The Lake County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday opposing the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service's application to withdraw 234,328 acres of National Forest System lands from "future mineral exploration and potential mineral development."
The resolution asks the BLM and the USFS to follow the environmental review process already established under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The resolution states NEPA established a policy review process; requires federal agencies to incorporate environmental considerations in planning and decision-making; federal agencies are to prepare assessments regarding the environmental impact and alternatives to major federal actions affecting the environment; and the withdrawal of the USFS lands denies the opportunity for a potential project and subverts an "established, thorough and elaborate environmental review process."
"This is not pro- or anti-mining, this is to ask the Forest Service to follow the policies and to follow the NEPA process that was established," Commissioner Rich Sve said.
Bob Tammen, a Lake County property owner along the Kawishiwi River near Birch Lake near the proposed Twin Metals project on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, said he had worked in mining beginning in the late 1960s and urged the board to be cautious before passing a resolution favoring mining interests. Mining, he said, has failed to deliver economic prosperity to the local economies.
"All the mining promotion we've done hasn't really brought prosperity to our mining communities. There is no list of thriving mining communities and I live within 30 miles of Virginia and they've got all the mining on earth and their poverty rate is over 20 percent," Tammen said. "I guess what I'm trying to say is we shouldn't depend on mining to pull our county into prosperity. I think we are going to see at the state level people are becoming more aware of the small effect mining has on our economy."
Tammen told the board he looked up the U.S. Department of Commerce numbers breaking down the gross state product for Minnesota, $328 billion in 2015, and that mining was about $2.28 billion, or less than 1 percent of the total economy.
"That's the harsh truth we're going to have to deal with as the years go by," Tammen said. "We have a lot of mining in our county but it's not really bringing the prosperity we would hope for, so we should be open to diversification."
Steve Koschak, the owner of River Point Resort in the same area, also attended the meeting and said his business is endangered by the proposed projects and shared a fact sheet from the Save the Boundary Waters organization that opposes copper-nickel mining projects near the BWCAW. The sheet said, among other things, the Twin Metals federal leases required commercial production to begin in 1986 and that locating a copper-nickel project upstream of the BWCAW elevates the risk of the project to unacceptable levels.
Commissioner Rick Goutermont reiterated Sve's statement saying that the resolution does not take a stand for or against the project, it simply asks the BLM and the USFS to follow the guidelines established by NEPA.
"The USFS is one of the largest landowners in Lake County and they're required under NEPA rules and other statutes, that when they are doing anything with their land, they're supposed to include the local governments in that discussion and give us the opportunity to say our piece representing the constituency of the area surrounded by that land," Goutermont said. "They didn't do that in this process. We got a phone call in the morning to the chairman of the board saying there is a press release and it's coming out. They didn't follow the process and that's what got out ire up, why aren't they including us like they are required to by law."
The board also approved the retirement of county attorney Laura Auron during the meeting, effective April 6. Prior to Tuesday's meeting, the board conducted interviews with potential appointees to fulfill the remainder of Auron's term which expires in 2018.