A North Shore town banned the sale of certain beers at its municipal liquor store after nearly 70 companies took a stand against the PolyMet mining project.

The Silver Bay City Council voted 3-2 last week to stop selling craft beer from Duluth-based Bent Paddle Brewing Co. at its publicly owned store.

Privately owned liquor stores around the Iron Range have decided not to sell Bent Paddle products, but the Silver Bay store is the first municipal store to ban the brew.

Bent Paddle came out against the proposed copper-nickel mine along with others in a group called the Downstream Business Coalition over concerns about the project’s potential impact on the state’s natural resources and communities.

About 70 businesses are listed as members on the coalition’s website.

The move to stop selling the beer started with a strongly worded letter from a city resident condemning Bent Paddle for not supporting mine workers, said Scott Johnson, Silver Bay mayor.

Dissent on council

The city’s Liquor Commission recommended against the decision, but some City Council members said they feared that locals who work in the nearby taconite facility would boycott the store.

Johnson voted against the ban, saying he didn’t think it was the city’s place to determine whether the products could be sold in the store.

“My main thing was that it hurts the income for a lot of things we fund” with store revenue, he said, citing the town’s Parks and Recreation Department and programs that benefit local children.

Laura Mullen, co-founder of Bent Paddle, said that her company didn’t understand why Bent Paddle had become a “lightning rod” for groups in favor of the mine and that company representatives are hoping to visit the Silver Bay council once they have compiled information later this week.

Anti-mine stance

The brewery’s stance has been cheered by environmentally minded beer drinkers in other parts of the state, Mullen said.

She added that her company is not against mining, but believes that the location of the mine — combined with pollution created by copper-nickel mining techniques — could hurt Lake Superior, a resource the company needs to continue operations.

“It’s 10 percent of the world’s fresh water and it’s clean and pure, and to put any polluters near it is a really bad idea,” she said.

The state’s environmental-impact study for the $650 million PolyMet mine was found to be “adequate” in early March by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Other stores along the North Shore said they still carry Bent Paddle beer.

Rick Anderson, owner of Temperance Liquor in Schroeder, said that the beer is not a favorite among the locals but that it is more popular among tourists.

“If we didn’t carry it, we’d only be hurting the tourists in the area,” he said, adding that tourist sales make up about 70 percent of his business.

Other Downstream Business Coalition members, including Vikre Distillery, Thirsty Pagan Brewing and Fitger’s Brewhouse, have been criticized for opposing the proposed mine. Vikre Distillery products are still sold at the Silver Bay store.

 

Ben Farniok is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.