Ely business owners prepare anti-mining center

  • Associated Press
  • April 21, 2013 - 6:56 PM

ELY, Minn. - A group of Ely business owners is preparing to open an "action center" on the city's main street to stir up opposition to copper-nickel mining, saying risk of environmental damage to the pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area isn't worth the promised jobs and economic boost to the region.

A fundraiser drew 65 people last week for the new "Sustainable Ely" center, which is expected to open about May 24, just in time for the summer influx of cabin owners, anglers and canoe campers headed to the Boundary Waters.

"We've got a good start. We raised $4,500 already for this grass-roots effort," said canoe outfitter Steve Piragis.

The new center underscores the chasm in Ely and across the region between residents eager for mining jobs to come to town and those who want to keep the new kind of mining out of northern Minnesota, the Duluth News Tribune reported Sunday ( It's just down the road from the offices of Twin Metals, which is making plans for a $3 billion copper-nickel-precious metals mine southeast of Ely that would be one of the world's largest.

The concern is that the copper-bearing rock contains sulfides that, when exposed to air and water, will leach acidic runoff and other pollutants into nearby waters.

"We're hoping to get 25,000 people through the center this summer, and we hope to convince two-thirds of them to take action, to send an email to Congress and the president asking them to make this waterway a no-mining zone," Piragis said. Visitors will also be asked to sign a canoe as a petition that will be "portaged up the step of Congress."

Twin Metals vows to protect the BWCA and abide by all environmental regulations. Bob McFarlin vice president of public and government affairs for Twin Metals, said he's not worried about losing support as a result of the new center.

"It's entirely legitimate for a group of citizens to express their views. . What will be telling is the quality of the information they use," McFarlin said. "Hopefully, their effort will contribute to the factual discussion on the issue."

Piragis acknowledged the center is bound to deepen local divisions. But he said protecting the water is critical for the region's tourism economy, including his businesses.

"I suspect we'll take some heat for this. It's a risk for me and my businesses in this town," Piragis said. "We're basically stepping up and taking a stand and saying we don't think this kind of mining is going to work here, that it's going to be very hard to have this kind of mining and still avoid polluting the Boundary Waters watershed."


Information from: Duluth News Tribune,

© 2018 Star Tribune