LINO LAKES — Lakes over ore: It’s the mantra Lino Lakes native Nick Kourajian is touting through his college internship.
Kourajian is making it his goal to save the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) from sulfide-ore copper mining through his college internship with the communications department of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. He is a senior at Hamline University and will complete his English degree with a minor in nonprofit management in May.
The Campaign was founded in 2013 by local residents of Ely, Minnesota when they got word that Twin Metals Minnesota was aiming to open sulfide-ore copper mines.
In the spring of 2014, Kourajian signed a petition on a canoe on the Hamline campus to try to stop the mining. He began to follow the movement and then applied for a communications internship he saw posted. Kourajian’s English major focus is business writing and professional writing, so he jumped at the opportunity to fulfill his nonprofit management minor internship requirement with the communications job. He also has a passion for the Boundary Waters and environmentalism.
Kourajian took many family trips to the Boundary Waters as a youth and has frequented the North Shore throughout college. He has fond memories of experiencing a downpour in the Boundary Waters wilderness as he canoed and portaged to find a campsite with his father. They finally found a site and then made a family favorite meal under a network of blue tarps — beef stew and dumplings.
“Some of the best parts of living in Minnesota is having access to state parks, the North Shore and the Boundary Waters,” he said.
But Twin Metals is threatening his favorite parts of the state.
“[The sulfide-ore copper mines] are proposed by Twin Metals right on the unprotected edge of the Boundary Waters,” he said.
Kourajian noted the sulfuric acid produced by such mining could prove detrimental to the wilderness and “would pollute the whole Boundary Waters watershed.”
He promotes the Campaign’s goal to stop Twin Metals from digging the mines by writing press releases and slamming social media with its message.
He believes Twin Metals should not be allowed to dig the mines so close to the BWCAW border. The mines are proposed about 9 miles southeast of Ely.
“I think that would be a very bad move for Minnesota,” he said. “A lot of people at Twin Metals think it will provide jobs. I think building those mines would really end the recreation and tourism economy we have up there.”
Kourajian also noted the mines would bring more traffic to the town of Ely, located at the main entrance to the Boundary Waters.
The proposed sulfide-ore mining would be the first of its kind in Minnesota. Kouragian noted other states that have sulfide-ore mines have a track record of leaks. He isn’t convinced the Minnesota mines would be any safer.
“I’m not sure how they are going to contain the mines,” he said.
Kourajian’s internship will end in December, but it has defined his future for him. “I think this experience has helped me realize I want to be in environmental services,” he said.
As for the future of the Boundary Waters, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is expected to make a decision soon.
“Twin Metals Minnesota, which is owned by the Chilean mining company Antofagasta, has applied to renew their two federal mineral leases that expired in 2013,” said Rachel Garwin, policy director of the Campaign in an email. “The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has been reviewing the request for two years now, and is expected to come to a conclusion about the environmental review process in the near future. This is a crucial moment that allows the federal land management agencies to take a hard look at these two dinosaur leases that have never undergone environmental review, before mining takes too many steps forward toward harming the BWCAW.”
The two federal mining leases next to the Boundary Waters have been in existence since 1966 and have changed hands multiple times since they were first issued. Antofagasta, under Twin Metals, would be the first to mine in the area. The old lease was not long enough to sustain exploratory work and Twin Metals is now asking for a 20-year lease instead of a 10-year lease. Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness uncovered the legal issue of the land never having undergone environmental review and brought the need, before the renewal is approved, to the BLM.
The Boundary Waters is America’s most-visited wilderness and is comprised of 1.1 million acres of pristine lakes and forests. The Boundary Waters has been managed as wilderness since 1926 to preserve its primitive character. Formal designation of the BWCAW occurred in 1964 under the Wilderness Act.
For more information visit www.savetheboundarywaters.org.