Archive for April, 2013

Suffering From A Serious Case of NIMBY Syndrome


“Not in my backyard.”

 I used to cringe at NIMBY syndrome, thinking it elitist and out of touch. Then I learned that my backyard is being primed for sulfide mining.

My roots run deep in Minnesota, where I grew up living in a cabin on a remote island part of every summer. My parents still live there. From our dock we can paddle, then portage, into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a 1.3-million acre playground where more than a quarter million people commune with “God’s Country,” the nickname for this part of the world popularized by a Hamm’s Beer commercial in the 70s.

Six years old on my first Boundary Waters expedition, I packed a flannel nightgown. My older brother and sister laughed at me, but those were the days before down puffies and I was plenty cozy as I padded out of my tent in the early morning to watch the mist rise off the lake. In college I guided inner-city tough kids through chains of BWCA lakes with names like Jap and Little Sag. If we were thirsty, we’d dip our cup straight into the deepest part of the lake. The kids were far more afraid of bears and muskie than they were of hanging out at midnight on a North Minneapolis street corner. Most were miserable carrying their canoes across a portage. But it never failed that after surviving a Boundary Waters trip, they earned serious street cred back home. For a lot of them, it was the first and last time they would camp in wilderness. I, on the other hand, took it for granted that someone would be paddling these lakes long after I was gone. That’s the beauty of a federally protected “wilderness.” Right?

It turns out, not really. Lately, mining companies have been exploratory drilling underneath the BWCA and surrounding National Forests. The conglomerates—most of them foreign—estimate that the earth here holds one trillion dollars worth of copper, nickel, platinum, palladium, and gold. They intend to procure it by sulfide mining—a procedure so toxic that it can contaminate water for thousands of years. Land-swap deals have already passed Congress. Exploratory drilling is running round the clock. Environmental Impact Statements have been filed. The inevitable march toward sulfide mining has begun.

So, here I sit typing NOT IN MY BACKYARD. Yes, jobs would be a positive result if these mega conglomerates were allowed to mine here. And mining companies assure residents that their new, sophisticated technology will mitigate environmental damage caused by past sulfide mining operations. But what if they’re wrong? Thousands of streams and watersheds in the U.S. have already been irreversibly contaminated by sulfide mining. If even God’s Country is up for grabs, what chance does any wilderness have?