At Ely’s annual Blueberry/Art Festival this weekend, the debate over copper-nickel mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) was nearly as visible as the food, music and crafts for sale.
Dueling booths run by supporters and opponents of Twin Metals Minnesota and the controversial underground mine it hopes to build dotted Whiteside Park on Friday as thousands of people streamed through the small town in northern Minnesota for the first day of the festival.
One of those tents was run by Up North Jobs, a pro-mining nonprofit that declared the weekend “Twin Metals Appreciation Days” in honor of the company’s continued investment in Ely. Just across the park was Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness and the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, which warned fairgoers of the risk that copper-nickel mining could be to the BWCA.
Twin Metals is preparing to submit a mine plan to state and federal regulators in the coming months and hopes to win over public support for its project. The company promises it can mine without polluting the BWCA and its watershed while creating 700 direct jobs and another 1,400 spinoff jobs.
Unlike the iron ore mining that has dominated the region, however, copper-nickel mining can create acid and leach heavy metals into nearby waters.