Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Letter To The Editor: Joe Baltich discussing the BWCA,economy, tourism and mining.

Somebody from the Twin Cities wanted me to sign a petition banning sulfide mining. I couldn't help myself. These tourists need to know the other side of the story:

Geez, Dan. The whole town of Ely is economically collapsing. Last year (2012) 156 people were in the obituary and the New Year's Baby was born on Feb. 10. Resort bookings for May and June were substantially off and I'm pretty sure they will be down for July and August. The anecdotal estimate is that Ely business is OFF by about 25 - 30%. Boundary Waters Canoe Area use is in fairly steep decline. I should know, I've been an outfitter and resorter for my entire life in Ely. The parking lots at the entry points were rarely full, most seeing 25% occupancy for the majority of summer.

   As America ages, nobody wants to come and sleep on a rock only to be restricted to paddling a canoe. They want to jump in a boat/snomobile and go fishing without having the government breathing down their necks requiring permits, allowing dog sleds but not motors, no cans or bottles but 2 liter plastic bottles are OK. However, burning plastic is illegal. It is illegal to leave the BWCA to go shopping in Ely because it voids one's permit. These are only a smattering of the rules that the vast majority of twin cities tourists can't even get right so they laughably remain in constant violation of the laws they support so strongly. When they come from out of state, it's even harder to get them to comply.

    So, Ely is slipping. Everything is for sale and nobody's buying. A liquor store that was successful since the early 70's has been up for sale for 5 years now. Nobody is even looking at the building. Another liquor store has the same story. A restaurant has been sitting empty for years on end, rotting, because no one will buy it. Back when the mines where humming along in the 60's and 70's it, too, was a successful business.

    The first decline for Ely began in 1964 when the government closed 17 resorts under eminent domain. The mines were still running at full speed then so it was harder to notice. When the so-called "wilderness goldmine" came to be (final, most restrictive phase of the Boundary Waters law PL 95-495 in 1978), we began to witness the second decline as several resorts sold out again in a government buyout and closed their doors for good in the early 80's. With the introduction of the internet and electronic "toys" in the 90's, we began to see business drop off again. Then the economy began to really falter in the mid to late 2000's and we've lost an entire generation of young kids being brought to the woods to enjoy the outdoors. Their young parents were products of the internet and shopping malls. They didn't have the interest or the money to go and be uncomfortable in the Boundary Waters by Ely. Plus, with very aggressive advertising for the Disneylands and pampered cruises of the world to the well-connected online, we've lost some more ground. Some families simply can't afford anything and grow up like I did in Ely - rarely taking a vacation, ever.

   Now, those of us remaining in Ely today are experiencing a graduating class of 45 kids when in 1979 it was 159. Those kids aren't sticking around. The median user age in the BWCA is 55. In another 5 years, where do you think that's going to be? How long will it be (realistically) before our out-of-shape 60-year-olds decide that going to Florida and sitting on the beach is more enjoyable than schlepping a wet #4 pack and a canoe over a portage? I've heard it many times by many of our idealistic tourists that they "plan" to be paddling the BWCA until they die. Right... We all know precisely how accurate that prediction almost always winds up to be in reality. People get old, they get injured, and they stop coming.

   So, other than making a private and very temporary playground for older twin cities enthusiasts, what is your plan to see Ely survive? With Ely's average population aged 65 and older are you willing to pay substantially more in your personal taxes to keep Ely going? Will you contribute to keep the hospital operating, the roads to the entry points paved and maintained, and the schools open? How much extra are you willing to contribute to pay for law enforcement in the BWCA region? Meth use is on the rise in Ely and I'm sure, the entire region. How many more tax dollars are you willing to contribute to our area to fund dealing with this problem? Are you willing to quit your good-paying, twin cities area job as a master electrician and move to Ely to experience feast and famine personally? And how long will it be before you join the mass exodus out of town after you decide that making a living in Ely on tourism is a very difficult proposition requiring long hours and not a lot of pay, but with guaranteed uncertainty?

   So, ponder these things as you sign petitions to protect your 5 day, essentially-free, BWCA vacation, driving on roads that we pay for, while being protected by emergency services that we pay for, and stopping in stores that we pay for. Your $100 spent in Ely stores isn't going to float them through the winter, but your support of twin cities opposition to everything happening in Ely is certainly going to hurt all of us here in the long run. Maybe we should all sign a petition to have your company shut down. I hear working 3 part time jobs, like many do in Ely, is loads of fun but it significantly cuts into one's vacation time.

    Despite what the "environmental" detractors are spewing, we can have clean water and an underground mine located 3,000 to 4,000 feet underground. I bet you didn't know that it is not going to be an open pit but instead an underground mine.

    We are in the year 2013, not the Dark Ages. The locals up here actually like being here far more than you. We've committed a lifetime here while eeking out a living when we could have just as easily moved to some metro area for better pay. Your signing a petition against our support of the project says to me that you somehow know more and have greater concern for our backyard that you visit once a year. That's shortsighted on your part and rather insulting to all the people here who mined the very same rock for 88 years prior to the inception of the BWCA in 1964. Ironically, the BWCA was chosen (after 88 years of virtually unchecked-by-government mining) to be named a federally-designated wilderness due to it's pristine waters. Now, how was that even possible? The same rock?

  Hopefully, this letter will enlighten you somewhat. I'm not expecting much given the twin cities crowd and their blatant disregard of current BWCA laws while rabidly supporting something they know nothing about. It's always about their good time and ignore the rest of the world. Nonetheless, I thought I'd give it a try with you.

Joe Baltich

Northwind Lodge - Ely

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