The largest United States tributary to Lake Superior is one of the most endangered rivers in the country, according to the conservation group American Rivers.
The 194-mile-long St. Louis River – which begins near Hoyt Lakes, Minnesota, and flows through the Superior National Forest into Wisconsin before finally emptying into Lake Superior – came in at No. 8 on American Rivers' America's Most Endangered Rivers report.
The annual report released Monday highlights 10 rivers that face urgent environmental threats, and the St. Louis River is one of five on the list threatened by some kind of mining.
American Rivers says copper-nickel mining proposals (such as PolyMet's NorthMet project) near the river's headwaters puts drinking water, wildlife and thousands of acres of forested wetlands and streams at risk.
Within a few weeks, state and federal agencies will decide if PolyMet's environmental review is complete enough to allow the company to apply for permits to start the mine, the Duluth News Tribune says. If permits are approved, work on the mine could begin later this year.
American Rivers is urging officials to deny the permits because it argues PolyMet's plan doesn't sufficiently protect the river and surrounding communities. However, PolyMet officials maintain the project – which would tap into one of the largest and untouched copper and nickel deposits on Earth – would meet all state and federal water quality rules, and boost the state's economy.
The St. Louis River is the second river in the state to make American Rivers' list in the last three years because of copper-nickel mining proposals, MPR News reports. In 2013, the South Kawishiwi River, which flows into the Boundary Waters, was No. 6 on the list.