Friday, October 21, 2011

35-W bridge collapse engineering firm hired to protect BWCA

The multinational corporations seeking to develop copper mines in northeastern Minnesota are smart. They've hired a corps of locally connected lobbyists and frontmen, the same folks who charm the city slickers in St. Paul with glass jars of taconite pellets and stories about the glory days of the Iron Range. There are two companies furthest along in the process, PolyMet and Twin Metals, that are full of local flavor and have local headquarters. Twin Metals recently built a shiny new building in Ely.

But the money backing these mines is anything but local. PolyMet is backed by Swiss commodities firm Glencore, and Twin Metals is a joint venture with Chilean mining company Antofagasta. If Minnesota permits the construction of copper mines, the big money backing these ventures will run the show. Based on the company they keep, Minnesotans have good reasons to be worried.
Credit: Flickr user thenip73
Twin Metals has retained URS Corporation as their "lead environmental consultant" to spearhead Twin Metals's environmental review and permitting. Minnesotans should remember URS. They were the engineering firm retained by the State of Minnesota to inspect the 35-W bridge that collapsed, killing 13 people. To settle lawsuits, URS paid $52 million in damages to the victims of the bridge collapse and $5 million to the state. URS overlooked underdesigned and overstressed gusset plates that led to the bridge's failure. They'll be in charge of environmental review for a mine that, if built, will be just miles the Boundary Waters.

Tony Hayward, ex-CEO of British Petroleum, oversaw the biggest oil spill in American history. He's gotten his life back, and is the executive expert in charge of environment and safety for Glencore. Glencore is the largest investor in PolyMet, and already owns or holds options to purchase over 20% of the company.

These proposed mines risk polluting the Boundary Waters and Lake Superior with sulfuric acid runoff. Do you trust URS and Tony Hayward to do the job?

Follow me on Twitter @aaronklemz

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