The past week has presented a crazy wave of both good and bad news for Minnesota’s recent endangered rivers— the St. Louis River (listed in 2015) and the Boundary Waters (listed in 2013). Both of these river systems were included on our lists of America’s Most Endangered Rivers® due to the threat of sulfide-ore mining. This type of mining releases copper and nickel bound up in sulfide-bearing rock, and commonly results in acid mine drainage and increased levels of heavy metals and sulfates in downstream waters. Allowance of this type of mining in the St. Louis River and Boundary Waters regions of Minnesota will ruin wild places and contaminate water for people, fish and wildlife.
What’s happening with the St. Louis River?
Now we come to the bad news. On March 3, following the production of an Environmental Impact Statement, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) decided to allow PolyMet to move their mining project forward to the permitting stage. In response, our partners at Minnesota Environmental Partnership said, “We are extremely disappointed in the DNR’s determination that the PolyMet project is ready to move to the next stage. The PolyMet project proposal doesn’t protect our lakes, rivers, and streams. Minnesotans don’t accept polluting our Boundary Waters, Lake Superior, and other treasured waters. Minnesotans don’t believe that the international mining companies that own PolyMet will effectively keep their mining pollution from leaking into the St. Louis River, the largest tributary to Lake Superior, for the next 500-plus years that will be required.”
“No operation of this type has operated and closed without polluting nearby lakes, rivers, and streams. Furthermore, predictions in the final environmental impact statement are flawed, and based on bad data and incorrect assumptions, without real-world experience. Those inaccuracies are putting all Minnesotans at risk and threaten the environment and public health. This is a bargain-basement mining plan that relies on outdated technology and a flawed tailings basin. Sulfide mining in a water-rich environment like Minnesota is not worth the high-risk gamble.”
Is there better news for the Boundary Waters?
Fortunately, there is something positive to report on mining in the Boundary Waters. On March 6, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton sent a letter to the Chief Operating Officer of the Twin Metals mining project proposed in the Boundary Waters watershed. He noted, “I have grave concerns about the use of state surface lands for mining related activities in close proximity to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW)… I have an obligation to ensure it is not diminished in any way. Its uniqueness and fragility require that we exercise special care when we evaluate significant land use changes in the area, and I am unwilling to take risks with that Minnesota environmental icon.” The Governor noted that he has informed the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which is reviewing Twin Metals’ expired mineral leases on national forest lands adjacent to the Boundary Waters, of his opposition to the Twin Metals project. In addition, the Governor has, “directed the DNR not to authorize or enter into any new state access agreements or lease agreements for mining operations on those state lands.”
Where does that leave us?
With Governor Dayton’s statement of support for protecting the Boundary Waters, we celebrate a great victory for that endangered river. We are thankful that the Governor has listened to the public outcry for protecting this special place.
However, the Governor can do more to protect Minnesota’s rivers from harmful sulfide-ore mining. Clearly, the Governor acknowledges the risks inherent in this type of mining. The St. Louis River and its communities, tribes and wildlife deserve the same consideration and protection against sulfide-ore mining. If this project is allowed to proceed, there is no turning back.
Join us for the release of the 2016 report on America’s Most Endangered Rivers®, coming up on April 12!