Environmental Group Names BWCA River among "America's Most Endangered"

By KBJR News 1

April 17, 2013 Updated Apr 17, 2013 at 9:56 PM CDT

Ely, MN (NNCNOW.com) - Non–profit environmental organization American Rivers says the declaration of the Kawishiwi Watershed as being among the top ten most endangered U.S. rivers is based entirely on the decision of whether or not to move forward with the proposed Twin Metals non–ferrous mining project.

The site of interest lies 10 miles Southeast of Ely, and 10 miles East of Babbit—near Birch Lake, the Kawishiwi, and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

"If sulfide mining occurs in that watershed, we're almost certainly looking at some serious runoff of sulfates, toxins, [and] heavy metals," said Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness board member Jon Nelson.

Nelson says his concerns are as economic as they are environmental.

Nelson says even the possibility of polluting the Kawishiwi Watershed should halt progress on the project since the river runs through several BWCA lakes and Voyageurs National Park—major sites that contribute to the state's $12 billion annual tourism revenue.

"When we look at the cost of what we're going to be gaining, we need to compare it to the cost of the wilderness and the river," said Nelson.

But what, exactly, is on the table to be gained from the proposed underground copper–nickel mine?

"It holds great promise for Minnesota, [specifically] northern Minnesota, for billions of dollars of economic activity, and hundreds—if not thousands—of jobs for generations of Minnesotans."

Nelson says even though they're only in the earliest stages of project development—and still two years away from an environmental review process—the company is confident they can mine in an environmentally sound manner.

"The boundary waters is not now, and will not be, threatened by mining activity," said McFarlin.

Officials say the environmental review process will be rigorous and lengthy, involving numerous state and federal agencies.

"...and if those agencies find that the project cannot meet those standards, the project will not be allowed to proceed," said McFarlin.

Environmentalist groups are asking Congress to expand mining protection areas around the BWCA in an effort to stop forward progress

McFarlin added that, while developing an underground mine is a lengthier, costlier method than open pit mining, it's all part of the process to guarantee as little change—or harm—to the landscape as possible.

- Posted to the Web by Billy Wagness