The ongoing debate over opening a new copper-nickel mine within the watershed of the state's beloved Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) is an impassioned one.
Supporters of the Chilean-owned Twin Metals Minnesota underground project contend it would provide jobs with good pay and that new technology can mitigate pollution risk. Opponents of mining at this location, including the Star Tribune Editorial Board, point to the industry's abysmal environmental track record and argue that the fragile wilderness' watershed is a location where we must reject risk, not try to manage it.
It is important for Minnesotans of all perspectives to make their voices heard as federal and state regulators consider whether a copper mine can operate safely so close to the BWCA. The 20,000-ton-per-day mine would be located on a site hugging the shoreline of a lake that drains into the watery wilderness.
One window for public comment is closing soon — Dec. 8. Another deadline looms in mid-January. This is the time for those with informed opinions to weigh in. Citizens can share input online or by pen and paper, via the U.S. Postal Service.
The upcoming Wednesday deadline is especially important for concerned Minnesotans. That is the last day the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will accept public input for a court-ordered review of a the state's nonferrous mine siting rule. Nonferrous just means operations that extract something other than iron ore. While the state is long acquainted with iron ore mining, copper-nickel mining is new here and involves different processes and risks.
The DNR is seeking public comment on whether the existing rule adequately protects the BWCA from "pollution, impairment or destruction from potential mining within the Rainy River Headwaters watershed."
Comments can be submitted online at bit.ly/3lsofaw. Correspondence can also be sent to the DNR at 500 Lafayette Road N, Box 45, St. Paul, MN 55155-4045. The agency asks commenters to add a note in the address along these lines: "Attention: Nonferrous Mine Siting Rule."
Federal regulators are also seeking citizen input on mining within the BWCA watershed, with the 90-day comment period ending in mid-January. In October, President Joe Biden's administration announced it is restarting a study and initiating a process — one that was dubiously halted under former President Donald Trump — that could result in a 20-year mining moratorium on 225,387 acres of federal forest land near the BWCA.
The analysis will cover scientific and economic considerations of doing so. Citizen input also provides crucial perspective. The BWCA is the nation's most visited federal wilderness, and those who treasure it can make their voices heard. It's a chance for mining proponents to make their case, as well.
The federal deadline is Jan. 19. Comments can be e-mailed to BLM_ES_Lands@blm.gov; federal officials recommend putting "Superior National Forest Withdrawal Application" in the subject line. Letters can also be sent to: F. David Radford, Deputy State Director of Geospatial Services, BLM Eastern States Office, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041. It's important here as well to state that this regards the Superior National Forest withdrawal application.
Looming decisions on the BWCA's future must be made with care and thought. Substantive public comment has an integral role to play in this process.