ELY — A well-known self-described “612-er” pretty much issued a declaration of civil war in Ely over copper/nickel/precious metals mining on a cloudy and misty Saturday afternoon a week ago.
In combative remarks during an event to officially open the “Sustainable Ely” storefront in a house on the city’s main drag of Sheridan Street, former WCCO Twin Cities TV reporter/personality Don Shelby issued some marching orders directed against the proposed Twin Metals Minnesota nonferrous project near Ely and Babbitt.
Meanwhile, Twin Metals continues its work and involvement in the community, with one of its headquarters in Ely, while planning and setting the stage for a major project that will create more than 1,000 long-term jobs.
A group of more than 100 anti-sulfide mining supporters packed inside the house’s lower level were more than receptive to his comments, nodding in agreement and clapping in support. They embraced the hard-line message, many of them with stern facial expressions.
Shelby, who is also a board member of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, which is headquartered in St. Paul, told the faithful that they won’t have to just fight the mining companies over proposed nonferrous projects in the area.
“You might have to fight your friends and neighbors,” said Shelby, urging them to prepare for a major battle on the issue.
And he said the MCEA is solidly behind opponents of copper/nickel mining. “We are with you and will file suit and make them prove their case,” Shelby said.
No surprise there. MCEA and other more radical preservationist groups often use the courts to try to delay or block mining projects and expansions. It’s part of the routine.
But Shelby said the MCEA is different from some other groups. “Our bite is worse than our bark.”
Twin Metals Minnesota has about 32,000 acres of leased, permitted or owned property with three major mineral deposits — Maturi, Spruce Road and Birch Lake. Babbitt is roughly 10 miles to the west; Ely 15 miles to the northwest.
The company launched a prefeasibility study in October 2011 and is doing ongoing exploration of the site.
And the outcomes of the drilling are impressive, indeed. Late last year Toronto-based Duluth Metals Ltd., the parent company of Twin Metals Minnesota LLC, said its final estimates are an average of 19 percent higher than an interim estimate the company issued in June. It was called a “monster deposit,” with an estimated value of the metals at more than $100 billion.
“A project like ours takes seven to ten years to get through development, review and permitting. A project of our size with the obvious environmental sensitivities is probably on the longer end of that average,” said Bob McFarlin, Twin Metals’ vice president of public and government affairs.
But even though Twin Metals is three years or more away from a start-up projection of 2016, the company is still producing jobs. It has already invested more than $160 million into the project and hired more than 40 Minnesota-based employees at its offices in Ely, Babbitt and Minneapolis. In addition, 200 people are hired with consulting and contractor jobs.
And the long-term job outlook is much more robust:
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