- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 20, 2016

ELY, Minn. (AP) - Hundreds of people packed a high school gym in Ely over the contentious issue of copper nickel mining in northeast Minnesota.

Wednesday is the last day for the public to comment on whether two mining leases near the Boundary Waters should be renewed. Twin Metals Minnesota is considering whether to build a nearly $3 billion copper nickel mine at the doorstep of the pristine recreational wilderness area.

The meeting Tuesday night drew an estimated 900 people, Minnesota Public Radio News (https://bit.ly/2a06f3z ) reported.

The public is divided on whether a mine would impact the area positively or negatively.

President of Iron Range Building Trades, Mike Syresvud, said the leases should be renewed and that potential environmental impacts should be evaluated after the company submits a mine plan.

“We can do this safely. Let the process work itself out. This is what the area needs,” Syresvud said. “Because we all live here. We don’t just travel in and out of here for the weekend. This is where we live. This is where we raise our children and our grandchildren.”

But opponents of the project said this is the right time for the government to decide whether copper-nickel mining should be allowed near some of the country’s most popular wilderness.

“If you look at the leases themselves, they explicitly grant the right to mine, and the right to build mining facilities, and so I think the question is, is this the right location to build a mine?” said Jeremy Drucker, a spokesman for the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. “We don’t think it is.”

The U.S. Forest Service will decide whether to renew two federal mineral leases near Ely. Twin Metals says those leases are the foundation of its project, should it decide to go ahead.

The agency doesn’t have a timeline for its decision, according to regional forester Kathleen Atkinson.

“The decision will be grounded in science, so we’ll be going through the science, the vast amount of existing research, data and literature, and it will be influenced by what we hear from the public.”

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Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, https://www.mprnews.org

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