Owners of 38 businesses on the Iron Range say the long-term damage to the environment and the economy outweigh the short-term benefits jobs from a proposed PolyMet copper mine would bring, so they are asking Governor Mark Dayton to oppose the mine.
The mostly small businesses ranging from coffee shops to law firms employ a total of about 800 people call themselves the “Downstream Business Coalition” and want Dayton to support small businesses instead of PolyMet.
Coalition spokesman Greg Benson said the group supports the iron mining that traditionally has been one of the economic drivers in the region. But the proposed PolyMet copper mine “poses a significant new threat” to the St. Louis River watershed and is not worth the risk to the world’s largest body of fresh water — Lake Superior.
Benson would rather see the state invest tax dollars in “sustainable local small business development on the Range” instead of the many hours of government staff time that it will take to review and regulate the PolyMet mine.
Because the PolyMet mine is so controversial, members of the coalition are bracing to lose some customers because of their stand, but felt the risks of keeping silent were greater than the risks of speaking out. Benson said they were surprised by the unwillingness of some business owners to get involved. “A lot of business owners don’t feel that one business should tell another business if it is right or wrong.”
The business owners are asking the public to get involved. “People in Minnesota can help support this cause by letting the Governor know that they’re not for copper nickel mining and that they’re really for more economic development for small business on the range,” said Benson. The benefits of that type of investment would last much longer than the mine “and be very sustainable.”
The coalition is still recruiting members and hopes to have more before they meet with Dayton.
Video of coalition press conference and text of its letter to Governor Dayton
Video at top:
Greg Benson talks about the risk coalition members are taking by opposing the PolyMet mine.
Benson talks about how the public can help
Businesses owners take questions about their stance:
Reading the open letter to Governor Mark Dayton
An open letter from the Downstream Business Coalition
The Economy of the North Depends on Clean Water
Governor Dayton – Invest in sustainable local business development instead of spending state resources permitting and regulating Polymet
We are the Downstream Business Coalition
We are a group of 38 small businesses, representing a cross-section of industries, including technology, manufacturing, service, entertainment and the trades. We employ over 800 people in the North and we are continuing to succeed and invest, adding jobs and dollars to our economy. Our businesses depend on the health of our watershed.
We are pro responsible mining and pro jobs
We support and benefit from ferrous mining, which has built the economy and culture of the North. We rely on mined products in our businesses. As primarily owner-operators, we are pro worker and pro quality of life, and we have and will continue to rely on union labor as we expand. We are vitally connected to the entire regional economy, and its success is our success.
Copper-nickel mining poses a significant new threat to our watershed
But we are also part of a regional ecology, which is why we are concerned about copper-nickel mining. The proposed PolyMet NorthMet copper-nickel mine, and others like it, are vastly different from ferrous mining, and have the potential to spread toxic metals throughout our watershed. In copper-nickel mining, water that passes through the site leaches toxic metals, including mercury, from the metallic sulfide ore. According to the NorthMet Environmental Impact Study (EIS), this pollution will continue for a “minimum of 200 years at the Mine Site and a minimum of 500 years at the Plant Site,” requiring treatment “indefinitely”.1,2 Flow path maps in the EIS show that the plume of contamination will reach the Partridge and Embarrass Rivers, which flow to the St. Louis River and ultimately Lake Superior.3
This mine does not just threaten a water source; it threatens one of the world’s greatest freshwater resources. Lake Superior contains 10% of the world’s freshwater.
Risk to the watershed is risk to the entire regional economy
In different ways for each of us, our businesses depend on our watershed. For several of our businesses, water is our raw material and our brand. Those of us in the beverage manufacturing industry have located our businesses in the watershed specifically for access to the pristine water of Lake Superior. For those of us in the over 17,000 job, $800 million annual tourist and outdoor industries of Northeast Minnesota,4 the water draws our customers. The St. Louis River, Boundary Waters and Lake Superior have become great attractions of our region, and we have built them into the foundation for an entire tourist economy. For us, and many other regional businesses, healthy water and vibrant outdoor access have enabled us to recruit and retain skilled employees. Indeed, the economy of the North overall depends in large degree on the unparalleled quality of life in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
We’re still cleaning up from the unsustainable practices of the past
The St. Louis River, after decades and more than $100 million dollars spent on cleanup from the unsustainable practices of the past, is finally becoming a safe place to live, work and play again. Up to an estimated $240 million will likely be spent over the next 5 years to continue the cleanup and restoration. We owe it to future generations to finish the cleanup, not to put our water at risk again.
The risk to our regional economy outweighs the benefit
The value of jobs now is real, in any number. We all rely on mined products. And yes, copper mining has to happen somewhere. However, we believe this type of mine, in one of the world’s great freshwater resources, is too great a risk. We know some people will take issue with us getting involved in what is perceived to be a political issue. Indeed, a recent article in the newspaper – without a clear explanation of our position – was enough to cause some of our customers to boycott our products. This is an economic issue resulting from an environmental issue. We believe the risk to the environment poses a long-term threat to the regional economy that far outweighs the short- term benefits.
Our request: Invest the money the state would spend on Polymet in sustainable local business development instead
There is an alternative to the boom and bust extraction economy that benefits foreign corporations and leaves local communities worse off in the end. Our locally owned small businesses are proof positive that a more sustainable model is possible. We, and other locally owned businesses, will continue to reinvest the wealth we create into new jobs over the next 20 years. And there’s another important resource on the table – the money the state will spend on environmental review, permitting and regulation of Polymet. We call on Governor Dayton to reject the Polymet proposal, and instead invest that state money in sustainable local small business development on the Range. This investment has the potential to make a larger and longer-term impact than the proposed copper-nickel mining project.
We will contribute to job growth and lessen our demand for minerals
We will do our part to contribute to job growth in the North, and we will reach out to existing Range businesses to partner with them wherever possible. We will also continue our efforts to lessen our demand for minerals by using resources more efficiently.
We welcome continued conversation
We know our voice is only one of many, but we feel it is necessary to say that this is more complicated than jobs vs. the environment. Both are important, and they are linked, and we hope to engage in an amicable debate about responsible mining and building a more sustainable economy in the North for generations to come. We invite other businesses across the region to reach out to us and become part of the Coalition. Sign up at DownstreamBusinessCoalition@gmail.com. And we thank the customers & suppliers that stick by us.
1 PFEIS (Preliminary Final Impact Statement, NorthMet Mining Project and Land Exchange), Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Forest Service, June 2015, pp. ES-26 and 5-8.
2 Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the NorthMet Mining Project and Land Exchange, Appendix C, November 2013, p. 12
3 PFEIS, Figures 5.2.2-7 and 5.2.2-9
4 Tourism and Minnesota’s Economy, 2015, Explore Minnesota
Founding Members of the Downstream Business Coalition
At Sara’s Table Chester Creek Café Bella Terra Landscaping
Bent Paddle Brewing Co. Carmody’s
Day Tripper of Duluth Deer Tail Press
Dirt Candy Designs
Duluth Coffee Company
Duluth Running Company
Duluth Technology Co.
Gilbert Law Office
Heck of the North Productions
Just Take Action – Fitger’s Brewhouse Restaurant Group Lake Avenue Café
Lake Superior Art Glass
Luke Chiropractic and Wellness
Med Search Network
Northern Waters Smokehaus
Old Saw Media
Red Herring Lounge Sawbill Canoe Outfitters Sawtooth Outfitters Sled Dogs to St. Paul Superior Paddle
Taiga Design Built
The Thirsty Pagan
Up North Fungi