Looking towards the future.

I got back from vacation 12 days ago.  After a hectic week of training at two new jobs followed by a weekend with my family back home in Evansville, I finally had a chance to read some local newspapers and catch up on all the intense political happenings.

And in case you haven’t heard yet, things have not gotten any better since May 17th (when I left on vacation).

Among the hundreds of terrifying and unjust things occurring right now in our great state, the one I’m watching with bated breath is the proposed mine that may be built in the Penokee Hills of Ashland and Iron counties.  This month, the limited-liability mining company Gogebic Taconite (set up by multimillionaire Christopher Cline) will begin preliminary drilling on their taconite (a type of iron-ore) mine.  To officially begin their mining project, the company awaits DNR approval on their permit.  The proposed mine would initially be 4-miles long and at least 900 feet deep.  However, overtime the mine is likely to extend 22 miles.  Not only would this mining project decimate the lovely Penokee Range and the wildlife who call it home, it would also seriously threaten the quality of area residents’ air and water.  Trust me, this is only the beginning of the complicated, convoluted issue.

I know it may seem as if I’m rambling about a personal political concern (of which we all have many right now ), but this travesty does connect to F.H. King and our unifying beliefs about sustainable agriculture and sustainable lifestyles.  It’s a debate that runs between those who look for immediate solutions and those who can see the repercussions of these quick fixes.  Sustaining land and water for future generations should be viewed as equally important to creating jobs for today’s people.

The pro-mining argument is well known: mining and other forms of natural resource extraction create jobs.  Those in power believe this project will encourage economic growth in a depressed area.  But as you likely know, short-term economic solutions are rarely sustainable.  We can allow mining in the “depressed northern portion of our state”, but in 50 or 60 years (maximum!)  those jobs will be gone and so will the land’s fertility as well as the industries that were once based off these pristine lands.

The story of the land is troubling, but the story of the water is even worse.  The headwaters of a number of streams and rivers originate within the Penokee range area.  Tourism and real estate are based off the high water quality up north.  These industries will undoubtedly be negatively affected as will the fishing industries that depend upon this water.

Of particular importance is the Bad River which flows north through Copper Falls State Park into the Bad River Reservation.  Here, the waters (which would inevitably be polluted by the proposed mine) reach the Bad River Slough.  A slough is pretty much a coastal marshland; the Bad River Slough and its neighbor, the Kakagon Slough, just happen to make up the largest fresh-water slough complex in the entire world.  The slough complex supports acres and acres of wild rice which have been harvested by the Ojibwe people for centuries.

If this mine goes as planned, this slough complex will become incapable of producing quality wild rice.  Taconite mining results in much higher acidity of the surrounding waters.  This would affect both the quality and quantity of the wild rice beds that sustain the Bad River Band.

The whole situation brings up some interesting questions about sustainability and our nation’s ignorance of its benefits.

Is the creation of jobs through a taconite mine more worthwhile than the jobs it would destroy?  In cost-benefit analysis, will Ashland and Iron counties be ahead or farther behind?

These are the questions we need to consider.  Immediate economic solutions often have long-withstanding consequences.  It is time to think of the long-term benefits in terms of more than just money and jobs.  Public health, quality of life and the conservation of our valuable land do not have an obvious economic value, but they have great value nonetheless.

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