IRRR commissioner OKs contested water tower project in Brookston

The Joe Begich IRRRB Building located south of Eveleth, Minnesota. (PHOTO: Aaron J. Brown)

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 city of Brookston lies on the northern edge of the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe reservation. Its affiliation with the Band drew fire from IRRR advisory board members. The board includes state legislators from the Iron Range region.

State Sen. Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) argued that the Fond du Lac Band’s past legal actions against mining companies should disqualify it from receiving funds derived from mining production taxes. Mines don’t pay local property taxes. Instead, their production taxes fund local governments.

I wrote a column about this topic last Sunday and gave an interview on KAXE Thursday morning. The matter may seem officially settled. Nevertheless, the issues raised by this episode remain open. Namely, how will we diversify an economy beyond mining if we demand loyalty to mining companies as a precondition of doing business here?

Perhaps we all learned something here. More likely, this slow cultural and political change will require more time and leadership. In any event, Commissioner Phillips deserves credit for doing the right thing.



  1. Good for you! Thanks for shining a light on this issue.

  2. David Kannas says

    Iron has been king on the Range since long before I was born. It’s hard to recognize that times have changed and with that change comes a need to diversify or die a slow economic death. Good work, Aaron, for bringing this to the public’s attention.

  3. Joe musich says

    Happy to hear this got turned around. It never should have been controversial to begin with.

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