Increased trade between Minnesota and Chile is on the table today when Gov. Tim Pawlenty meets with Chilean Ambassador Arturo Fermandois in St. Paul. One of the topics will be copper nickel mining near Ely and the Boundary Waters Canoe Areas Wilderness.
According to the Associated Press, Twin Metals Minnesota is a partnership between Ely-based Duluth Metals and Chilean mining company Antofagasta. Pawlenty lead a trade mission to Chile last year, Fermandois is leading a group of business executives to Minnesota.
The Minnesota and Chilean companies have a $130 million agreement to study copper nickel mining and 170 test holes in a 1,500-acre tract near the South Kawishiwi River have already been drilled.
Environmental groups have raised concerns over the project. Their concerns mirror those expressed with the current PolyMet mine proposal at Hoyt Lakes. The test drilling could lead to a half mile deep shaft that would produce tons of ground-up waste sulfide rock. When the rock is brought to the surface, a chemical reaction occurs that produces sulfuric acid.
Without proper disposal, runoff can flow into nearby streams and wetlands, acidifying them possibly enough to poison the life in the water. Proponents say the operation could support 400 jobs in the area for many years.