Steve Giorgi
Executive Director
Phone: 218-780-8877
Email: SGiorgi@ramsmn.org

RAMS hearing 1940

Kawishiwi Falls - Ely MN photo by Adrian Koski 2016

Cuyuna

Moon over Queen City photo created by Matt Herberg

RAMS delegation with Senator Klobuchar

2016 Press conference on US Forest Service - Virginia, MN

DC delegation on land withdrawal 2017

Boycott the hearing rally 2017

Mayor Rick Cannata Wild RIce/Sulfate rally

New bridge at night photo by P Pluswick

Hwy 53 bridge Nov 2016 photo by F Luomanen

Pike Bay Marina Lake Vermilion

Session 2018


SESSION 2018…

The Session will begin on February 20, 2018.  This year is typically a bonding year with the major tax and funding bills having been passed in the 2017 session.  Due to the Federal Tax Reform passed by Congress, the Legislature has little choice but to tackle another tax bill this session.  It could be limited to adjusting Minnesota tax codes to conform with the new Federal Tax codes, but anytime they try to address something very specifically, it tends to open it wide open for other spending or tax issues.  Top priorities for the Legislature will be to pass a bill to fund the Legislature, since at the end of the 2017 session, Governor Dayton eliminated their funding.  As for the bonding bill, Governor Dayton has proposed $1.5 billion dollars in bonding, primarily focused on government buildings, parks and infrastructure.  Speaker Daudt thinks $800 million is more appropriate, while Senator Bakk suggests at least $1 billion.  As always RAMS will be promoting local bonding projects from our region to be included in the final bill.

DAILY SESSION UPDATES

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RAMS –  2018 LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES:

  1. Local Government Aid payments – Since it is not a tax bill year, LGA should not be a major topic of discussion, but Republican leadership generally does not support LGA, so if dollars are tight, LGA may become and issue and RAMS will monitor these discussions closely, as rural Minnesota cannot afford any reductions in the LGA formula.
  2. Broadband expansion across the Taconite Assistance Area –(long term goal).  RAMS will become a member of MN Rural Broadband Coalition this year and that group will provide more visibility, focus and advocacy for broadband funding.  Support funding of the Office of Broadband. Fund the Border to Border Broadband Fund ($100 million recommendation)  Fix the Border to Border Broadband Fund – certain policy impede the advancement of broadband expansion and a new standard for broadband networks should be included at 100 Mb/20 Mb when installed.
  3. Capital funds allocated for early childhood; pre-K to provide Districts the opportunity to remodel, restructure or construct space for the programs.
  4. Amend the Municipal Tax Aide formula in the Taconite Tax Formula to provide for an increase to our municipalites, something that has not occurred since 1983.  By dedicating the price inflation index or escalator clause to the Municipal Aide formula, communities would be assured of a slight adjustment each year in the fund dependent of course on total taconite tonnage.
  5. Continue to advocate for economic development in the region, including mining, forestry, tourism and other ventures for Northeastern MN.Support for collaborative projects such as the East Range Joint Powers water extension, the West Range Sewer project. the NorthShore tourism projects and the Grand Rapids multi purpose complex.
  6. Funding for completion of Highway 169 to complete 4 lanes of traffic from highway 65 to Coleraine.
  7. Address the problem with the Wild Rice/Sulfate standard with serious consideration for the repeal of the standard and providing a funding mechanism to provide for improving wild rice habitat and growth.
  8. Address the future operation of the Hill Annex Mine (State Park). The DNR should continue to operate the park as it has significant historic value not only in the region but for the state.
  9. Address the need for additional funding for rural mental health care that includes addressing the severe shortage of juvenile mental health care beds and facilities.  Along with the opioid crisis impacting the state, there is a real need to immediate legislative support for these treatment programs.

 

Message From Director

FINALLY….SOME POSITIVE NEWS FOR THE RANGE

After 14 years of trials and tribulations, setbacks and restarts, the Minnesota DNR and the MPCA released the most critical permits for the PolyMet, NorthMet project. Working in conjunction, another bit of good news, holding just two public hearings in the Northland, not St. Paul, the state’s regulatory agencies have determined that PolyMet has met or exceeded the state’s regulatory environmental standards for air, water, dam and wetland quality, and they have put forth a mine plan of operation that is viable, sustainable, and will operate in compliance with environmental regulations. PolyMet and the state have also agreed upon the financial assurance required under state law for the first copper nickel mine operation in the history of Minnesota.

Rangers turned out in huge numbers at both hearings, the first one in Aurora where nearly 500 people packed the gym at Mesabi East and signed up to give their opinion on the mine project. 58 speakers were heard with 50 of them speaking in support of the project. In Duluth the following night, 800 people attended the hearing that started with a short but boisterous rally by PolyMet supporters. David Ross, President of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce proudly announced the chambers strong support for the project recognizing how a strong mining economy on the Range directly impacts the ever growing port activities in Duluth. Speakers at the hearing are drawn by random selection, and there was no doubt the anti-mining crowd won the lottery, but attendance was virtually 50/50. All in all the week was a victory for the Range and for our future mining of precious minerals thus providing some diversification in our mining heritage that will grow for another 100 years.

BITTERSWEET FRIDAY, FEB 9 ANNOUNCEMENT:
Congressman Rick Nolan announced on Friday that he will not run for re-election in November. This announcement has taken everyone by surprise, including his Range staff, and left Rangers stunned and wondering who will step up to try and replace one of our finest Congressman ever to hold office. Rick has worked tirelessly to represent the best interests of hard working middle class families, to preserve and protect our way of life harvesting the natural resources that provide the foundation of our Range economy. Rick won two of the most expensive Congressional races in the history of modern politics and served during a time of great challenges for our region with a division over the strict environmentalists and those who appreciate our mining economy and believe in science and technology that can provide us with new mining opportunities and protect our ecosystem. There is no doubt, Rick will be missed by many when his term comes to an end, but rest assured he will continue to fight each and every day until his final day in office for the betterment of all Minnesotans. RAMS thanks Congressman Nolan for all he has done over his 16 years of public service and wishes him a long and health and happy retirement.

2018 MINNESOTA LEGISLATIVE SESSION…MORE TURMOIL IN ST. PAUL
It all started with the unfortunate and unexpected resignation of US Senator Al Franken. After multiple accusations of inappropriate behavior, Senator Franken announced he would resign from his seat in the US Senate. When that happens, the Governor has the authority to appoint a replacement to complete the term of office, in this case that term expired in November 2018. Governor Dayton appointed Tina Smith, his Lieutenant Governor to fill the open Senate seat. Under the Minnesota constitution, when a vacancy in the Lt. Governor’s office occurs the president of the Minnesota Senate moves to fill the vacancy. Michelle Fischbach, Republican Senator holds the position of president of the MN Senate and has been announced as the new Lt. Governor. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Wells, Senator Fischbach has taken the position that she will retain both of her seats in public office, thus assuring the control of the senate with her political party. A law suit has been filed over the issue and is winding its way through the court system and most likely will end up in front of the MN Supreme Court for a final determination.
In the interim, on February 20,the official first day of the Minnesota Legislature, the maneuvering and posturing will commence in St. Paul. This should be a bonding year and Governor Dayton has proposed an extensive $1.4 bonding bill focused on long overdue repairs to state buildings, parks, and infrastructure. Due to the Federal Tax reform, the state will have no choice but to also take up a tax bill to align the state with the Federal tax changes, or potentially suffer the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars to the state. This will open up the Legislature to a very busy short session dealing with more issues than anticipated a few months ago. So what will happen is truly up in the air and uncertainty is the only thing certain for the pending session.

RAMS LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES:
The RAMS board of directors has discussed and developed a list of legislative priorities that will try to enhance the welfare of the majority of our communities across the Iron Range. RAMS will once again try to adjust the Taconite Municipal Aide formula to provide for an increase in that revenue stream, something that hasn’t happened since 1983. RAMS is proposing to move the escalator clause to the Municipal Aide formula as the method to achieve that increase on a permanent basis.

RAMS supports the need for state funding for rural high speed quality broadband expansion. The Taconite Assistance Area still has many areas that are “not served” and a majority of the area is “underserved”. Broadband is an economic highway for rural Minnesota and increased access to quality broadband will not be achieved without significant financial commitment from the state, federal and even our county government. RAMS will partner with other advocate groups to lobby for significant state funding for broadband during the session.

RAMS provides assistance to local communities who have bonding projects and primarily focuses on communities who have partnered with neighboring towns to develop a collaborative project. Aurora, Hoyt Lakes and White Township have formed the East Range Joint Powers and have submitted a bonding project for a new water system for the East Range. RAMS will work with Senator Tomassoni to try and secure $8.6 million in bonding funds for this project. One the west end of the Range, Keewatin, Nashwauk and Lone Pine Township are working collectively towards a new sanitary sewer system and treatment facility. RAMS is also working with the communities on this bonding project. A Lake Superior tourism initiative includes the cities of Silver Bay and Two Harbors that RAMS will provide assistance for those cities during the session.

Education is always a priority for RAMS as an organization and this year is no different. RAMS will support funding for early childhood education that allows for capital improvements in our schools. Governor Dayton has made this funding a priority during his term in office and our aging buildings simply do not have adequate space to provide the new programs so capital expenditure is required to meet the needs. Additional funding for more school counselors is another concern for our school administrators. Minnesota is in the bottom 10% in the nation when it comes to the ratio of students to school counselors. We can and must do better for our next generation.

OTHER ACTIVITIES FOR 2018…
Following up on the land exchange legislation passed in the House right after the Thanksgiving holiday will continue, likely resulting in another trip to Washington D.C. Congressman Nolan did the hard lifting on this bill to get it through the house, now we need our US Senators to take up the fight and get this bill passed to assure that the final land exchange for the PolyMet project will be complete without further delay from frivolous, time consuming legal challenges.

The land withdrawal by the USFS of over 240,000 acres in the Superior National Forest is still an ongoing concern for our area. Recently, action was taken by Interior Secretary Zinke to forego the two year study and to move to a less comprehensive study on minerals in the area, but it will still likely be two years before this is completed and a formal decision is made on whether or not the exploration for minerals can resume. Multiple mineral developers are waiting and watching the Federal government to decide whether they can continue to invest in potential mining opportunities in Minnesota or if “Minnesota is Closed to Mining Businesses”.

Wild Rice/Sulfate standard. The Administrative Law Judge virtually threw out the MPCA’s proposed new formula and individual standards for each and every discharge. The findings of the judge left in place the current 10 mg/L standard which has never been enforced, but will apply to PolyMet NorthMet project until or unless the outdated and unenforced standard is repealed by the Legislature or replaced by a standard that is scientifically supported. Remember, the MPCA determined that sulfate is not harmful to wild rice, it is actually SULFIDE in the sediment that may be the harmful to wild rice. RAMS will support a repeal of the standard and supports state investment in wild rice habitat and growth that will sustain wild rice for generations to come.

More educational and training opportunities for our local elected officials will take place with RAMS hosting events as often as necessary. RAMS is hosting a meeting with Jeff Freeman, Director of the MN Public Facilities Authority (PFA) in February, and will host a meeting with staff from DEED (Department of Employment and Economic Development) in March. Regular meetings with Iron Range mayors are scheduled throughout the year, and meeting with the Range delegation or other elected officials will also be held when possible. KEEP AN EYE ON THE SCHEDULE OF EVENTS ON THIS WEBSITE FOR MORE EVENTS.



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