Duluth Metals strikes deal to develop mine at edge of BWCAW

Location of mineral depositDuluth Metals, a company that is seeking to operate a mine for copper, nickel and other metals in sulfide ore near the South Kawishiwi River and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, announced a big partnership last week with the mining corporation Antofagasta plc to provide Duluth Metals with up to $227 million to develop the mine.

Duluth expects development activities at Nokomis to proceed on an accelerated basis, and anticipates pre-feasibility and bankable feasibility studies to be completed within 36 months.

While the mine is expected to be underground, as opposed to the PolyMet strip mine proposal, it also differs because it would be located much closer to and in the watershed of theĀ  BWCAW where the South Kawishiwi flows into Birch Lake. The river ultimately flows out of Birch Lake, through the White Iron Chain of Lakes, and back into the BWCAW.

The arrival of a multinational mining corporation in northeastern Minnesota is being hailed as a victory for Duluth Metals, but environmental concerns should also deserve a fair hearing by the public, decision-makers and the media. Even mining industry spokesperson Frank Ongaro admitted in a Minnesota Public Radio story that Antofagasta represents an industry that has for a long time operated recklessly:

“There’s a perfect example of a company who’s currently mining copper the old way, strongly interested in investing in mining and processing copper the more, new, modern, environmentally responsible way,” Ongaro said.

While Ongaro claims that this is a sign Antofagasta wants to do things the right way for a change, there is no evidence of that except the sort of “trust us” arguments the industry has long used to silence opposition.

Make no mistake, interest in opening up sulfide mines in the BWCAW watershed is very intense and the PolyMet environmental review process which is currently underway will be extremely influential in determining standards and procedures for future projects, streamlining the permitting of subsequent mines. An editorial in the Ely Echo states:

During a conference call with investors, Duluth Metals leaders were quizzed over the company’s ability to pass Minnesota’s permitting maze. The answer was simple: follow PolyMet.

Now in the final stages of the environmental impact statement (EIS) process, PolyMet has had the misfortune of being the first in line. After countless delays and $20 million spent on getting the EIS done, PolyMet has laid down a map for how to permit a copper-nickel mine in Minnesota.

It is all the more important to speak up about PolyMet today–the public comment period on the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement closes on Feb. 3. Submit your comments using our handy online tool right now!