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Guest Commentary: Lake County Board pave proverbial road for sulfide-ore copper mining

On March 14, the Lake County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution opposing the U.S. Forest Service's proposal to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on a proposed withdrawal of federal lands from sulfide-ore copper mining in the Boundary Waters watershed for up to 20 years.

The purpose of the EIS, a 2-year study which is currently underway, is to analyze the economic, social and environmental effects of sulfide-ore copper mining near the Boundary Waters. Instead of supporting this science and public input-based review, the Lake County board has been setting up and supporting roadblocks to end it.

First, the resolution opposes the ongoing environmental review, while at the same time send a mixed message by acknowledging that an EIS is required by law for major federal actions affecting the environment. Furthermore, members of the Lake County Board have lobbied Rep. Rick Nolan (DFL-Crosby) in Washington, D.C. twice to convey their opposition to the ongoing review. Additionally, at the Virginia public meeting on the withdrawal EIS, Rich Sve, chair of the Lake County Board, and also chair of Northern Counties Land Use Coordinating Board (NCLUCB), publicly denounced the EIS by reading a written statement on behalf of NCLUCB.

In July, Nolan led a tour for members of Congress belonging to a group of anti-public lands legislators, known as the Congressional Western Caucus, to garner support for sulfide-ore copper mining in Minnesota. In the press release, the Lake County resolution opposing the proposed withdrawal EIS, was cited as further evidence of local support for the development of sulfide-ore copper mining. The Lake County Board has demonstrated time and again that it is above reproach in its unconditional support of sulfide-ore copper mining, regardless of the value of a thorough examination of the true costs.

As part of the withdrawal EIS public input process, over 3,000 people attended listening sessions in Duluth, St. Paul and Virginia. More than 125,000 written comments were received by the Forest Service in support of protecting the Boundary Waters. This is the largest public involvement in an EIS in the history of Minnesota, and is consistent with support for the Boundary Waters throughout the state, regardless of party affiliation. Seventy-nine percent of all Minnesotans support the ongoing environmental review and two-thirds of Minnesota Republicans endorse the two-year pause on sulfide-ore copper mining in the watershed while the potential effects are studied. Sonny Perdue, President Donald Trump's Secretary of Agriculture, promised to complete the study and said it was important to understand the facts and science before making any decisions about sulfide-ore copper mining on national forest lands in the watershed of the Boundary Waters.

Despite widespread support for the study, and three separate meetings with Lake County residents presenting their case to the board in support of the two-year review, no good faith effort has been made on the part of the board to represent the will of their constituents.

After repeated inquiries regarding the status of their request to consider amending or rescinding the resolution, an email reply from Commissioner Rich Sve summed it up, "At this time I have not received any indication that action will be taken to amend resolution 17031408."

The Lake County Board may have good intentions (this road is paved with them), but they are out of touch on the impacts of sulfide-ore copper mining. They are paving the way for giant foreign mining companies to despoil our public lands and waters, crush a growing, amenity-based economy, divide our communities and destroy a national treasure that is the Boundary Waters.

Now is a critical time to stand up and be heard. Call the Lake County Commissioners (218-834-8320) and tell them you support the ongoing environmental review, you oppose Lake County Resolution No. 17031408 and you insist they rescind it. Most importantly, call Rep. Rick Nolan (202-225-6211). Tell him you oppose his efforts that put our communities and the Boundary Waters at risk.

Lawson Gerdes has lived and worked in Lake County for 40 years. Having spent a career as a field ecologist in natural resources conservation, Gerdes has conducted ecological surveys throughout northeastern Minnesota, including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.