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.