Welcome to the BWCAW blog of Ely Outfitting Company and Boundary Waters Guide Service!

See our websites at ElyOutfittingCompany.com and BoundaryWatersGuideService.com.

We are a Boundary Waters canoe trip outfitter, Quetico outfitter, and guide service in Ely, Minnesota. This Boundary Waters blog shares photos, stories, humor, skills, and naturalist insights from guiding in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW).

Most entries are from our founder and head guide, Jason Zabokrtsky. He is the Boundary Waters Blogger.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Act Now to Prevent Sulfide Mining From Harming Northeast Minnesota

Precious Waters: Minnesota's Sulfide Mining Controversy from Precious Waters on Vimeo.

The Ely area has a long history of iron mining. It is a prized part of our past. Beginning in the late 1800's, immigrants arrived from afar in search of a better life for their families. Many of these immigrants found mining jobs, or jobs supported by the mining economy. The last names of local residents reflect the eastern-European heritage of many immigrant miners, and the prevalence of last names beginning with the letter Z followed by a lot of consonants makes a Zabokrtsky like myself feel right at home. The Pioneer Mine, the last of eleven Ely mines, closed in 1967.

The closing of the mines devastated the local economy. By the early 1980s people were selling Ely area houses for only a few thousand dollars, if they could sell them at all. But, Ely began to grow again from another natural resource - the unique boreal forest, pristine waters, and unbridled beauty of Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Today, a potential new era of mining is upon us. But it doesn't have to do with iron. And it's nothing at all like the traditional iron mines. Instead, these potential new mines are the first of their kind in Minnesota. They are sulfide mines and they present potentially serious and insidious environmental risks that could irreparably harm the pristine waters that make Northeast Minnesota and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness a national treasure. And could impair the tourism economy that keeps Ely going.

These hazardous sulfide mines are basically outlawed in neighboring Wisconsin for their harmful environmental effects.

Sulfide mining exposes sulfur-bearing rock and soil to air and water. This creates large amounts of sulfuric acid. This then causes heavy metal and sulfuric acid pollution of the surrounding watershed: aquifers, streams, rivers, and lakes big and small. This type of pollution can kill virtually all life in formerly pure waters that had teamed with our state fish (the walleye), smallmouth bass, northern pike, and an assortment of other species. Or it can make these fish hazardous to eat.

These sulfide mines present a serious risk to the health of our waters and our way of life. Our Ely economy depends on clean waters and a healthy environment. The Superior National Forest estimates that it generates $223 million for the region annually. If we protect our pristine waters, we will continue to benefit from this beautiful natural area, and small guide services and outfitters like mine will continue to prosper as we share this precious resource with guests from around the world. To trade this life for a couple decades of mining profits in the pockets of a few large corporations (most of whom are not even based in the United States), followed by perpetual pollution and costly cleanup at taxpayer expense, is not a wise choice.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is currently accepting comments on whether the first-ever sulfide mine in Minnesota should be allowed. This process relates to the Polymet Sulfide Mine that is not in the BWCAW watershed, but is in Northeast Minnesota. And it may set a precedent for similar mines immediately outside the BWCAW, in the Boundary Waters watershed, and expected to go through similar permitting processes. The public comment period ends on February 3, and all Minnesotans who care about this issue should consider commenting.

If you care about preserving clean water and the Boundary Waters, you should watch the above video, and go to www.preciouswaters.org. The Friends of the Boundary Waters organization has tirelessly worked to garner these resources and facts to inform people on this important issue.

Many guides like myself still drink straight from the lakes here. That's a shock to visitors. I want to keep shocking them with the realization that our precious waters are that pristine. The risk of acid mine drainage from sulfide mines isn't worth the trade-off.

1 comment:

Andy said...

Well-spoken. The PolyMet operation alone represents so much risk to one of America's last true wildernesses.