Tepid St. Louis County mining resolution reflects need for new perspective

Another St. Louis County board meeting has led to a new blip in the debate over nonferrous mineral mining in northeastern Minnesota. The county board voted 4-3 Tuesday to back a rather tame nonferrous mineral mining resolution, according to a story in today’s Duluth News Tribune.

Five hours of testimony and deliberation produced the following resolution:

“Be it resolved that the St. Louis County Board declares its support for the existing open, transparent and comprehensive environmental review and permitting process in place for various non-ferrous mining initiatives currently planned for development in St. Louis County, Minnesota, and supports the success of these projects, contingent upon the approval of all federal and state environmental permits necessary for these projects to move forward.”

So, in addition to the St. Louis County board having no jurisdiction over this portion of the debate, they pass a resolution that endorses the processes already underway, mandated by existing law.

This time several area chambers of commerce and the mining companies bussed in more people to counter mining opponents who stacked dominated the last meeting in Duluth. The whole group, about 100 people with 40 more waiting outside, packed into the tiny Morse Town Hall. It was the biggest thing to hit Morse since its now defunct Code.

I had to roll my eyes a bit at the resolution’s passive wording, but I will say that this resolution seems to me a fair reflection of what most people who live on the Iron Range believe about the issue. In essence, “That sounds great, as long as you don’t screw up the Boundary Waters.”

Now, the question is can we ever really know about the environmental impact before the fact? Secondly, is there any concession that could be made by mining companies that project opponents would accept?

I think this leads us to a more worthwhile endeavor. Let’s address the following:

Mining opponents: Demonstrate real economic opportunity outside mining, including the prospect of actual jobs within five years. Reconcile your opposition with the current demand for minerals used in modern construction and electronics. Establish measurable parameters within which your grievances could be addressed.

Mining supporters: Demonstrate your commitment to environmental safeguards by negotiating a permanent, binding fund to mitigate unforeseen environmental problems. If all goes as promised you’ll never need to spend it. Be clear with local communities about how much hiring you’ll do and where the hires will come from. Commit to financial support of local communities and schools. Demonstrate your financing and your ability to keep these mines open beyond the inevitable temporary downturns in the commodities markets.

Some of these “tasks” are underway; some are discussed, but not delivered; some are damn near (but not!) impossible. Both sides are reluctant to complete these lists because both involve very difficult and/or unprofitable and/or innovative solutions. But if you want to mine new minerals responsibly in northern Minnesota (or not) we’ve got to have an economy that supports the thousands of people who don’t have time for meetings like the one yesterday, and especially their kids.

I would resolve that both sides fail to win the argument as it now stands.

UPDATE: After an online discussion I’ve revised one word in the original post. Instead of saying that mining opponents “stacked” the county board meeting in Duluth a couple weeks ago I now say they “dominanted” it. At that meeting more mining opponents spoke than supporters. At this meeting in Morse mining supporters did provide bussing to supporters throughout the region to attend and testify in favor of the mining resolution. “Stacked” is a loaded word and I’ve thuse decided to remove it from the post and let people make their own assessment of the situation.


  1. Just wondering, how is your “binding fund to mitigate unforeseen environmental problems” different from the reclamation bond already required by Minnesota law?

  2. My understanding is that opponents consider the amount to be insufficient and, unless I am mistaken, there is some concern about the transferrability of the responsibility. I simply took concerns I’ve heard at meetings and applied them to the “other side” of the debate.

  3. Thanks for the clarification. I appreciate that at least someone is trying to understand both sides of the story. I think both sides could learn a little something from your column and blog.

  4. Answer these questions:

    1: Show one truly reclaimed sulfide mine without problems and didn’t cost the taxpayers money.
    2: Show one community that has actually successfully survived mine closure; and then tell me where this community will be in 20 years when it closes. And show me where the numbers of promised jobs actually meet the promises. Show me one case where all social dysfunction measurements did not go up. My point is this: you are saying we can solve the community’s problem by repeating the same action that caused the community’s problem. It is a community built at the end of the road to extract a single resource; when the resource was no longer deemed profitable, it was abandoned. I fully empathize with the citizens and I am sick of watching our communities get destroyed and seeing lives wasted in addiction and hopelessness. But relying on foreign investors whose track record is nothing but destruction is walking back into an abusive relationship. We can’t continue to subsidize profits and communities never meant to last, I remind you, with more environmental and human destruction. Being a person originally from here and having left, it is obvious you are suffering, like many here do, from the boiling frog parable. You simply don’t know the world can be any other way because you need to keep justifying remaining here no matter what the cost. For once, just look at an aerial photo and water transfer permits and see what has been done. These aren’t the only communities in the world and they will not last forever.

  5. 1 – I can’t. If there was one, we’d have been told about it already. 2 – As you imply, mining towns always end up the same way. That’s why I preach economic diversification. Whether the closures happen in five years or 100, they will come. We will be judged on how well we’ve prepared and, I think you’d agree, we’ve done poorly for the most part.

    I view 99 percent of the energy expended on this debate as wasted. I have my doubts the companies will get the permits without some concessions, the concessions will prevent them from getting money. If the stars align for these companies and they get their permits and financing in a burst of political and popular support, I still doubt their figures on how long they’d be able to operate.

    So I don’t disagree with much of what you say, other than with the fact that these kinds of mines do have to operate somewhere. It also seems unlikely that the pro-mining sentiments of the region would ever loosen without a measurable event of some kind. I continue to believe that the best way to avoid environmental degridation is through economic diversification, an influx of new residents not tied to mining. It’s all about the numbers. It’s all about demographics. The task is monumental.

  6. The task is monumental because the level of denial is monumental.

    You ask for an event or a sign from God that will show people what to do or to define for them what is right or wrong…when you have already had it and have seen it demonstrated around the world in other mining communities.

    Do you need a Saint struck down by lightning before you see the light…would it have to me you, or would you accept a neighbor to have been this Saint?

    Oddly enough…sadly enough…it is right there for you all to see, but without the burning bush or bleeding rock with Jesus’ visage, no one will accept it.

    Still, all I’ve asked in my comments is that people insist upon local ownership so the value of the resource is not lost to some Swiss bank account. And that alone is deemed as being anti-mining, radical, crazy talk…doesn’t that tell you something?

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.