Honor the Earth organizes an event against the Huber mill project – Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – The non-profit environmental organization Honor the Earth held an event in Bemidji on Tuesday as part of its work to organize opposition against a sawmill project that would be built on the outskirts of Leech Lake Nation lands. .

Honor the Earth representatives held the event on April 19 at the Northwest Indian Community Development Center to raise awareness about the environmental impact of the proposed Huber Mill, which would be built in the town of Cohasset between Grand Rapids and Leech Lake Nation.

“All of this is underscored by the issue of environmental justice,” said Jamie Konopacky, who works as an environmental adviser for Honor the Earth. “Across the country, we have examples of where these toxic sites are on treaty land immediately adjacent to reservations.”

Jamie Konopacky, Environmental Advisor for Honor the Earth, speaks during a briefing on the Huber Factory Project in Cohasset Tuesday, April 19, 2022, at the North West Indian Community Development Center in Bemidji.

Annalize Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

The event, which was attended by around 35 people, highlighted the potential environmental damage of the project as well as legal concerns over how it was approved without the typical environmental impact statement that is usually required for a project of this cut.

In addition to millions of dollars in grants from the State of Minnesota, Itasca County and the City of Cohasset, the Minnesota Legislature passed a special exemption for the Huber Plant project so that instead of a complete EIA, it only has to provide a less complete environmental study. Assessment worksheet.

This European arrest warrant was carried out under the supervision of the city of Cohasset, which Honor the Earth and others opposed to the project consider that they are not sufficiently qualified to manage an environmental study.

“Basically what the state law says is that when you have a giant project like this with a significant impact on air pollution…you have to hire an agency with knowledge and scientific expertise to conduct the review,” Konopacky said. “Obviously, the town of Cohasset does not have that expertise.”

These concerns have been echoed by other groups, including the Leech Lake Ojibwe Band and the Greater Bemidji Economic Development Agency, each of which has encouraged the completion of a full EIA before the project is launched. go ahead.

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Greater Bemidji Executive Director Dave Hengel listens during an Honor the Earth briefing on the Huber Mill project in Cohasset on Tuesday, April 19, 2022, at the North West Indian Community Development Center in Bemidji .

Annalize Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Other organizations fully support the plant, including APEX, a Duluth economic development agency, and several trade groups that represent workers in the lumber, wood and trucking industries.

Honor the Earth also challenged the EAW arguing that the Town of Cohasset has too much vested interest in the project to conduct an unbiased environmental assessment.

The plant would create around 158 jobs in the area and could help boost struggling local industries. Cohasset City Council members have consistently praised the proposed project, citing the benefits it would bring to the community.

“The town of Cohasset is very biased in this matter,” Konopacky said. “It’s obviously unfair for such a biased entity that oversees what is supposed to be an objective scientific process.”

Konopacky shared the story of a public hearing held in March by Cohasset City Council to allow the public to comment on the Huber factory. Tribal and community members were guaranteed a chance to testify, but on short notice the council decided to accept only written comments.

“Many people did not submit written comments because they were told they would be able to provide public testimony,” Konopacky said.

The meeting itself lasted less than 20 minutes and ended with Cohasset Town Council approving Huber Mill’s EAW.

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Jamie Konopacky, environmental adviser for Honor the Earth, addresses a crowd of about 30 people during a briefing on the Huber factory project in Cohasset on Tuesday, April 19, 2022, at the Indian Community Development Center from the North-West to Bemidji.

Annalize Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

According to the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, the Huber plant, if completed, would be the 11th largest polluter in Minnesota, producing approximately 517,370 tons of annual greenhouse gas emissions.

Other concerns include the project’s impact on local wetlands and wild rice habitats. As part of the proposal, Huber Mill would drain 28.5 acres of wetland to allow for the installation of a railway.

“The whole landscape will be changed,” said Annie Humphrey, a Leech Lake member working for Honor the Earth. “That’s why I’m here and that’s why I think the Huber factory is so dangerous.”

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Leech Lake Tribe member Annie Humphrey speaks during an Honor the Earth briefing on the Huber Mill Project in Cohasset on Tuesday, April 19, 2022, at the North Indian Community Development Center -West to Bemidji.

Annalize Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

These wetlands, which are in the Mississippi watershed and connect to nearby wild rice paddies, are under federal and state protection and require a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers before they can be drained and developed.

In addition to appealing the EAW, opposition to the Huber plant is also urging people to submit comments asking the Corps to deny the permit.

“They identified dozens of alternative sites,” Konopacky said. “If there are alternatives to that, if we don’t have to fill in wetlands to achieve the goals of a project, then (the law says) you’re not allowed to do that.”

Concerns were also raised about the logging practices the mill would use and the volume of trees it would harvest.

In the EAW, Huber Mill said it would collect around 400,000 cords of wood, mostly aspen, from the surrounding area. The total collection limit set by the DNR in 2019 was 875,000 cords for the entire state.

Humphrey explained that she is not against logging as an industry, but wants it to be sustainable. This is one of the reasons it seeks to support alternatives to large-scale industrial sawmills.

“We can say no to Huber Mill…but we also need to have answers, we need to find alternatives,” Humphrey said. “There are other ways of doing things, we don’t need that.”

Humphrey drew attention to an audience member who owned his own sawmill. His method is to handpick each tree to be felled, rather than clearcutting an entire area.

“He’s not going to cut it all,” Humphrey said. “This is how we should chop down our forests.”

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Participants listen during a briefing organized by Honor the Earth on the Huber factory project in Cohasset on Tuesday, April 19, 2022, at the North West Indian Community Development Center in Bemidji.

Annalize Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Legal challenges and action

There is another challenge leveled at Huber Mill who argues that he failed to follow the proper steps required involving consultation with local tribal governments.

“It would violate treaty law and other federal laws that say you need the prior informed consent of tribes with rights in this area,” Konopacky said.

The Huber plant, in addition to being just one mile from Leech Lake Nation, is on 1855 treaty lands where Indigenous peoples have the right to hunt, gather and fish.

The Leech Lake Band, however, was not informed of the project of any consultation and was instead made aware of the proposal through a press release.

“There was no meaningful consultation before the decisions were made, and that is simply illegal,” Konopacky said.

Honor the Earth asked attendees to sign postcards addressed to both Governor Tim Walz and their tribal chairmen, if they had one. They were also encouraged to share testimonials through affidavits that could be notarized before they left.

“This treaty law is what we have right now,” Humphrey said. “We will continue to stand and push, we will exhaust every avenue.”

Some even presented their affidavits to the public, including Alli Fairbanks, 14, from Leech Lake, who shared the importance of her cultural traditions and heritage, including gathering in the forests and wetlands near the reserve .

“The Huber plant will destroy Mother Nature, which is sacred to my family,” Fairbanks said. “I do not consent to the destruction of Mother Nature and my traditions.”

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Alli Fairbanks, 14, a member of the Leech Lake Tribe, reads a speech she wrote against the Huber factory project in Cohasset during an information meeting hosted by Honor the Earth on Tuesday, April 19, 2022, at the North West Indian Community Development Center in Bemidji.

Annalize Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

The participants of the event also took the time to reflect on different strategies to mobilize and oppose the construction of the plant, looking back on other successful campaigns against other projects.

“The tribes, if they stand together in this state, they have a clean aquifer, clean water and clean air,” said Brenda Whitebird, who is originally from the Ojibwe tribe in Bad River, Wisconsin, but who now lives in Ponemah. .

The Bemidji event was one of many hosted by Humphrey and Honor the Earth in recent days. Meetings were also held in Walker, Cass Lake and Grand Rapids.

Honor the Earth’s next steps are to pursue the EAW’s appeal and fight the various permits requested by Huber Mill. The organization also hopes to raise awareness and involve more people in writing letters, commentaries and more.

“Therein lies the battle,” said Whitebird, “pen and paper.”

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Councilor Brenda Whitebird, resident of Ponemah, originally from Bad River Wis., speaks out against the proposed Huber plant in Cohasset during an information meeting hosted by Honor the Earth Tuesday, April 19, 2022, at the Center of Northwest Indian community development in Bemidji.

Annalize Braught / Bemidji Pioneer