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Isabella, MN. — For 30 years, Ron Brodigan has cherished the winters that blanket his two-room log cabin near this tiny town in the North Woods. But soon that cold, white silence could be broken by the relentless grinding of a drill rig.
Beneath his land, on the doorstep of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, lies one of the largest untapped deposits of copper and nickel in the world. And now, for the third time in its history, Minnesota is on the verge of a mining boom.
This one, triggered by seismic shifts in the world economy, will present the state with its biggest environmental decision in a generation: Whether to open its arms to hard-rock mining, an industry that could bring thousands of jobs — and a record of environmental calamities — to the wildest and most beautiful corner of the state.
As two multinational mining companies set up shop here, a fierce debate is erupting over what kind of place Minnesota should be.
Opponents say this new kind of mining cannot co-exist with wilderness and clean water — that it brings risks that dwarf those that came with taconite mining.
“This is beautiful country,” said Brodigan, who, along with some other local property owners, is fighting the state’s decision to lease their land for exploratory drilling. “And they are bound to wreck it.”