New center in Ely will fight copper mining – by John Myers (Duluth News Tribune – April 21, 2013)

http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/

Just down the road from the offices of the Twin Metals copper mining company, a group of Ely business people are about to open a new “action center” on the city’s main street aimed at persuading those who drop in to take action against copper mining.

Just down the road from the offices of the Twin Metals copper mining company, a group of Ely business people are about to open a new “action center” on the city’s main street aimed at persuading those who drop in to take action against copper mining.

A fundraiser last week for the new “Sustainable Ely” center drew 65 people, mostly area residents and business people who say that the risk of environmental damage caused by copper mining in the Boundary Waters watershed isn’t worth the promised jobs and economic boost.

“We’ve got a good start. We raised $4,500 already for this grass-roots effort,” said Steve Piragis, an Ely canoe outfitter who’s helping organize the effort. “This is an idea we’ve had for a couple years. Now we have the energy and the building to do it.”

The new center underscores the chasm in Ely and across the Northland between residents who support copper mining jobs coming to town and those who want to keep the new kind of mining out of northern Minnesota.

Piragis said he expects some people will criticize the center and that it’s bound to deepen hard feelings in his community. But he said protecting the region’s pristine water is critical for its tourism-based economy, including his businesses.

“I suspect we’ll take some heat for this. It’s a risk for me and my businesses in this town,” Piragis said. “We’re basically stepping up and taking a stand and saying we don’t think this kind of mining is going to work here. That it’s going to be very hard to have this kind of mining and still avoid polluting the Boundary Waters watershed.”

Bob McFarlin, vice president of public and government affairs for Twin Metals Minnesota, said the mining opponent’s effort is an extension of efforts already underway by environmental groups.

“It’s entirely legitimate for a group of citizens to express their views. … What will be telling is the quality of the information they use,” McFarlin said. “Hopefully, their effort will contribute to the factual discussion on the issue.”

The new center will be located in the former Bare Bones Studio at the top of Sheridan Street next to the Ely Steakhouse. Piragis bought the old house and is renting it to the nonprofit Northeastern Minnesota for Wilderness.

Sustainable Ely is expected to open about May 24, just in time for the summer influx of area cabin owners, anglers and canoe campers headed to the nearby Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. They’ve hired Jerritt Johnston, formerly of the International Wolf Center, to develop the displays and run the center they expect to be staffed by college interns and dozens of volunteers.

“We’re hoping to get 25,000 people through the center this summer, and we hope to convince two-thirds of them to take action, to send an e-mail to Congress and the president asking them to make this waterway a no-mining zone,” Piragis told the News Tribune.

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