League Lines: Safeguarding Clean Water in Superior National Forest

Minnesota >> Bob and Pat Tammen are on a mission. For many weeks out of the year, these W.J. McCabe Chapter members crisscross Minnesota in their little campervan to attend meetings about proposed sulfide mines in northern Minnesota. In fact, they attend so many meetings that for many people they have become the faces of “the Minnesota citizen” for their efforts to protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Superior National Forest.

Sulfide mines in Superior National Forest would be used to extract copper, nickel, and other metals. The threat to water quality comes from sulfuric acid stored in tailings ponds, which can leak into streams, lakes, and groundwater.

Bob and Pat have attended an untold number of public events and meetings, from the state capital to community gatherings. At every meeting, Bob brings his giant map of northern Minnesota. Pat brings her disarming smile. But don’t let their folksy personas fool you. After Pat warms you up, Bob will hit you over the head with the hard facts about mining. They are determined, firm, and persistent. Everywhere they go, they tell people about their concern for northern Minnesota and the proposed sulfide mines. They do it with charm and tons of information on the potential of these new mines to despoil the waters that flow into several major waterways, including Lake Superior, the Hudson Bay, and the Mississippi River. And they know what they are talking about.

Bob Tammen worked in the iron mines of Minnesota for 30 years for an electrical contractor. He knows how the mines operate. Pat taught in the northern Minnesota public school system for 30 years and knows the people and communities. Bob can tell you the details of what mining slime and sludge are and how placing waste rock back into a mine cannot be done. These are things the mining companies won’t tell you. Bob explains that many of the existing iron mine tailings ponds are already leaking and that we should not expect anything different with these new sulfide mines. The couple were awarded the IWLA Minnesota Division’s Stewardship Award in 2010 for their work on this issue.

In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rejected the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for PolyMet’s proposed Minnesota sulfide mine, rating the draft as “Environmentally Unsatisfactory — Inadequate.” The mining company has attempted to address EPA’s concerns and is set to release a revised DEIS later this year.

Bob describes the proposed mine site as “a low-grade ore body in a high-gradeenvironment — the Superior National Forest” and sums up the debate this way: “The mining companies have public relations consultants. We have values.” We’re thankful we also have Bob and Pat Tammen working to conserve Minnesota’s natural resources.

John Rust, Board of Directors, Minnesota Division, IWLA