Whenever I read stories opposing the development of new mines, I’m torn because I’m an environmentalist, yet I’m constantly reminded and proud of my family’s history in the mining industry – on both my maternal and paternal sides. It’s an intriguing dichotomy.
My maternal grandfather was an underground iron-ore miner, and my paternal grandfather was a master electrician at an open-pit iron mine, both in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
My father was a mining engineer who concluded his career as superintendent of the last remaining underground iron mine in the Midwest. My brother retired as senior mining engineer at a currently active open-pit iron-ore mine in the Upper Peninsula – and I’ve had any number of uncles, cousins, nephews and nieces who have worked in the iron-ore mines.
In my 20s, in an open-pit iron-ore mine, I was a heavy-equipment operator, boiler operator and journeyman welder and millwright – the latter two of which I take great pride in after having completed a seven-year apprenticeship.
In considering all of this, it’s obvious that cars need metal frames and fenders; tradespeople rely on aluminum stepladders; homes require copper wiring; our much-admired Michigan Street bridge contains many tons of steel; and the list goes on and on.
Mines are essential to the needs of society, and I have never seen the hundreds of mines that once dotted Upper Michigan and northern Minnesota and Wisconsin destroy the environment. They have obviously affected the environment (an open-pit mine requires hundreds of
acres), yet in many cases, they have enhanced the environment by reclaiming waste piles, creating ponds, lakes and forested areas.
Mines are not an inherent evil. I believe they must be planned and developed to meet the dual needs of environment and society. We can do that.
Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin