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Sacrifice Zone 16/11/2013

Posted by zoidion in Mundane, Photography.
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Twin Cities ephemera: The journey back from “up north” was achingly beautiful, in part because the gathering clouds in the north dissipated as I went south, in part because I avoided the major highways, in part because the vehicle lacked on-board distractions. After a severe cold snap several days before, the air was mild again, and calm–a gift, it seemed.

It’s dawned on me this year that I’ve neglected to see or walk at all outside of several of the usual corridors, so this time I went on a couple of stretches of the Great River Road, then along the east side of Mille Lacs (“a thousand lakes” in one).

One stretch of the Great River Road was a two-lane dirt track past old red wooden barns and tilting silos, bringing me to a onetime one-track railroad bridge, built in 1910: now one of those rails-to-trails deals. The other stretch was fully paved, some of it fairly recently, but I marveled at how very little traffic was about as the road many times met the meandering Mississippi; I went twenty-five miles without encountering so much as a hamlet or a paved intersecting road before reluctantly retracing my route.

MissRiv-AitkinCty

Shortly after passing three deer hanging next to a corrugated metal shed, I braked for a pair of whitetail does crossing at noon, and had to slow down further to negotiate several hundred yards of roadway covered with soil dropped from dump trucks that were carting it away . . . for some commercial reason, apparently.

Mille Lacs’ shimmering surface was entrancing, the far shore barely visible. Here I was in the realm of vacation sport fishing, in the off season. A few year-round homes were evidently occupied among the closed-up cabins of the “612-ers” (Twin Cities residents) and the rental units used by those from further afield. Across the road, entire towns of ice-fishing shacks were crammed together in storage lots. Just a few boats were visible, far out on the water. It was a time I love to visit such a place.

I could park my car in the way-back part of the big lot marked for pickups with boat-hauling trailers, and take my time lining up uncluttered photos of the tiny harbor at Malmo (yes, a lot of Swedes came to Minnesota), complete with Statue of Liberty beckoning the fishermen home.

Liberty-harbor

It was a lovely, sublimely quiet scene (except for some distant, persistent noise not an outboard motor), on what could have been the clearest/driest/mildest day for five months to come. Yet I could not help but ponder what this place would be like—how much material abandoned/reclaimed/reused—in a near future in which life would have to be reconfigured without the “energy slaves” contained in fossil fuels.

And though subsistence fishing and small-scale agriculture could form the basis of community life, how would the fish population fare in the face of the invasions of zebra mussels and Eurasian watermilfoil? Mille Lacs, big in area, is—ike a great many of these more than 10,000 lakes—shallow and vulnerable.

And what of the water quality? Not being one who has followed the issue closely, I have nevertheless noted news reports stating that a great many lakes are in poor to middling condition. Much of the impact on lakes and groundwater is from industrial farming practices. I pondered that as I crossed and re-crossed the Groundhouse River, named for the earth-covered wooden huts of the long-gone Hidatsa tribe.

A fresh story sketches out the magnitude of the situation in farm country:

“The Minnesota Department of Agriculture wants to test 70,000 private wells throughout the state’s farming regions as part of an ambitious but controversial plan to measure and fix nitrogen contamination in drinking water. The initiative reflects urgent concerns about Minnesota’s groundwater, which in some areas shows rising levels of pollution from the tons of fertilizer and other forms of nitrogen applied each year across the southern two-thirds of the state. A 2011 survey found that 62 percent of the monitoring wells in central Minnesota, where groundwater is most susceptible, showed excessive contamination.”

(The Minnesota River watershed is notorious as a major contributor of farm chemical runoff that results in the “dead zone” at the mouth of the Mississippi.)

At least for the time being, there is funding for testing—along with (maybe) funding (or accounting tricks) for an igloo/stadium and for $300M worth of passing lanes “to ease congestion and support commerce.” Something’s gotta give, and soon.

The water problem is virtually everywhere—in the most recent updated list of “impaired” waterways, 511 water bodies and river segments were added, and only thirteen removed—and is likely to be soon even worse in mining territory. The higher-grade iron ore having been exhausted in the Mesabi range (aka Da Range) decades ago, with vast open pits and nearly-dead towns to show for it, the appearance on the horizon of a new round of mining has a lot of folks abuzz with prospects of good-paying jobs–and insidious long-term pollution. It’s all but inevitable that once the sulfide non-ferrous ores are exposed to air and water–despite being located near the center of the North American continent, Minnesota has plenty–sulfuric acid will begin moving into and through local waterways and into Lake Superior and the Boundary Waters canoe area wilderness.

The aptly-named industry promotion organization Mining Minnesota touts thousands of jobs (“possibly 100 years, or longer”), money for schools and tax dollars for cities–all from “one of the world’s largest deposits of copper, nickel and platinum group metals.” It reassures with “environmental responsibility”: a “compact mining footprint . . .  multiple safeguards . . . progressive reclamation.” (Can “safeguards” realistically plan for catastrophic weather events such as the one that struck that area only a year-and-a-half ago? MM represents exploration and venture mining corporations with names like Polymet and Twin Metals, while the giant multinationals lurk in the background. It’s just doing its job to sell the notion.

But the track record is abysmal, and the time frame of pollution rather long: perhaps half a millennium, or longer. Corporations can and have suddenly and conveniently declared bankruptcy or otherwise fled the scene of other disasters, leaving behind poisoned environments and the costs of coping and cleanups. It’s the nature of the corporate juggernaut to do so, regardless of promises and remediation bonds. And it seems all but inevitable.

Thus the language announcing a forum I attended: “What will be the benefits and risks of sulfide mining?” Mandatory environmental reviews and permitting (five permits from three federal agencies, sixteen from three state agencies) will delay the start of full-scale mining, but the only thing that seems capable of foiling a sure disaster is a financial crash. That too seems a sure thing, and soon. But when?

Mining—whether of the soil or of mineral-bearing rock—has been at the forefront of Minnesota’s economic life from nearly the beginning of statehood. This is strongly symbolized in the state’s birth chart: Saturn was close to the Ascendant. That such activity would be greatly problematic is also represented: Saturn in water sign Cancer, the sign of its detriment or “exile.”

MNstate-SR2014

(The inner ring is the statehood chart, with the solar return for 2014 in the outer ring.)

No wonder the state’s chronic issues with water pollution, or its effects far downstream from its place at the headwaters of the continent’s dominant river system.

Metals industries are also potent from an astrological view: Mars in Scorpio, sign of “domicile.” But regulation and management are typically poor: Mars’ retrograde condition and angular connection with debilitated Saturn, plus Mars’ opposition to a great cluster of Sun and planets in earth sign Taurus: the pre-eminent sign relating to agriculture. Mars also has domicile in Aries, where the Moon was placed. Translation: Metals displace, overcome, overwhelm the safety and security of the people. Moon has domicile in Cancer, where Saturn is tenant: another clash factor.

We go round and round: a negative feedback loop.

Some of the first industry-minded Yankees to explore the Range discovered iron ore in 1866, when Saturn was in the first year of its first passage through Scorpio since statehood. Others thought there was gold ready for the taking. Here we go again, with Saturn back in Scorpio.

Another planetary return is happening: Neptune, back in Pisces for the first time. Neptune was in late Pisces when the first commercial oil well was drilled in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1859, and Neptune is in Pisces again from 2012 to 2025. Neptune’s relation to oil is significant for Minnesota because in the statehood chart, Neptune is in the ninth house, which relates to interstate and international shipping.

Oil shipments by rail from the Bakken field in North Dakota and by pipeline from the oil sands field in Alberta already pass through Minnesota. Great trains of black tank cars shuttle back and forth on the tracks beside US Highway 10: I’ve seen them roaring through roadside villages, and they pass under an old, scheduled-for-replacement bridge and through a vast rail yard less than a mile from my house. Though it happened far away, I can’t quite forget the images that arose from the reports of what happened last July in Lac Megantic, Quebec, when tank cars filled with Bakken oil derailed and exploded.

The notorious Enbridge pipeline company wants to increase shipment via its pipelines to the port of Superior, Wisconsin. It’s already obvious that the company’s maintenance and spill monitoring and response are at the absolute minimum level: They cost money that counts against the bottom line.

Either way—by acid or oil—the prospects for destruction are, shall we say, likely. The denizens of Appalachia and Athabasca know it well. Such is life in a sacrifice zone.

The configuration for the state’s next birthday in relation to the statehood chart holds ample indication that a major disruption—a statewide crisis—is shaping up. How ready is the machinery of state for truly woebegone conditions? There are only months to prepare.

<- zoidion ->

P.S. A September story from Minnesota Public Radio gives some detail about the costs of nitrate pollution to one municipal water system and its users. But there are surely a great many municipalities (and households) unable to afford the remediation that the small but relatively affluent college town of St. Peter is able to implement; additional financial cost is up to $200 per year per household.

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