DULUTH — With the federal government weighing a 20-year moratorium on mining activity in the Superior National Forest, Minnesotans took to the microphone for their side of the issue, essentially turning Thursday’s U.S. Forest Service hearing into copper-nickel’s most public trial.
Hundreds of people crowded into Symphony Hall at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center wearing their side on their sleeve. Mining’s supporters donned “We Support Mining” blue baseball hats and buttons, countered by T-shirts and stickers saying “We love the BWCA.” Thursday’s hearing was the culmination of the often tense, always at odds debate over copper-nickel mining at the edge the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness near Ely.
“There is a big crowd, and that tells me a lot of people find this important,” said Connie Cummins, supervisors of Superior National Forest, addressing the crowd before the hearing.
Speakers were drawn at random for three-minute opinions to the Forest Service moderators, many opting to defer their time to others with prepared comments. What resulted from the comments was a rhetorical argument of clean water versus jobs, though mining supporters made their stance clear that both were possible.
The public hearing was initiated through a Dec. 15 action by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to propose withdrawing more than 234,000 acres of federal land in Superior National Forest from mining activity for 20 years.
St. Louis County Commissioners Keith Nelson and Pete Stauber both spoke in opposition of the withdrawal on Thursday. Stauber, from Hermantown, said mining powers the region and is done safely because “we care about our environment in our backyard.”
Nelson, of Fayal Township, lamented the process which he said excluded local officials and government from giving the Forest Service input. He said his office and other locals were ignored during the process, which could impact how the county meets unfunded federal mandates as mining royalties and sales tax dollars would be impacted by denying activity.
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