IRR project season off to fast start

The Iron Range Resources Board met Thursday. (Iron Range Resources is the unique state agency dedicated to diversifying and strengthening our volatile Range economy, supporting public works and infrastructure across the region while repairing the damage from a century of mining. Some call the agency a form of socialism; others call it the shining hope for government to do good in the world. Some, I won’t name names, call it “mommy”).

There were three notable outcomes from the recent meeting:

  1. $250,000 to kick start the University of Minnesota study on the danger of a rare form of cancer found in many Iron Range miners. Commissioners discussed the unfortunate development that Cleveland-Cliffs would be doing their own mining safety study. These corporate studies have been used to cloud the issues in the past. It was believed that all parties involved were going to support this one, comprehensive objective study on the effects of mesothelioma on Range workers. It is refreshing to see that our local legislators seem to have maintained resolve on this issue.
  2. $2 million for public works projects across the Range, double the request made by the commissioner. Why double? Board members decided to simply approve a whole roster of public works projects now rather than piece them out. This “add on” tendency has always been an issue for this agency and on the surface it seems rather shady. But you have to remember that this money comes from mining companies in lieu of property taxes that would normally go to cities to pay for their own public works projects. This money, in effect, belongs to all the local government units of the Taconite Tax Relief area. Why should they have to fight like dogs to get their share? Especially for projects that are obviously within the realm of the agency’s mission: infrastructure and mineland reclamation. The list of projects is here.
  3. More loans for more economic development projects. These sound fine, but it seems more and more like the IRRB is becoming a financier rather than a public agency devoted to economic stability on the Range. Before long I might have a IRRB checking account. (I wonder if they’ll have the checks with the little kitties and puppies on them?) Also, I am always wary of using “jobs created” as a form of currency; that science is very hard to predict. I’ll start believing the economic turnaround when real estate prices go up. But in general, I like to see smaller growth projects that don’t have the risk of multi-million dollar boondoggles like Excelsior Energy’s Mesaba Energy Project.

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