Mining shaped past, but what will shape our future?

The Daily Mining Gazette’s annual glossy-covered magazine is just about a week away from being in the newspaper, and I hope you learn as much from it as I did in contributing to it. The theme is basically looking back at the last 100 years and how the Copper Country has changed since the copper strike of 1913-14.

Even though I’ve spent my entire life up here and feel like I have a solid grasp on local history, in researching and interviewing people for the magazine, I was even more amazed at how the rise and fall of copper mining has shaped the area, well beyond the scope of just industry.

In the 30 years following the strike, the local population dropped from about 100,000 to less than half that, and the effects are still being felt well after the population has more or less leveled off. Education, sports, religion and lifestyle – everything has changed as copper mining has faded as a local industry and been preserved in history.

Perhaps the most fascinating thing for me is the juxtaposition of analyzing 100 years of history alongside my daily duties of reporting about periods of time often measured in minutes.

I think that’s a challenge facing us all when we look at history and use it to help us decide what we should do today and tomorrow. The future of industry in the Copper Country has certainly been a hot topic lately, and during the course of putting together the magazine, I often wonder what will be written about our era in another 100 years.

Will mining make a return? Viewpoints on the topic are as varied as the current assortment of industries sprinkled throughout the Copper Country. To be sure, mining exploration is extensive throughout the region, and a resurgence is possible, but in the past few decades, tourism has taken off, as has manufacturing and high-tech innovation.

I’ve covered this issue from just about every angle over the last few years, and I think the better question is: Can mining effectively co-exist with the other industries?

I don’t think anyone in the area is opposed to new jobs, but the concern with mining is the boom-and-bust effect. It’s an issue Rio Tinto recognized and tried to address in planning for the Eagle Mine, and Lundin, the new owners of the mine in northwest Marquette County, are wrestling with the issue, too.

The environmental effect is also an important consideration. As somebody who lives close to the now-demolished Calumet & Hecla powerhouse in Lake Linden, an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site, I’ve seen first-hand the long-term effects mining can have on the environment. However, having also toured Eagle Mine’s reverse-osmosis water treatment plant that purifies water to greater than drinking-water-quality standards, I realize technology has paved the way for powerfully effective safety innovations.

I don’t claim to know the answer for the role mining should play in the Copper Country’s future, and I can truly say I’m torn on the issue – in case anyone was trying to peg me down for bias on my previous reporting of mining forums and issues.

My great-grandfather died in the mines and my grandfather was forced out of the mines by respiratory problems. My family history, like the region’s history as a whole in many respects, has a complicated relationship with mining. In previous generations, it supported my family financially, but now it’s part of my family’s heritage. Now I guess the issue facing us all is: What legacy do we as individuals and as a community want to leave for future generations?

It’s a discussion certainly worth having. I hope the Gazette magazine provides some valuable historical perspective, the Gazette daily newspaper keeps you updated about the present, and I’m excited to see how we all work to shape the future.