Twin Metals proposes mine processing plant on Birch Lake

Birch Lake (Photo by Greg Seitz)
Birch Lake (Photo by Greg Seitz)

A company seeking to open a copper-nickel mine near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness has announced a revised plan for the project. A key change from previous proposals is the location of the processing plant and mine entrance, which would be located closer to the underground mine and about five miles from the edge of the wilderness.

The mine would be located on the edge of the South Kawishiwi River, on either side of Highway 1, and Birch Lake. The processing facility would be on the shore of Birch Lake. The company had previously said it was considering a processing site closer to Ely, near the city airport.

Courtesy Duluth News Tribune
Map courtesy Duluth News Tribune

“This configuration moves the processing much closer to the mine site with a more compact footprint,” Bob McFarlin, Twin Metals spokesman, told the Duluth News Tribune.

About half of the waste rock excavated from the mine would be put back underground after mining. The other half would be stored above ground south of Birch Lake, outside the wilderness watershed. It could be transported by rail or pipeline, but the company isn’t sure yet.

The proposal is still at least 18 months from any formal proposal and regulatory review. The details released recently are preliminary.

Wilderness advocates found the new location of the processing plant and other details worrying. Copper-nickel mining involves extracting sulfide ore, which can create sulfuric acid and other materials that have a history of polluting nearby waterbodies.

In a statement, the Save the Boundary Waters Campaign criticized the proposal.

“Sulfide-ore copper mining will pollute the Boundary Waters, result in the loss of thousands of jobs and many businesses in Northeastern Minnesota and across the State, and deprive our children and grandchildren of their wild lands heritage,” said spokesman Doug Niemela.

Other details released by the company included that it would process 20,000 tons of ore per day. The company is also planning to open an office in the town of Babbitt, in addition to existing offices in St. Paul and Ely.

Twin Metals, wholly owned by Chilean conglomerate Antofagasta PLC, recently got good news from the federal government. The Trump administration reversed an Obama-era decision to deny the company mineral lease renewals critical to the success of the project.

Get Quetico Superior Wilderness News straight to your inbox

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap