 1500 miles of canoe routes and 2200 campsites.  Do we truly believe that copper mining so close to the entry points of this wilderness will not have significant consequences on these resources and the essence of this kind of experience?  Some things cannot be measured and this is one.

 

When the SDEIS, without due attention to inevitable failures, predicts potentials, probabilities based on assumptions, presumptions, possibilities, I wonder how many years of field research and important, hard fact was missed?  Instead, the report appears to be based upon “variability and uncertainty around many … model input assumptions” – in other words, a best case scenario that, in spite of this, predicts 500 plus years of mitigation and pollution from 20 years of mining in the Arrowhead.  At which point the model terminates.  This does not mean that maintenance will no longer be needed after 500 years or that suddenly the pit lakes and tailings basins will simply stop leaching and spilling.  It means that the SDEIS stopped assessing the damage.  Once the water is polluted and the ecosystem destroyed, one that took millennia to develop, we will be left with a toxic environment that will be changed forever, just fact.  What more do we need to know to deny this permit?

 

The Arrowhead region is one of the crowning ecological jewels of this world.  The National Forest Service is mandated to protect water resources as a number one priority.  If not here, then where?  The no mining alternative is, above all, a choice for environmental diversity and sustainability.  People will pay to enjoy wilderness and this area is renowned for its beauty, its waters.  Entrusted to us, will we fail to shield this wilderness from exploitation, or will we protect our base by preserving this planet’s most vital resource, starting with “the mother of waters” in the Lake Superior Basin.

Comment written and sent on March 7, 2014 to:

MDNR Division of Ecological and Water Resources Environmental Review Unit 500

Lafayette Road,

Box 25

St Paul, Mn 55155-4025

 

As of today, August 25, 2018:

I include two maps and some links concerning copper mining prospects in the Arrowhead below.  The DNR has just denied any further study and is in the process of reviewing comments on permits in process.

There are lawsuits pending and a majority of citizens in Minnesota do not want copper mining in the Arrowhead.

aquifers surrounding the Babbitt area where Poymet wants to build a copper mine

Mining Prospects in the Arrowhead

Links of interest:

Friends of the BWCA on sulfide mining

waterways and waterfalls of NE MN

State of the BWCAW

BEDROCK GEOLOGY OF THE BABBITT QUADRANGLE

GEOLOGY AND MINERALIZATION IN THE DUNKA ROAD

NFS and Polymet Land Exchange

Issues of copper mining various sources

Sierra Club on Twin Metals

Comment on NorthMet Draft Air Permit due March 16, 2018

The NorthMet Project has been in process of application for many years now, because the project will cause unusual problems, and because it will imperil wilderness lands, waters, air, wildlife and the economies that depend upon clean air, water and healthy ecosystems. Permitting a copper mine will set precedent and change the land use forever.
Since the copper deposits in Minnesota are of low grade, the process will naturally require removal of more rock than copper. By Polymet’s own estimate the NorthMet ore body comprises 275 million tons of Proven and Probable reserves grading 0.28 percent copper with Measured and Indicated Mineral Resources of 694 million tons grading 0.27 percent copper and 0.08 percent nickel. Since Polymet intends to mine and process 32,000 tons of ore per day (11,680,000 tons of ore per year) what does this mean for the air quality surrounding the Project?
According to the reports put forth for this permit, the NorthMet project will require ammonium nitrate and fuel oil for blasting every two to three days. Large excavator shovels with up to 30-cubic-yard-capacity and large front-end loaders will then load the ore into diesel-powered haul trucks, each having the capacity to carry 240 tons of material in a single load, all loaded onto 100-ton side dumping railcars. Sixteen-car trains pulled by locomotives will then transport the ore approximately six miles to the processing facility 20 times each day. In all, PolyMet plans to mine approximately 225 million tons of ore over a 20-year mine life. This plan can be revised at any time as long as notice is given and approved by our regulators. No mine has ever been shut down by regulators once begun in Minnesota.
According to the relevant reports, processing starts once the ore is transported to the LTV site where it will be offloaded into the Coarse Crusher Building. A series of crushers then reduce the ore to approximately 2.5 inches diameter feeding these particles by conveyor to the coarse ore bin located in the Fine Crusher Building. From the Fine Crusher Building, the ore will be conveyed to the Concentrator Building used since the 1950s to process taconite. There, the ore will be reduced into particles about the diameter of a human hair before being transported by chute to other buildings where impurities will be removed using chemicals and large quantities of water. Imagine this fine dust in transport.
As documented in this permit, this facility, then, will require a number of filtrations systems including HEPA, cartridge and fiber, all of which will be expected to comply with standards within each building and require their own handling. Outside of these buildings where there are no filters, fugitive emissions are even more difficult to control.
Fugitive source emissions from mining operations stem from the blasting of rock and the debris that these operations create, loading and unloading of rock, truck traffic, preparation, crushing and screening activities and excavating. Traffic, road building and repair will contribute naturally and this will exceed the boundaries of the NorthMet Project site where no truly effective organic and sustainable control is possible in most situations, physics the determining factor.
Fugitive sources of emissions at the processing plant can be found during construction activities, crushing and screening, along with wind erosion during flotation tailings basin operation, miscellaneous truck traffic, and SAG and ball mill grinding of the ore. The list of unusual problems and effects goes on in the permit reports, unintentionally illustrating why copper sulfide mining would be a major contributor to air pollution in this wilderness, and all the while presuming to make a case for protection.
How much of the regulation in place on spot filtration systems and their filters will be effective? How much of the fugitive emissions and noise will cause untenable situations for wilderness tourism, which is the backbone of this country? Only time will tell after all. If experience has taught us anything, these systems will fail or be neglected in time while the mining effects will continue into perpetuity.
Just a list of the vehicles required in this operation will tell us enough about the effects: 2300HP mine haul trucks run on 25.4 gallons of fuel/hour. 1550HP diesel drills, 19.8 gallons/hour, and 646HP truck dozer graders, 31.2 gallons/hr. And then there will be excavators, rubber tire dozers, transfer loaders, backhoes with hammers, water/sand trucks, and integrated handlers with their own fuel usage and emissions not to mention the noise that will be a daily experience for all within earshot.
Besides vehicles, there will be a great need for space heaters, too many to count for this comment, feed chutes, conveyors, mills, grinders, crushers, rail cars and locomotives, mix tanks and dewatering stations, a lube house, direct and indirect heating equipment using electric, natural gas and propane, degasifiers, a (huge) gasoline tank, bentonite (fine clay dust) handling, and miscellaneous buildings.
There will be a fence patrolled to keep the public out. Polymet will monitor itself. There is no restriction on hours of operation for portable crushing spread operations May to October and other operations are given the time needed to process almost 12,000,000 tons of ore each year. Much of the monitoring is not enforceable in this permit or on a practical level. So where are the real safeguards? The winds will blow, the climate will do its thing and Polymet will be forgiven in a force majeure situation.
We are told that this ore will be processed in an environmentally sound manner. We are told that if limits are exceeded, they will be remedied by the miner except in the case of unforeseeable circumstances that prevent them from fulfilling their contract. Will they monitor and police themselves without regard to profits? If fugitive emissions are found to degrade the environment outside of the parameters of their fence line, will this too be remedied? What will the meaning of going up North hold for citizens once this mine starts construction?
Wetlands abound along this copper deposit, with thousands of flora and fauna, many rare and uncommon all depending on clean air and water, in a wilderness of outstanding quality. 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 and its air?
Do we sell or do we protect? This is what this decision concerning the NorthMet Project comes down to, essentially. There are no guarantees that Polymet or theirs will be around to pay for the damage that acid rain and other hazards of mining for decades in this area will cause. They are a corporation, after all, developed to limit liability. Ongoing treatment, passive or aggressive, will never return 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?
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 this priceless wilderness more important than any profit we can make from mining? Once understood that we cannot mine in this area 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?
For the reasons outlined in this comment, I request that the Draft Air Permit for the NorthMet Project be denied.

An Open Letter to Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton

The watersheds of the Mississippi, the Rainy River and the Great Lakes have their source in northern Minnesota, particularly in the Laurentian highlands of the Arrowhead, a wilderness that knows few equals in this regard.  Minnesota citizens, then, have a global responsibility to preserve this vital, rare and important aquifer from exploitation.

For over one hundred years, the state of Minnesota has condoned mining in the Laurentian Divide.  For over one hundred years the Missississippi and the St Louis Rivers, the Great Lakes and the Rainy River watershed have suffered from our failure to see the significance of these waters.  Elevated levels of lead and mercury … not including acid rain from the coal-fired plants supporting mining operations, smelters and other correlated equipment have done their part to interfere with vital natural processes.  Have we learned from our past mistakes?

In spite of this over one-hundred year history of mining in Minnesota and the correlated air and water pollution, failed infrastructure and inadequate protections, the state continues to promote mining activity.  Desperate measures to sustain an industry that will fail, that will pollute vital water reserves, where there can be no adequate protections in this water rich area, in an ecology that has no precedent on Earth, will serve no one in the long term.

Copper mining will destroy our water resources and our one of a kind wilderness in Northern Minnesota.  I was disappointed to have read that you support the NorthMet Project.

Sincerely,

Anita Suzanne Tillemans

 

aquifers surrounding the Babbitt area where Poymet wants to build a copper mine
aquifers surrounding the Babbitt area where Poymet wants to build a copper mine

 

Link to articles on arterutan concerning copper mining in the Arrowhead:

Arrowhead Aquifers and the Hill of Three Waters

Arterutan site link to other content on the Northmet Project

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

DNR Plans to Sell Mineral Leases in Northern Minnesota Covering Approximately 195,324 Acres

Moose in the Arrowhead ... already affected by global warming
Moose in the Arrowhead … already affected by global warming

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:

State Nonferrous Metallic Mineral Leasing Public Lease Sale

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.

MPCA / Minnesota’s Imperiled Waters List 2016

In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.

– Iroquois Maxim (circa 1700-1800)

 

 

Setting Precedent / The Danger of Copper Mining at the headwaters of the Great Lakes

The state of Minnesota made a mistake in the late 1800’s by permitting a mine at the Hill of Three Waters in what is now known as the Hull Rust Mine.  By diverting the attention away from the actual fountainhead of the Mississippi so that mines could be established, and declaring the “official” head at Lake Itasca, a 2 mile square lake in the far west of the state, this made mining possible on the Iron Range; and has been a primary cause of pollution in the great Mississippi River and its wetlands at the source.  It has also set precedent for more mining in the highlands of the Laurentian Divide, the primary recharge source for three great rivers of the world, that of the Mississippi River, Rainy River and the St Louis River (extreme headwaters of the Great Lakes and the St Lawrence Seaway).  Now we stand to see another precedent set, one for copper mining.

DNR approval of the FEIS for NorthMet in March 2016, and subsequent opening for Polymet to proceed with applications for permits has opened the potential of a floodgate of pollution from copper mining in one of the most water rich and water dependent ecosystems in the North American continent, at the headwaters of three great rivers ….  There is, literally, no other place like it- because of this.

Links to information on the NorthMet Project in Northern Minnesota

If these permits are approved, allowing for a reduction in air and water quality and destruction of wetlands just south and along the border of the BWCAW, it will open the door to United States Forest Service approval of the land exchange, an exchange that Polymet cannot do without.

If the USFS approves the land exchange, this would be forfeiting its authority to mining interests over lands that were set aside for protection. The Forest Service would be trading, not only lands, but a trust that these ecosystems would be protected from exploitation for generations to come.

Polymet will be mining water resources, destroying wetlands, by their own admission; and, in effect, degrading natural resources, flora and fauna, with its lease to continuously extract metals in an open-pit mine. They will be requiring permits to do all of this, including permits to take endangered species on lands that the Forest Service was given in trust.

In addition, this would help establish precedent that could facilitate more land exchanges of this type. By trading these lands, USFS would, essentially, be demonstrating a lack of will in exercising its authority and create a barter system that conflicts with the role as steward.  It would allow exploitation and cannot be reconciled with this public trust … water being their most sacred trust.

The entire state and beyond would pay the price.

Status and submissions for Polymet’s air quality permit (NorthMet Project)

Status and submissions for Polymet’s water quality permit (NorthMet Project)

Status and submissions for Polymet’s request for 401 certification (NorthMet Project)

Highlights of second quarter 2016 as reported by September 15, 2016

May sanity prevail.

The Looming Prospect of Copper Mining in the Uplands of Minnesota’s Water Legacy …

falls_northwoods

As I read the continuing saga of Polymet and it’s efforts to mine copper in the northern woods of Minnesota, I remember the over-40 years since this abominable prospect first showed its ugly head … a distant cry that seemed unfathomable, impossible.

It has been almost 50 years since my coming to Minnesota and since I saw this land of 10,000 lakes and the “mother of waters” for the first time, Lake Superior, a dream, an unimaginable, unbelievable natural wonder.  Naive and in love with this beautiful land, I could never imagine that we would poison the air and water, Minnesota’s blue-sky lakes and waterfalls, streams and wetlands with the castoffs of the mining industry and the coal burning plants used to support the mining process; but, this is what we have done.  Now we know what pollution can do.

Do we stand up and say “no more”?  Have we said to Polymet … “don’t even consider this prospect”?  No.  Through the Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota has sold the prospect of more mining, more lumbering, more degradation .. all for the sake of financial gain in a short term view.

But what of the long term?  We await the deciding. After many years of NO from the people in Minnesota, the DNR, the US Forest Service and the Army Corps of Engineers still hold the prospect over our heads.  How long does it take to say NO?

 

Lake Saganaga

saganagaw_mn_side

The deepest and largest lake in Minnesota’s BWCA, Lake Saganaga, lies on the Canadian border and is protected by the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota, Quetico Provincial Park and Verendrye Provincial Park in Ontario.  At a depth of 280 feet with a surface area of 13,832 acres, this lake lies in Cook County of the Rainy River Watershed and the Hudson Bay Drainage Basin.

The highly sensitive environments of both this drainage basin in the watershed of the Rainy River and the Lake Superior Drainage basin in the watershed of the St Louis River are under threat of copper mining. Deposits lie along the boundary of the BWCA and in the area of Babbitt where Polymet proposes its NorthMet Project (copper mine).

Exploratory drill sites are already in operation along the southern boundary of the BWCA, in Birch Lake, and surrounding Birch Lake and the Kawishiwi River.  These waterways are part of the Rainy River Watershed and share their waters with the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area.

For more information:

Friends of the Boundary Wates on sulfide mining

Watersheds-in-NE-Mining-Footprint-March-2011

Pondering a picture of an Alberta lake …

Glacier Lake in Alberta
glacial lake in Alberta

 

I took this picture in the 1970’s of water in the mountains of Alberta. Since that time there have been changes but not to my memories.  How many memories would fill a mountain stream in West Virginia that is now being destroyed by mountain top removal?  How many memories do we, as a species, have of the waters that ran clear and cool before mining, drilling and fracking for fossil fuels?

I  remember the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness before the fires, and before the drills from companies seeking copper, gold and other “precious” metals took its toll.  I remember the stands of thousand year-old cedars in the west as I drove into Seattle to see waves crashing on the shore of the Washington coast … before the Fukushima disaster, before garbage islands and the Exxon oil spill … before so many bad decisions.  The cedars along the highway have been lumbered.  The oceans, and the species that depend on it’s health, are endangered … including mankind.

As I watch the destruction of trees, water, the air and the land  … all to greed and short term profit, I wonder if man will learn before it’s too late, too late for our species and the species doomed by our shortsightedness.  As the Minnesota “Department of Natural Resources'” approval of Polymet’s Final Environmental Impact Study for the NorthMet Project opened the way for the permitting process, we wait … wait to see what matters most.  Water or money?

 

 

More news on Northmet …

Bear Head State Park (near the proposed NorthMet Project)
Bear Head State Park (near the proposed NorthMet Project)

For information on the permit process (from the DNR)

and on financial assurance and preparations the DNR is making for the environmental battle ahead .

Permit processing will begin shortly.  One of the permits that will be needed allows for taking of endangered species.  There are timber wolves, Canadian Lynx, moose, many waterfowl and other important species that make this area their home …. not to mention the water.

 

aquifers surrounding the Babbitt area where Poymet wants to build a copper mine
aquifers surrounding the Babbitt area where Poymet wants to build a copper mine.

 

What will happen to fishing through loss of diversity and pollution of groundwater?
What will happen to fishing through loss of diversity and pollution of groundwater?

 

How many wilderness-related jobs and experiences will be lost?
How many wilderness-related jobs and experiences will be lost?

Moose in the Arrowhead ... already affected by global warming
Moose in the Arrowhead … already affected by global warming

In the wake of our waters …

The DNR has decided that a copper mine will be suitable for northern Minnesota in its ROD (record of decision) for the NorthMet Project by approving the NorthMet Project’s FEIS. Two other agencies, the Forest Service and Army Corps of Engineers decisions will be upcoming.

For more information on this monumental decision, one that will eventually affect waters in the BWCA, the Rainy River watershed as well as the St Louis watershed, into the Great Lakes, as a consequence of hundreds and possibly thousands of years of runoff from copper sulfide mining:

http://www.startribune.com/state-s-long-awaited-decision-on-mine-review-coming-thursday/370925881/

For more information concerning this proposal, on this site:

https://anitatillemans.wordpress.com/2015/12/21/comments-on-the-final-environmental-impact-statement-for-the-northmet-mining-project-and-land-exchange-hoyt-lakes-st-louis-county-minnesota/

https://anitatillemans.wordpress.com/?s=polymet

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Comments on the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the NorthMet Mining Project and Land Exchange, Hoyt Lakes, St Louis County, Minnesota

aquifers surrounding the Babbitt area where Poymet wants to build a copper mine
aquifers surrounding the Babbitt area where Polymet wants to build a copper mine

 

As a follow up to my review of the FEIS, November 2015, I have included, as part of this letter, twelve comments and questions concerning the proposed copper mine in Babbitt and associated processing plant in Hoyt Lakes.

Comment #1

How would a land exchange void the responsibility vested in USFS as the steward of public lands presently in their care?

With the proposed land exchange, USFS would be forfeiting its authority to mining interests over lands that were set aside for protection. The Forest Service would be trading, not only lands, but a trust that these ecosystems would be protected from exploitation for generations to come.

Polymet will be mining water resources, destroying wetlands, by their own admission; and, in effect, degrading natural resources, flora and fauna, with its lease to continuously extract metals in an open-pit mine. They will be requiring permits to do all of this, including permits to take endangered species on lands that the Forest Service was given in trust, lands that USFS would need to trade in order for mining to occur.

In addition, this would help establish precedent that could facilitate more land exchanges of this type. By trading these lands, USFS would, essentially, be demonstrating a lack of will in exercising its authority.

This land exchange, essentially, would create a barter system that conflicts with the USFS’ role as steward and allows exploitation. By any reasoning, the land exchange cannot be reconciled with this public trust.

 

Comment #2

Is it wise to risk the security of the St Louis Watershed, one that feeds the greatest freshwater lake by area in the world, Lake Superior, and lies at the extreme headwaters of the St Lawrence River?

All life depends upon reserves of water; and the Arrowhead is at the source of one of the largest supplies on Earth. St Louis River, at the extreme headwaters of the St Lawrence Seaway, supplies freshwater to Lake Superior and the Great Lakes. Products of the Laurentide Ice Sheet melt, Rainy Lake, Lake of the Woods, and Red Lake formed in the basin of Lake Agassiz, which extended over 170,000 square miles, possibly the largest freshwater lake ever (similar in size to the Black Sea). This glacial lake provided water to northern Minnesota, the Red River Valley and may still be discharging its glacial waters from the fractured metamorphic bedrock aquifers of the Arrowhead. The FEIS confirms that bedrock of the region has low conductivity and could take thousands of years to discharge.

In addition to the glacial waters of Agassiz, others glacial lakes like Norwood, Upham and Aitkin, products of the LIS, as well, have discharged their waters into the Arrowhead of Minnesota. Diverse moraines such as the Vermilion Moraine, left evidence in patterns of glacial till that can be seen around Babbitt, Ely, the Embarrass River area, and Hoyt Lakes, overlain in many areas by lush vegetation and lakes.

Covered by such a luxuriant carpet, the land that Polymet and others want to mine can be as difficult to inspect for existing aquifers, confined or otherwise, as it is to locate existing faults and fractures of bedrock in the area. This does not mean they don’t exist.

The fact that the NorthMet Project prospect lies within the boundary of the Vermilion Moraine, along with the BWCAW and Ely, makes this even more difficult. The potential of water traversing aquifers through fractured metamorphic bedrock, sight unseen, is heightened. No one spot duplicates another, essentially with variations in depth to bedrock by hundreds of feet, coverage of waterlogged vegetation and lakes, and a diversity that is like no other on earth.

Like faults, aquifers can be inferred invariably through their effects. Observe the copious discharge of water from the Big Stoney along the north shore of Minnesota. Observe the waters that so readily flow from the area of the Mesabi Widjiu, in rivers like Prairie River and Swan River from the Hill of Three Waters, the Vermilion River, St Louis River, Rainy River, and the great Mississippi. All one needs to do is observe.

As faults and fractures allow water to disperse in bedrock, these aquifers eventually find outlet in rivers, streams, fens, wetlands, falls, ponds and lakes at varying distances and directions from the site of recharge in the Laurentian Uplands.

According to the FEIS, surficial aquifers surrounding the mine site have a low conductivity, though not as low as bedrock in the same area, which supposedly decreases with depth. In this environment, then, it took thousands of years for glacial waters to make their way to the basin of Lake Superior. These waters can be seen dispersing in rich wetlands and rivers throughout; and they continue to nourish land in the Arrowhead supporting a vast and intricate ecosystem.

Does it make ecological sense to place a copper mine where it can do so much harm to water resources, with the potential of collecting into highly toxic sludge, polluting more and more of the surficial aquifers of the region, as waters are made stagnant and dead over the years?

There will be floods. There will be upheavals, as history proves … waters will disperse, as it is the nature of water to do. What will be left after the mine extracts precious reserves of water from aquifers, seen and unseen, confined or not, to process metals that serve its profit margin? Will there be any wild areas left, named or unnamed, categorized or not when the pollution from concentrates, waste rock and filters have found their way through this valuable ecosystem and the watersheds of the Arrowhead?

Our national security depends upon protection of freshwater resources, and the Arrowhead stands as a source of one of the largest fresh water reserves on earth. No copper mine is worth the risk of degrading this precious resource.

 

Comment #3

How can protection of a species be reconciled with destruction of habitat and nesting sites?

Since the various animal species do not pay attention to lines drawn on a map, they will trespass naturally. Water knows no real boundaries, either, over time; and time is the key word. In time, all things great and small in this water dependent ecosystem will be affected by actions proposed today in the Arrowhead.

The FEIS notes, that approximately 1,535 acres (58 percent) of mature forest would be lost at the mine site alone, that the species of greatest conservation need (SGCN) found at the mine site would be birds from Table 4.2.5-1 and that they would be “displaced.” The FEIS goes on to state that it is likely these birds would not be injured or killed, though nesting birds could be affected. The FEIS states that the mine would not likely affect individual migratory songbirds or other bird species protected under the MBTA; but would likely affect habitat and nest sites used by them.

How does one “affect” another’s home, without affecting the individual; and, as a matter of course, disturb nesting sites without disturbing the propagation of a species? With time, more species than those cited by the FEIS would be “affected” in the course of their reproductive cycles; and this, in turn, would naturally affect survival of a number of species in the area.

 

Comment #4

What security is there in a mining economy that depends entirely on the market, one that will not contribute to the real long-term wealth of this area?

Such an economy based on mining depends on the whims of a market. Copper mining will pollute the resources essential to our survival, perhaps into perpetuity, while providing profits and wealth to relatively few people over twenty years, more or less. After the mines have gone, as we see today, there will be masses of unemployed people, desperate, in a failing economy.

Recycling metals is on the upswing and processes for this type of recovery are being more fully developed as the North Met Project is being pondered. This could make mining for copper less profitable in a very short time. The price of commodities will vary, and markets are fickle. As a consequence, copper cannot guarantee a secure future, and certainly not a green economy in the Arrowhead.

Statistics abound concerning the wealth of wilderness tourism; and it cannot be reconciled with a mining scenario. When the copper mines are gone, what will be left? The choice is truly between wilderness and mining. Transport down scenic highways to and from the NorthMet Project will weave a web far beyond the sites that FEIS reviewed. Tourists will be traveling down the Superior National Forest Scenic Byway, along highways and roads to Hoyt Lakes, Embarrass, Ely, Babbitt and Silver Bay.

These potential long-term customers will see the effects of mining and it will affect the tourist industry. The sounds of blasting, trucks and drilling are not conducive to wilderness by any stretch; and neither is the potential of streams and waterways polluted with sulfuric acid and other toxins from mining copper.

Atmospheric conditions are unpredictable and Polymet will not be able to control these. The sounds of drilling from exploratory wells for copper and other metals can be heard in the BWCAW at this time. If Polymet gets permission to pollute and take lands in the Laurentian Uplands, there will be little peace for these areas, no chance of true wilderness experience and tourism.

Jobs that create a steady future do not lie in mining a land that, once mined, is degraded. Fields that once grew wild rice, grow no more. Waters that held rich stores of fish are dead and dying. Ecosystems fail and waters need constant treatment. Wetlands that once held diverse flora and fauna are no more.

This is not security.

 

Comment #5

The FEIS did not adequately address the potential effects of fossil fuels on the atmosphere surrounding the NorthMet Project.

Fossil fuel needs will escalate at LTV and the mining site, fuel and coal needs for the plant and mine, fuel for the vehicles, the crushers, the earthmovers and trains. Acid rain will emerge as an even greater problem, and the FEIS did not address this issue sufficiently. Repercussions will be felt in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, most certainly, from atmospheric effects alone.

Coal fired plants have provided energy to mines along the Mesabi Range for decades and, in the last 50 years, signs of acid rain have degraded foliage and forests in the path of their plumes. Witness dying birch, and mountain ash (that have all but entirely disappeared along the North Shore of Minnesota).

The effects of a copper mine in this fragile ecosystem will reach far beyond the boundaries of the plant and mine sites with potentially devastating effects.

 

Comment #6

This FEIS does not address known fractures, fault lines within the project site, and those along the Range. What of the Waasa and Camp Rivera Faults? What of the Vermilion Fault?

The effects of faults and fractures have been downplayed in models, which were made to inform the FEIS. The connectivity of bedrock with surficial aquifers assumed to be low, and the upper surface of fractured metamorphic bedrock assumed to be fractured more heavily at the top than down under. This conclusion seems convenient and arbitrary, since these structures cannot be truly known, sight unseen. Is there some reason that Polymet did not use the available information on inferred faults for more in depth field study on these particular areas?

The devil is always in the details. Though details can be used to obfuscate and avoid larger issues, these particular details are major omissions in a study that assumes to represent a truthful picture of the potential risks involved to groundwater from seepages and discharge through cracks, joints, fractures, faults, bore holes, from waste rock, slurry and tailings basins in the Laurentian Uplands.

Inferences are made all the time in science, through reason and implication, through the use of data and study. All knowledge is brought about in this way. To discount information on inferred faults is careless. The FEIS makes its own inferences. It infers that bedrock has low conductivity around the site and plant. It infers that the pollution would not travel far from the sites. It infers that all systems will operate sufficiently as expected over the lifetime of the mine and into perpetuity. It infers that, if a fault is found, it will be dealt with successfully. It infers much in supporting a copper mining scenario. Details and independent, in depth fieldwork is still needed concerning bedrock aquifers, faults and fractures in the area because of their potential for being conduits of pollution into ground water reserves, sight unseen.

Polymet admits seepage will occur, but it continues to minimize the risks through assumptions concerning the conductivity of fractured metamorphic bedrock and sand and gravel aquifers throughout the area. Water will most assuredly traverse aquifers and find the path of least resistance. The FEIS minimizes and leaves these pathways open to conjecture with promises that all will be handled, in time.

 

Comment #7

Potential effects that can be caused by drawdown in artesian springs, are given little review and field study, limited by assumptions and documents supporting the FEIS conclusion that bedrock geology plays a small part in hydrology of the area.

At the same time, we are assured that if there are, indeed, fractures, faults and confined aquifers found during operation, or that drawdown becomes a problem, these issues will be dealt with at the time. Of course, once an artesian has been drawn down, the chances of drawing it back up are limited. At this point, there does not appear to be any technology that can guarantee the renewal of an aquifer, or restoration of ground waters fouled?

 

Comment#8

Considering the importance of geology in this complex area of Minnesota, the FEIS omits much in detail.

Ground water in the Laurentian Divide frequently diverges from surface topography and therefore locations of recharge and discharge can be impossible to predict. Polymet’s probabilistic models cannot possibly be informed adequately to address the enormous danger of mining water, drawdowns, depressurization of artesians, and upwelling of brackish water to name only a few dangers posed by this project.

In the process of review, some of the most relevant information appears to be missing from the FEIS, or discounted, much of the obvious geological and hydrological evidence that would prove a no action alternative best for the environment and for the habitants upstream and downstream of the proposed mining project.

For instance, significant evidence on the fractured metamorphic nature of these lands, inferred and actual fractures and faults that have been named, the prospect of artesian springs, other faults and fractures in bedrock that may conduct water from the site, the potential that water inflows are much greater by many accounts have been given short shrift in deference to a computer model fed with data chosen, in particular, for this study. It all seems quite arbitrary, and these omissions are significant.

The area that includes Babbitt, Hoyt Lakes and the transportation corridor are covered with sand and gravel surficial aquifers, which run the possibility of overdevelopment in irrigated areas. This region also includes igneous and fractured metamorphic bedrock aquifers, where water can be found in cracks, joints and fractures within otherwise solid rock formations. Hoyt Lakes is a land of sand and gravel buried aquifers, which can be a major source of water (eg the Biwabik formation). Further down the St Louis River, in addition to sand and gravel surficial, and buried aquifers, igneous and fractured metamorphic bedrock aquifers, there are also sedimentary bedrock aquifers. Even though yields from these sedimentary cretaceous deposits are supposed to be low, the possibility that ground water discharges in lowlands from sand and gravel and fractured aquifers, also in the area, certainly exists.

Igneous and fractured metamorphic bedrock aquifers line the North Shore of Minnesota where there are over sixty water features in falls, rivers, and streams. The St Louis Watershed drains a basin of over 3500 square miles at the extreme headwaters of the St Lawrence Seaway. It appears that waters from glacial lakes, formed during the melt of the Laurentide Ice Sheet might still be discharging into Lake Superior as these waters work their way through the fractured bedrock aquifers of St Louis, Lake and Cook Counties. As noted, FEIS confirms that due to low permeability of the bedrock, discharge could take thousands of years… and so it seems that polluted waters could do the same. Polymet would be long gone before the consequences of copper mining could be fully assessed.

The FEIS avoids much discussion on differentiating major geologic areas, although Ely, Babbitt, Hoyt Lakes, Embarrass, the BWCAW and the whole of Giants Ridge are encompassed in a single one of these regions. The FEIS avoids in depth review of the existence of confined aquifers (extremely important in the security of the groundwater), avoids discussing in particular dissimilarities in surface composites and bedrock as relates to their conductivity and connectivity, specifics on the variability of depth to bedrock, inevitable flooding scenarios, weather anomalies, likely spills and exposures, drumlin fields, watershed anomalies (for instance, the fact that the tailings pond at the Minntac plant has outgrown what was once the boundary of the Vermilion Watershed, redrawn on maps to put it within the St Louis Watershed). Polymet’s NorthMet Project will increase the size of this tailings pond and so it is crucial to understand fully the hydrology of both surficial and bedrock aquifers directly underlying this tailings pond in particular.

Metamorphic rock is mentioned very little in the FEIS, as it fails to note that most of the Arrowhead is covered by fractured metamorphic rock, and in the area of the project, that sand and gravel surficial aquifers are prevalent as well, major omissions in outlining the geology of the area. Through these errors of omission, the probability of surficial and bedrock transport appears minimal at best. Is it possible to make a valid review of the project’s feasibility without details like this?

 

Comment #9

Of course, a model cannot take into consideration all of the factors in this extremely complex area of the North Met Project prospect, and so, I wonder, why experiential data from over 100 years of mining was not favored over probabilistic prognostications and limited field study prepared specifically for the NorthMet Project?

The Mississippi is now polluted; the St Louis River, and waters off the North Shore are imperiled. One hundred years is so little time in the course of a history like the Arrowhead, but much damage has already been done. What would be the result after 500 years of seepage from the degraded rotted and rusted infrastructure of a copper sulfide mine?

Studies that fail to use extensive fieldwork and data available from mining experience of the Mesabi Widjiu over the past one hundred years since the late 1890’s are likely to misrepresent the risks involved with a copper mine in the Arrowhead.

 

Comment #10

Just as the tailings pond at the Minntac plant site outgrew the boundary of the St Louis Watershed into the Vermilion Watershed, will the pits and ponds at the North Met mine site, so close to the northern boundary of the St Louis Watershed, outgrow its boundary as well, reaching into the watershed of Rainy River?

Indigenous peoples have lived in this area for thousands of years. They know the lands and waters of the area. They have honored this priceless parcel that is the Arrowhead of Minnesota and the Mesabi Widjiu. Perhaps unwisely, maybe without a choice, the tribes ceded this territory by treaty in the mid 1800’s. How shamelessly we have treated this land since that time. The quality of water has degraded, wetlands have suffered, the forests have been lumbered, and lands developed and damaged through mining activity and pollution.

If water seepage and inflow has not been predicted realistically for this study, then, the potential for harming watersheds of the St Louis River, Vermilion River and the Rainy River is great. Tribes inform the co-lead agencies that inflows are considerably higher than suggested by the EIS. How has related data from this observation informed the FEIS?

 

Comment #11

Due to the precedent that a copper mine in Babbitt will set, if granted, the potential for mining pits and tailings basins surrounding the area of the BWCAW watershed will be greatly increased.

Exploratory wells have been made well past the northern boundaries of the St Louis River Watershed, into the Rainy River Watershed, and on the boundary of the BWCAW. As a consequence, if the North Met project for a copper mine is granted, this will create the potential of a succession of mining pits and wells that move from the NE of Giants Ridge into the domain of the BWCA Wilderness. Consequently, the NorthMet Project prospect has the potential of affecting a larger area than the study proposes.

Elevated levels of arsenic can be found in the BWCAW along with brackish waters from exploratory wells. These details cannot be overlooked because it foretells the real possibility of pollution from Polymet’s mine pits traversing aquifers and connecting the St Louis Watershed to the Rainy River Watershed. The potential of surficial and bedrock connectivity from the mine site to this highly diverse geology of the BWCAW region through fluid and interconnected wilderness waterways, glacial moraine and diverse geology is relevant to the discussion.

 

Comment #12

Relying on probabilistic outcomes that narrow the view and minimize the prospect of pollution reaching downstream seems unrealistic. The potential of downstream contamination throughout the St Louis River Watershed should be given full consideration in any responsible environmental study concerning the prospect of a copper mine in this ecologically important area at the headwaters of the greatest body of freshwater on earth.

The St Louis River Watershed is composed of tilted bedrock planes that lean toward Lake Superior. Some of this can be seen in Jay Cook State Park, downstream from the prospect. The topography of the Laurentian Uplands and the swampy lowlands is diverse, including beds of wavy bedrock and washboard effects in areas like the Toimi Drumlin Field. The diversity of topography is as great as the diversity of flora and fauna. These areas are hardly flat.

Consider that the final drainage of the Laurentide Ice Sheet is said to have occurred around 8200 YBP and this caused sea levels to rise between 2.6 to 9.2 feet. Can the inevitable flow of local waters to the sea be discounted in a study that truly represents the risk of pollution from a copper mine?

Lake Superior is the product of glacial waters that flowed from the LIS and from glacial lakes that grew from the LIS melt. The St Louis River developed in the basin of Glacial Lake Upham. Relative to the age of this earth, the rivers in Minnesota are young, still cutting paths to the sea.

If downstream effects were given due merit, the facts would be clear that the entire Arrowhead of Minnesota would eventually suffer loss and damage from the operation of a copper mine in the Laurentian Uplands. No reassurance will carry the weight of facts before our eyes, the water we drink, and the air we breathe.

Please do not permit this land exchange to occur.
Sincerely,

December 19, 2015 REVISION

Anita Tillemans

 

 

Will we trade our water legacy for copper?

saganagaw_mn_side

https://anitatillemans.wordpress.com/2015/11/14/arrowhead-aquifers-and-the-hill-of-three-waters-2/

 

Please find contact information for Governor Dayton, to let him know your thoughts about the Polymet proposal for copper mining, at:

http://mn.gov/governor/contact-us/

Mining Truth has provided a link to comment to all three agencies and the EPA, as well, at:

http://www.miningtruth.org/

 

As we approach a decision on the Polymet Copper Mine …

Mn lake and loon

As Governor Dayton proposes funding for a study to determine Polymet’s finances at the present moment, I wonder how possible it would be to determine those finances into the distant future? Are there any reassurances possible that will predict this corporation’s ability or willingness to clean up the inevitable long term effects of copper mining pollution, into perpetuity? Shouldn’t we consider the already abundant information that promises otherwise?

Grateful that the Governor will be exploring other mines in other areas, I wonder,  is there any other area quite like that proposed in St Louis County on the borders of the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area?  Pollution from mining ore has already done harm in this ecologically fragile area, at the heart and head of three great rivers, and Lake Superior, along Giants Ridge and the Laurentian Divide, in the Arrowhead region of Minnesota.

Will we learn from our own experience and say no to any further degradation of an area so rich in natural beauty and a most essential commodity, water?

You will find several articles linked below concerning this area and the proposed copper mine::

http://www.mprnews.org/story/2015/06/29/polymet-dayton

http://www.kare11.com/story/news/politics/2015/10/24/tour-of-mines-precedes-daytons-tough-polymet-decision/74538374/

http://www.hibbingmn.com/news/local/dayton-all-in-on-polymet/article_04a57e9a-79f0-11e5-ab2d-4fb882a0a823.html

http://blogs.twincities.com/politics/2015/10/22/dayton-undecided-polymet-says-ultimate-decision-will/

https://anitatillemans.wordpress.com/?s=Arrowhead

Will we through our mining practices continue to degrade our most precious resource … water?

Loon on a lake in the Arrowhead

The following photos were taken in parts of northern Minnesota, some in the UP of Michigan, Colorado Rockies, Alberta, Canada, and on a beach of the Pacific ocean off the Olympic National Forest … all areas where protection of our environment has taken a back seat to lumbering, mining for ore, frack sand, and/or fracking and drilling for oil and gas.  These lands are threatened through practices that pollute and usually drain (mine) our aquifers of good drinking water.