500 years is a very long time


Martin Luther and the Lightning

Martin Luther, founder of the protestant reformation, became a priest because he felt he owed it to God after nearly being struck by lightning in 1502.

The PolyMet EIS was released today.

MPR noticed the thing I noticed, which is the large estimated cost of mitigating the proposed northern Minnesota mine into the future. They also noticed another number: 500 years. That’s how long some form of mitigation would be required on the mine site, even after the end of mining there.

It’s hard to imagine 500 years into the present, so let’s look back 500 years into the past:

  • Slavery was legal all over the world.
  • Women had no rights almost anywhere.
  • Nearly half of all children failed to reach adulthood.
  • Henry VIII was King of England.
  • The pocket handkerchief was invented.
  • Michelangelo began work on the statue David. (BONUS: He probably released sulfides by cutting rock) A few years later he would be commissioned to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
  • A young Martin Luther vowed to become a monk after nearly being struck by lightning. (BONUS: His father owned a copper mine).
  • Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon landed on the coast of Florida in search of the mythical Fountain of Youth.
  • In China, the hot new thing was a little dynasty called the Ming.
  • Christopher Columbus returned to Europe from his fourth expedition to the “New World.”
  • Northern Minnesota was Dakota Country. The Ojibwe people still lived further east, neither group having yet encountered Europeans.

I’m sure all of these people were capable of making promises about what the next 500 years would bring, too. I think it’s reasonable to assume, however, that certain things did not go as planned.

All this being said, all mining regions must mitigate the costs of mining forever, anyway. Here in northern Minnesota we’re already in the soup. Nothing people can do changes a landscape more than mining. The pits and dumps of the Range are more likely to outlast the architecture. The sad thing is, the main reason for that is that the pits and mines make people afraid to build things that last 500 years.


  1. It is interesting that PolyMet even bothered to mention 500 years, since corporations do not plan beyond 10 year. It is like the use of “thousands” in ancient writings. It creates a number beyond count, one that is beyond comprehension.
    So if PolyMet is still around 100 years from now, which is not likely, why would they bother with continued remediation when the fine would be less than the cost of clean-up?
    And what happens when PolyMet no longer exists?
    (I also hope the sulfide comment about Michelangelo was tongue-in-cheek, marble does not contain sulfides.)

  2. Ha! See, this is why it’s a bad idea to let me have a little bit of knowledge. I had no idea whether marble had sulfides or not — it seemed like a funny, available joke. The kind of thing my friend Tommy Rukavina would say.

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