Dozens of people gathered to protest outside Congressman Rick Nolan's Duluth office today in opposition to his support of mining projects near the Boundary Waters.
When Congressman Rick Nolan asked the Trump administration to reverse a federal block of mineral exploration and mining near the Boundary Waters, imposed during the Obama Administration, members from the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters and a number of Ely business owners, like Jason Zabokrtsky, decided to voice their concern.
"Congressman Nolan why are you afraid of Science? Why are you afraid of the people? Let's not put America's most toxic industry right next to our most popular wilderness area," Zabokrtsky said.
The industry they call toxic is copper-nickel mining. Twin Metals has sought for years to establish a copper-nickel mine in the Superior National Forest near Ely. This mineral exploration block threatens those plans.
Congressman Nolan wasn't in Duluth today, but did write a letter to the protesters outside his office this morning.
In it, he reminded protesters that the was an original co-sponsor of the legislation to establish the BWCA and that he is committed to protecting it. He also said the decision to deny the opportunity for a project like Twin Metals is proposing is too restrictive at this point.
"Denying any business activity before you know what it is and what kind of pollution abatement technology they will use or how effective it would be lacks common sense and subverts the good, thorough elaborate environmental review process we have in place," he said in the letter.
To Ely business owners like Steve Piragis though, fear of the potential impact of a mine like Twin Metals is proposing remains.
"I'm taking a day off of work in a very busy time of year because this is important to me. It's the most important thing to me if my business is going to continue as the Ojibwe say for the next 7 generations," he said. "This is serious business to me because this is my business."
While supporters of the potential mine say it would bring in a number of jobs to the area, Piragis said the pollution that could come from copper-nickel mining near the boundary waters would hurt his outfitter business, which relies on the natural environment.
"That kills fish. It kills plants. It kills my business," he said. "It kills my jobs."
Piragis joined a small group invited inside to speak with representatives from the congressman's office but he says his message for the success of Ely's economy is clear.
"We need clean water for that and we don't need a boom and bust sulfide ore economy," he said.
Congressman Nolan concluded his letter saying: "We have the cleanest water in the state; we're proud of it and we're going to keep it that way. And we're not going to ban mining, manufacturing, and commercial development--provided they go through the established process necessary to meet all of the required environmental standards."