Dayton faces criticism, stands ground on Range

Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL-Minnesota) PHOTO: Easy Stand, Flickr CC

Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL-Minnesota) PHOTO: Easy Stand, Flickr CC

Gov. Mark Dayton was on the Iron Range Friday defending his decision to deny permission for Twin Metals to drill on public lands near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Technically, there were two meetings, both held at the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) headquarters in Eveleth. The Range Association of Municipalities and Schools (RAMS) held a public meeting and the Ely City Council held a special session.

Both meetings were filled with supporters and opponents of the Twin Metals project, which seeks to create a large underground mine just outside Ely. This is controversial because it’s in the same watershed as the BWCA.

Around the region, local officials focused on Friday’s gathering as an opportunity to convince the governor to change his mind on the issue. It was clear, however, Dayton was coming to explain his decision, not to consider changing it.


Bill Hanna took this approach in his Mesabi Daily News lede, under the headline “Dayton rips foreign investment“:

Gov. Mark Dayton Friday bashed foreign investment in the state on the Iron Range, while doubling down on his strong and unwavering opposition to the Twin Metals Minnesota copper/nickel/precious metals project near Ely and Babbitt.

That is certainly one way of looking at what Dayton said.

The governor said that the project was far-fetched because its controlling owner, the Chilean miner Antofagasta, was known for playing options on mining projects around the world. He said the same of Essar Steel, which is currently nearing bankruptcy on its half-finished iron mine near Nashwauk.

But rather than discuss the risk of working with companies who look at projects on a global chessboard, the angle local readers see is that Dayton is rebuffing efforts by companies to invest on the Range. Dayton was actually talking about the risk.

Ely officials and pro-mining boosters left the event disappointed. A number of mining opponents or skeptics spoke in favor of the governor’s decision.

And, critically, this project is so far from being permitted that one or two governors might pass through the system before the real decision actually happens.


Twin Metals has always been the “longer option” on nonferrous mining projects in Northern Minnesota. PolyMet is much further along in the permitting process for its proposed mine near Hoyt Lakes, which is in the Lake Superior watershed.

The biggest factors for Twin Metals are commodity prices and the outcome of the PolyMet process. Though, to be clear, PolyMet is also years away from mining and still not financed.

Where PolyMet proposes an open pit mine near Babbitt that would ship materials to a plant in Hoyt Lakes, Twin Metals proposes an underground mine — something that hasn’t operated in Northern Minnesota in 50 years.

One early company statement about Twin Metals in 2012 described the project as an “Underground City.” While the engineering for such a thing is possible, the costs would be enormous. That’s why Twin Metals has always been seen by industry types as a longer shot than PolyMet. (And why the governor described it as outlandish on Friday).

Again, nothing happened that’s going to change anyone’s minds on the issue. Pro-mining people are frustrated and angry. Anti-mining people have one good piece of news from a year of mostly being frustrated and angry.

It’s almost like we could all be worried about something else. Perhaps even something we here actually control that could make our community stronger right now, without permits or global financing. Local entrepreneurship. Community building activities and cultural events. Or if you must absolutely have an option that involves mining, how about adding value to our Minnesota ore products so they can compete in a changing industry?

On a side note, Hanna using his deadly inference rays on Dayton over the grounds that the governor is “ripping” foreign investment will create a quandary for frequent contributors to the MDN’s anonymous “Orchids and Onions” Saturday morning troll festival. Do they choose mining or xenophobia as their top priority? My bet is someone writes “We should take them damn foreigners’ money after all all we gave to them.”

I’d actually give odds on that.

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