IRRR commissioner OKs contested water tower project in Brookston

On Thursday afternoon Commissioner Mark Phillips of the Minnesota Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation announced the approval of a contested $250,000 grant for a water tower in Brookston. The decision concludes a growing controversy over the project’s exclusion from a collection of public works projects funded by the unique state agency. The small… Read More →

IRRR must adapt or be smashed to pieces

Amid a global pandemic and watershed moment in social justice it seems mundane to raise a parochial political concern like the Minnesota Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation (nee IRRRB). Over the years the IRRRB has been involved in many important, boring, and sometimes questionable investments in public works and economic development under administrations… Read More →

The rise of post-commute opportunity in northern Minnesota

Around 1960 my grandfather Marv Johnson quit the Keewatin police force to work at the Erie taconite plant in Hoyt Lakes. He told me that his take-home salary doubled that day. It was the first time he felt confident he could provide for his growing family. There were downsides. For one, the job almost killed… Read More →

Eveleth-Gilbert, Virginia voters approve school district consolidation

On Tuesday citizens in Eveleth, Gilbert and Virginia voted to approve the consolidation of two Mesabi Iron Range districts. More than 77 percent of Virginia district voters backed consolidation while almost 54 percent of Eveleth-Gilbert voters supported the move. Both districts needed to approve the measure for it to take effect. The new district will… Read More →

Another giant awakens

Photographs of early Mesabi Iron Range mining are in black and white. We may identify the gray material in the rail cars as iron because, well, why else would those sturdy mustachioed gentlemen have shoveled it up? But the early open pit and underground mines were very much driven by color — bright, vibrant hues… Read More →

Five NE Minnesota colleges move toward merger

On Wednesday, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Board of Trustees approved plans to merge five community and technical colleges in Northeastern Minnesota. After a two-year planning period the board will vote again on whether to go through with it. The new college organization, if approved, would be in operation by Fall 2022. These five… Read More →

There was a peaceful school called Rock Ridge

Tonight the Eveleth-Gilbert Golden Bears and Virginia-Mountain Iron-Buhl Blue Devils renewed their storied Iron Range high school hockey rivalry. But this game was less about the final score (Bears won 4-1) than about the announcement made on the ice between periods. Last year, voters from both school districts authorized the building of a new shared… Read More →

Hey Jenna Fischer, here are specific things to know about the Iron Range

As you may have noticed I’ve been blogging less to focus on my new book. So I wasn’t able to click-grab news about “The Office” star Jenna Fischer coming to the Iron Range to film a new hockey movie next month. That’s a shame. One of the most popular posts I’ve ever published was when… Read More →

Cleveland Cliffs acquires AK Steel

Iron ore producer Cleveland Cliffs acquired AK Steel in a deal announced today. It’s a seismic transaction that could have long-term implications for the Mesabi Iron Range. Cliffs will use its stock to buy $1.1 billion worth of AK Steel stock, assuming about 68 percent ownership of the Ohio-based company. Cliffs CEO Lourenco Goncalves will… Read More →

Emblematic of his era, Iron Range lawmaker Joe Begich dies

I met Joe Begich in the late 1990s, five years after he had retired from the state legislature. He was a senior statesman of sorts, an uncle at the Iron Range DFL reunion who could offer either useful context or long-winded tangents. Begich was, of course, a dedicated laborite and fierce Iron Range advocate. He… Read More →