Mining near the BWCA is about more than jobs

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 10, 2012 - 2:53 AM

A former legislator now living on the North Shore argues for the environment.

Frank Moe is among those leading the drive against mining near “Minnesotans’ crown jewels.”

At the Capitol on Thursday, while some legislators wrangled with the prospect of silver carp leaping into Minnesotans' boats and other legislators worried about who should be allowed to vote and who shouldn't, one of their former colleagues was on the mall not far away, petting a dog.

Compared to current crises over ways to battle aquatic invasive species and whether to place a voter ID constitutional amendment on the ballot, Frank Moe's issue gained little attention on this sunny March day. But it will.

Moe, 46, had arrived in the Twin Cities a day earlier by dog sled, having left Grand Marais on March 1 carrying petitions signed by northeast Minnesotans who oppose nonferrous mining adjacent to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

"The BWCA, Lake Superior, the lakes and rivers of the northeast, these are Minnesotans' crown jewels,'' Moe was saying. "The mining industry says this is about jobs. But about 30,000 of us in the northeast depend on clean water for our livings, and we have to protect it.''

Not easily overcome

Whether Moe's argument carries the day over precious-metals mining in the northeast is unknown. What is known is that big money is at stake. Also, lots of jobs. And living wages.

Typically, such a trifecta proves a juggernaut not easily overcome by environmentalists or by politicians. This is particularly true in times of economic downturns, with the middle class in Minnesota and elsewhere losing ground, financially, for some years.

Yet in Moe, the wilderness friendlies who worry that mining in the northeast inevitably will taint the Boundary Waters -- literally and figuratively -- have a formidable leader.

In just four years in the Legislature, he became assistant DFL House majority leader while gaining a reputation as a straight shooter. Bright and articulate, he's also warm to a camera. Had he stuck around St. Paul, he could have become a big wheel at the Capitol.

Instead, Moe bailed, moving, in time, from his rural Bemidji home to the North Shore, where he and his wife keep a sled dog kennel and where he races sled dogs while also guiding rock climbers, among other outdoors enthusiasts.

For its part, the mining industry says it can safely extract copper and other metals from rich veins lying deep underground not far from the Boundary Waters. New technology, the industry says, will ensure the minerals are taken without threat to the environment while providing as many as 5,000 jobs paying an average of more than $70,000 a year.

Correct -- or not?

"Maybe it can be done,'' Moe said. "But their track record worldwide is very clear. They haven't done it yet. So why would we risk it?''

While Moe spoke, he sat just outside Gov. Mark Dayton's office, where only minutes before he had met briefly with the state's chief executive. Call it professional courtesy or respect for Moe's past work in the Legislature, but the governor gave him a few minutes that his schedulers said he didn't have.

"He said he's worried about jobs,'' Moe said.

The most to lose

Which is the issue's conundrum, because no one living in the northeast wants their back yard wrecked -- not the greenest of greens or the reddest of rednecks.

In fact, those who live on the Iron Range, and in the country up through the Arrowhead, use its lakes, rivers and woods more than anyone and would have the most to lose, economically and recreationally, if the mining bigwigs blow it.

But it's also true that the state exacts a high price from those who elect to live outside the giant ATM that is the metropolitan area. Jobs don't pay as well as those in the Twin Cities. Schools sometimes aren't as good. And cultural amenities are fewer. It's understandable, then, that the prospect of a day's hard work for a day's good pay is alluring.

"Citizens can be assured that our project ... will face rigorous, thorough and lengthy environmental review by multiple state and federal agencies,'' said Bob McFarlin of Twin Metals Minnesota.

Frank Moe understands the part about government overseeing the mining industry. But for four years, he was the government. So he knows something about how it operates.

Which is why he drove a team of dogs 360 miles over the past week to protest what he sees as a looming threat to northeast Minnesota.

Dennis Anderson •

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


New England 2/1/15 5:30 PM
Portland 0 Postponed
Brooklyn 0
Sacramento 0 Postponed
New York 0
Philadelphia 74 FINAL
New Orleans 99
Minnesota 84 FINAL
Oklahoma City 92
Orlando 94 FINAL
Memphis 103
Boston 99 FINAL
Utah 90
Denver 98 FINAL
LA Clippers 102
Army 68 FINAL
American Univ 66
Wright State 64 FINAL
Detroit 53
Syracuse 83 FINAL
North Carolina 93
Cleveland State 56 FINAL
Oakland 59
Delaware State 54 FINAL
NC Central 55
High Point 63 FINAL
Presbyterian 54
Howard 45 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 42
Coppin State 84 FINAL
NC A&T 71
Nicholls 51 FINAL
Northwestern St 80
Hampton 56 FINAL
SC State 65
Gardner-Webb 59 FINAL
Campbell 78
MD-Eastern Shore 72 FINAL
Florida A&M 65
Stephen F Austin 82 FINAL
Lamar 65
Central Arkansas 67 FINAL
New Orleans 87
Norfolk State 70 FINAL
Savannah State 54
SE Louisiana 61
Sam Houston St 80 FINAL
Abilene Christian 63
McNeese State 84 FINAL
Incarnate Word 86
Milwaukee 48 FINAL
Valparaiso 73
Alcorn State 66 FINAL
Alabama A&M 78
Southern U 59 FINAL
Alabama State 63
Prairie View 68 FINAL
Ark-Pine Bluff 105
Texas 86 FINAL
Iowa State 89
Texas Southern 85 FINAL
Miss Valley St 84
Long Island 85 FINAL
Bryant 88
Central Conn St 51 FINAL
St Francis-NY 49
Fairleigh Dickinson 0 Postponed
Sacred Heart 0
St Francis-PA 87 FINAL
Wagner 74
Delaware State 59 FINAL
NC Central 66
Howard 53 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 61
Coppin State 49 FINAL
NC A&T 67
Hampton 88 FINAL
SC State 53
Norfolk State 54 FINAL
Savannah State 56
MD-Eastern Shore 54 FINAL
Florida A&M 64
Angelo State 55 FINAL
Abilene Christian 70
Samford 32 FINAL
(25) Chattanooga 49
Prairie View 83 FINAL
Ark-Pine Bluff 66
Alcorn State 58 FINAL
Alabama A&M 55
Southern U 53 FINAL
Alabama State 49
Texas Southern 63 FINAL
Miss Valley St 52
(12) Texas A&M 61 FINAL
(1) South Carolina 79
Robert Morris 68 FINAL
Mount St Marys 44
East Tenn St 72 FINAL
Mercer 70
Wofford 56 FINAL
Furman 58
Morehead St 64 FINAL
Tenn Tech 54
Illinois 57 FINAL
Michigan 70
Quinnipiac 0 Postponed
Manhattan 0
Saint Peters 0 Postponed
Rider 0
(18) Miss State 59 FINAL
Auburn 48
(15) Nebraska 72 FINAL
(20) Iowa 78


question of the day

Poll: How optimistic are you about the 2015 Twins?

Weekly Question





Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters