Debate over copper mining near Boundary Waters heats up again – by Dan Kraker (Minnesota Public Radio News – February 2, 2017)

More than 50 protesters rallied outside the Duluth office of U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan Thursday, condemning the Democratic congressman’s letter earlier this week calling on the Trump administration to overturn a decision that called for a potential 20-year ban on mining on national forest land within the watershed of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

If the administration follows through on Nolan’s request, it could rekindle the efforts of Twin Metals Minnesota to develop a massive underground copper-nickel mine near Ely and the southern edge of the Boundary Waters.

The project offers the tantalizing prospect of hundreds of good-paying jobs in a region of the state hard hit by a downturn in the iron mining industry recently. But opponents argue potential water pollution, and the creation of a mining district in the national forest, threatens Ely’s tourism-based economy.

“Copper kills jobs,” Steve Piragis, owner of Piragis Northwoods Company in Ely, told the crowd in Duluth. “In Ely, we have hundreds of people who are employed in the business of fresh water, clean water, that brings people to us.”

In December, the Department of the Interior under former President Obama put a two-year timeout on mineral development over 234,000 acres of Superior National Forest land that lies within the watershed of the Boundary Waters.

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