The sound and the fury of Range mining politics

The St. Louis County board heard hours of comments on a proposed resolution to back nonferrous mining on northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. After scorching through vast amounts of time, emotional energy and professional costs, nothing was done about a resolution that was never going to change anything. Everyone involved looks forward to doing the same thing again in a few weeks.

This is what I was talking about in my column last Sunday.


  1. Hi Aaron–
    I’m sorry about a ‘scorched’ night that seemed to go nowhere. Glad I wasn’t there. But doesn’t that tell you something too…that the same-old mining solution isn’t the solution?

    I’d recommend some ideas outside that box, something that keeps the ore in the ground until it can be harvested safely. Something that doesn’t cave into 19th century boom-bust mentality. Something that uses the resource to fully benefit the community and not some nulti-national conglomerate (no one was at the meeting from overseas I bet, right?).

    So, to me, this scorched meeting is the call for new ideas…you’re a savvy guy, bring your best and see if you can move the needle next meeting. Best regards, Mike

  2. Hi Mike – Thanks for the comment. I don’t want to belabor the point or diminish the importance of the issue.

    I don’t think the county board, or any given school board or city council or the like, should be spending time on resolutions that won’t affect — positively or negatively — the projects in question. I feel the same about this as the anti-war resolutions several years ago.

    I think the discussion rightly belongs in the context of permits and public spending. These areas are subject to a large amount of public commentary, of which I am glad to see. People should pay more attention.

    I’ve been to a couple of the same kind of meetings. I’ve watched or read about a few others. I’ve heard about many others. I could go up to Ely to speak about the meaningless resolution, say the thing I always say, listen to the people say what they always say, and watch as the board does something that won’t matter.

    Or I could not do that.

    An environmental mitigation deal from the companies would help, not with all opposition but with many key elements. I think a deal for the permits could make this happen. Without it, I don’t think the permits will ever come. The companies don’t want to make the mitigation deal because it hurts their ability to raise financing. Their promised financing is based on the premise they’ll have permits they do not have yet.

    This is the logjam that would have to broken; unless, of course, the “best move” is to nix the mining proposals all together. I am agnostic on that concept, except to say that such talk will only be politically acceptable if job creation outside mining is made a priority.

    And that’s what I talk about all the time.

  3. Mike
    If those who invested in the Iron Ranges of Minnesota 130 years ago had to deal with you or todays DFL-led EPA policies, the iron mining industry would never have happened….we’d be fishing with horsehair fishing line and logging with two-man buck saws, but no iron ore mining.

    This is a serious blog looking for serious ideas…and you’re fantasizing or drinking way to much when you say we shouldn’t do a thing until – “something that keeps the ore in the ground until it can be harvested safely. Something that doesn’t cave into 19th century boom-bust mentality”…wow.

  4. @Ranger47…I’ll give you a pass on not understanding where I’m coming from. These multinational mining conglomerates do a great job of creating shell companies that are manned by people who look like normal guys who you might enjoy a beer with, like George W Bush.

    And while you are drinking your beer and enjoying George’s stories, somewhere a deal is being wrung out that strips away the valuable resources from under your land and leaves you with a mountain of overburden that will never grow a decent forest again surrounded by polluted lakes and streams that will never support fish. (Never being defined as several generations of your cancer and mesothelioma filled children.)

    And, maybe because you’ve never wanted to accept any responsibility for thinking you even have a choice, you prefer not to consider any other option. Well, I’ve seen George Carlin’s American Dream, and I’m not asleep anymore.

    I’m not asking you to change THE world, but I am asking you to change YOUR world. Last time I swung through Da Range, I couldn’t help but notice that everything was harkening back to some 50’s nostalgia with photos of Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe as if only we could go back there again.

    With big 1950’s mines, lacking any OSHA or EPA protections, and this time let’s get it right and forget any unions…being some sort of Northern Nirvana!

    Seriously? That thinking (if it can even be considered thinking) is delusional!!

    Here is what you are now–in 2011, you are acting exactly like the american indians of 1800s–in exchange for some trinkets and blankets, you will give up your property to these invaders who will rape your water and land and leave you broke and busted…again.

    Or, you can choose to be smarter, you can keep the resources in the ground, or create your own companies to exploit the resource while you retain the profits in your community instead of letting them end up in some Swiss bank account.

    Obviously, I can go on, but this is already long so I’ll stop. BUT GET THIS ONE MESSAGE–you can change, you don’t have to accept the status quo. God bless and good luck.

  5. We’re in 100% agreement Mike…The Range has provided a wonderful livelihood for hundred’s of thousands of parents, their kids, their grand and great-grandkids.

    The Range has produced thousands of very successful, productive people…all stemming from harvesting iron ore and the riches it provides. Life always has risks, Rangers were willing to take ’em and the world’s a better place because of it.

    Rangers will continue to be bold and take spite of you and Obama encouraging them to become dependants of the state.

    I truly wish a Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  6. Well ranger47, you state we are in “100% agreement’ and then you somehow come up with this statement–
    “in spite of you and Obama encouraging them to become dependants of the state”
    –so, does this mean you are with me and Obama encouraging rangers to become dependants of the state?

    But seriously–where are you coming from with that statement…and just what in my comments suggests anything other than BOLD and RISKY change?

    Nothing is more bold than saying no to the easy money of letting yet another outside mining company come in to strip more land and leave more piles of overburden and polluted water behind for the next ranger47 to avoid.

    Nothing is more risky than starting your own company in your own community, instead of letting some non-caring stranger come in and steal off the best resource and leave a mess behind for your kids to avoid.

    Because then, you would actually have to take responsibility for your community, wouldn’t you? It is much easier to sit back and let some multinational sweep in, make all the good money, and when they go, you can whine about how they left you with all the mess to deal with. Nice, otherwise know as selling out.

    And a Merry Christmas to you and yours!

  7. I’m kinda fond of overburden, as are the majority of Rangers. It’s harmless, part of our culture, we grew up on it. It blends in well with the swamps, lakes, pines, birch and poplar.

    I agree though, dumping tailings into Trout Lake and Lake Superior was not good, but that stopped decades ago. Tailings on land, handed correctly, is somewhat nostalgic and harmless.

    The big holes left behind now filled with cool, pristine, 400 feet deep water are also a thing of beauty. Great recreational, tourist attractions.

  8. Well, I guess the road I traveled on the range last time was different than yours…the overburden piles I went by were barren but for weeds and were still leeching rusty, murky befouled water that collected into puddles you had to carefully avoid stepping on lest orange mud end up everywhere you step for half a day.

    And the lakes I saw were a funky greenish-gray colored, devoid of any waterfowl or nearby wildlife, and surrounded by an eight foot fence complete with constant ‘keep out’ signage. Where did you find yours?

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