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Ely voters remain divided on future of copper-nickel mining

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ELY, MN -- A short drive up Highway 169 North out of Virginia brings you to the Iron Range city of Ely.

The city is as politically charged over one major issue as any other city across the country. It's shaping up to drive voters to the polls in full force not only on Super Tuesday but in November as well.

"We're in a battleground area. Definitely," said Ely resident Mike Forsman.

The battleground is tens of thousands of acres of land some residents want used to start a copper-nickel mine, others want preserved as part of the pristine Boundary Waters area.

"There's never a one size fits all candidate when it comes to these issues because there's either a copper-nickel mine or there's not a copper mine," said business owner and Ely resident Steve Piragis.

"Most contentious right now is the mining, and obviously the copper-nickel. Everybody knows that," said Forsman.

It's a topic that's front of mind for those hitting the polls.

"I think on a presidential level, I think it really does make a big difference for people," said Ely resident Carly Beer.

Some say the regional economy needs a shot in the arm, and a mine would shake what they say hasn't been working for the region.

"It's basically the argument of sustainability of tourism, whether or not that can do anything. Obviously we're seeing it's not. The population is dwindling, our incomes are down," said Forsman, "It's a sad thing trying to bring up your kids here and there's just not the jobs."

Others are in a wait and see mode.

"I don't think, personally, that there's enough evidence to show that there's enough of these mines that haven't damaged the water," said Beer.

"We gotta trust our technology that we have nowadays that can do it a lot cleaner," added Forsman.

Some voters said they'll be supporting President Trump, based largely on this issue.

"I think President Trump when he came out in support of Polymet and other mining, he realizes that these are the mainstream jobs that support our economy. And without mining, where would this country be?," said Nancy McReady, an Ely resident.

Business owners like Piragis, who's also affiliated with the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters said he'll be supporting the Democrats, and had cast an absentee ballot for Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

"The main candidates are on our side on this. I think we need a new president, we need a new administration, we need somebody that's honest, we need someone that's going to run the departments the way they're supposed to be run," he said.

McReady, who's also affiliated with Conservationists with Common Sense says she was born and raised Democrat but made the move to the Republican Party as she felt the Democratic party was out of touch.

"I am very disappointed in the Democratic party for allowing the party to move that far left."

While there are strong opinions in the city, voters in the area say its tough to say who the front runners are.

"There's not really one set strong opinion that I notice a whole lot. It really depends on what community you're involved in and who you hang out with," said Beer.

A town of less than 3,500, with an identity unique to the more than century-old city.

"Ely is really its own bubble, different from everything else in the state," said Beer.

Reporter Anthony Matt

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