Should more than 230,000 acres of Superior National Forest land be off limits to any new mining projects for the foreseeable future?
Or should that land remain open to possible projects that could bring jobs to northeastern Minnesota?
This is the big dispute that brought hundreds of people to the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center Thursday evening, for a public input meeting that will help shape which side ultimately wins the debate.
The meeting, held by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, was about a proposal to withdraw 234,328 acres of land in the Superior National Forest from any possible mining projects. (More on this below.)
The arguments came down to the same points they always have.
One side argues the mine is too big of a threat to the environment (specifically the nearby Boundary Waters Canoe Area), and there's no way to 100 percent ensure nearby land and water is protected.
The other side counters that mining has been done safely and within the rules for decades in Minnesota, and that new mining projects would create jobs for a region that's really hurting economically.
More on the withdrawal proposal
This goes back to December of 2016, and a decision made by federal agencies while still under control of the Barack Obama administration.
The mining company Twin Metals Minnesota had been exploring a possible new project on some of the Superior National Forest Land that it held a lease on for decades.
The company had asked the federal government to renew those leases. But the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management rejected their requests in December, saying they were concerned about the environmental impact on the Boundary Waters.
At that same time, the federal agencies took steps to block any mining work on the land for years into the future.
They submitted a withdrawal request, which essentially put those 234,328 acres in a time-out zone for two years so an environmental review could be done. Meanwhile, the agencies are doing a study to determine if the land should be off-limits to mining projects completely for 20 years (the maximum allowed by law)
The withdrawal notice says it would be done for the "protection of the natural resources and waters" there.
Thursday's meeting in Duluth wasn't about coming up with an answer. It was part of the larger process to consider the withdrawal request, which is currently in the middle of a public comment period.
You can submit comments by going here, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anything submitted before the deadline of Aug. 17, 2017, will be given full consideration. You can still send in your thoughts after that, but there's no guarantee they'll get read.
The environmental review will be put together, then sent to the Secretary of the Interior for a final decision.
A decision on whether to actually withdraw the lands, or reject the withdrawal request, isn't expected for months, and quite possibly a couple years.