With the waves of Lake Superior crashing behind them, a coalition of Minnesota musicians will take the stage at Duluth’s Bayfront on Friday at a concert to rally support for an effort to block mining near another of the state’s beloved natural features.
The Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters is hosting its first Wild Waters Music Fest, a single-day concert trying to raise awareness of environmental concerns related to a proposed mine at the edge of the protected wilderness area in northeastern Minnesota.
“Our overall goal is to preserve the Boundary Waters, protect it from the threat of a sulfide-ore copper mine,” said Tom Landwehr, executive director of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. “The way that we are achieving that is by letting Minnesotans know about this threat.”
The concert will feature local music stars, including Atmosphere, Doomtree, Cloud Cult, Low and Jeremy Messersmith. It’s the latest tactic being deployed by the nonprofit group in its yearslong crusade against the Twin Metals project, a planned copper-nickel mine about nine miles southeast of Ely.
The Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters renewed its vigor this year after the Trump administration renewed two federal mineral leases held by Twin Metals, a St. Paul-based subsidiary of Chilean mining conglomerate Antofagasta. The move reversed a 2016 decision by the Obama administration to terminate the leases, partly on the basis that copper mining posed too many environmental risks to the Boundary Waters.
Along with PolyMet’s NorthMet project — a second planned copper-nickel mine on the Iron Range — Twin Metals has made mining a high-profile point of controversy in Minnesota. Supporters of mineral mining say the jobs the projects will create will be an economic boon to the state. Twin Metals last month moved to mollify some environmental concerns by announcing it will store processed waste using greener “dry stack” technology, rather than a kind of dam that is common in the industry but has a troubled record of leaks and failures
“The simple fact is, we need the kinds of minerals that are in northeast Minnesota, and they will be mined — either in a place like Minnesota that respects worker and environmental safety, or in a place that does not,” Kathy Graul, a spokesperson for Twin Metals Minnesota, said in an e-mail. “Anybody who takes a selfie on their smartphone at the Wild Waters Music Fest or drives there in a car is a user of copper, nickel and a host of other minerals that Twin Metals Minnesota is proposing to mine.”
Environmentalists, however, contend mining could do irreparable damage to the Boundary Waters and continue to push back against the proposed mine as the Twin Metals project slowly makes its way through the permitting process. Local groups have filed suits asking a federal judge to block the mineral leases approved by the Trump administration.
But the litigation process “moves painfully slow,” Landwehr said. That’s why his campaign is trying something new to drum up support.
“Whether we make money is a secondary concern, although this is a potential fundraiser for us,” he said. “Just getting the word out to this bunch of people is going to be worth the effort.”
Nine acts will play at the Bayfront Festival Park starting at 4:30 p.m. More information can be found at savetheboundarywaters.org/wildwaters. Twin Cities hip-hop artists Dem Atlas, the Lioness and DJ Keezy are also on the bill, as is the Native American rock band War Bonnet from the Ojibwe reservation near the Boundary Waters.
“This is just maybe the most purely Minnesotan music festival that I’ve ever played,” said Jeremy Messersmith. The Minneapolis folk-pop singer/songwriter said he has visited Burntside Lake, which abuts the Boundary Waters, each summer for the past five or six years.
“It’s a special place,” he said. “It just seems like it’s a shame to risk potentially spoiling that for a mine on the edge of it.”