Minnesota is known as the land of ten thousand lakes. The Northeastern part of the state contains the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, the Superior National Forest, and Voyageurs National Park– pristine areas with extremely high quality waters hydrologically interconnected in an expansive web of streams, rivers, wetlands, and aquifers. It is this interconnectedness, that makes the series of open pit mines proposed for the region especially dangerous for the ecosystem.
Mining company PolyMet seeks permission to build an open pit copper and nickel mine on National Forest lands near Babbit and Hoyt lakes in Minnesota. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recently released their Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement revealing destruction of 1,741 acres of high quality ecosystems that provide habitat for Canada lynx, wolves, and moose, 912 acres of wetlands, and another 7,413 acres of indirect impacts from dewatering if this mine is constructed.
PolyMet Mining Company is the first of many potential copper/nickel sulfide mines permits in this region Minnesota. The Twin Metals projects threaten the Boundary Canoe Area Wilderness just up river from the proposed PolyMet site. More than a dozen mining companies have stakes in Minnesota’s Iron Range.
Acid Mine Drainage
The real threat to these areas comes from dangers posed by acid mine drainage. When these ores get exposed to oxygen, the resulting mix generates sulfuric acid that leaches in to rocks releasing toxic heavy metals in to the rivers, lakes and streams. The mesh of different water bodies above and below ground makes it nearly impossible to predict the path a drop of water will travel as it winds its way through the countless corridors of waterways.
500 years of costs for 20 years of mining
PolyMet’s own study says that the water from the mine site would need at least 500 years of treatment. That is more than twice the age of our nation; it’s longer than the existence of our modern financial system; and much longer than the incorporation of any individual mining company. The problem of perpetual water treatment shackles communities and the environment with a financial burden impossible for taxpayers to bear.
Open pit mining is the wrong choice for the environment and economy of Minnesota. The economic value of this region does not stem from the minerals underground. Dogsledding, canoeing, camping, and other outdoor recreation statewide generates $11.6 billion in annual sales and $815 million in state and local tax revenue. Sustainable and renewable industries like these provide a better option for economic growth than the boom and bust economic cycles of mineral extraction.