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

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

Tom Rukavina at rally prior to MPCA hearing at MCC

Range Officials with Congressman Stauber

Itasca Ski Hill

Twin Metals is Just a Smokescreen


Mayor Novak Ely Whiteside Park 2016 Press conference on US Forest Service - Virginia, MN Kawishiwi Falls - Ely MN photo by Adrian Koski 2016 Pioneer Mine Ely MN photo by Adrian Koski

“IT’S ABOUT MORE THAN JUST TWIN METALS”

In the heat of a stormy Minnesota summer, the US Forest Service scheduled two unprecedented “public comment” hearings to take testimony over land lease renewals requested by Twin Metals. These same leases have been renewed twice previously, both without and “public comment” hearings, both without any fanfare or public outcry. The Federal environmental guidelines do not even suggest that a “public comment” hearing is required or suggested for a lease renewal request.   First the US Forest Service issued a public notice that indicated they had “serious concerns” over the issuance of these leases so near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Secondly, they initially scheduled one “public comment” hearing and they decided that Duluth was the best “central” location to hold the hearing, thus denying working families from the Iron Range a reasonable opportunity to participate in the hearing.

RAMS, along with Jobs for Minnesotans, decided that we could not sit back and allow this to happen without raising our strong objections. A public forum was held in Virginia and we were fortunate to have Congressman Nolan present, where we publicly requested a second hearing, and insisted that it be held somewhere on the Iron Range, where the land leases are for the potential mine project. Apparently our public display of outrage and the strong advocacy of our Federal delegation, including Senators Klobuchar and Franken, along with Congressman Nolan convinced the US Forest Service to once again change the rules and schedule a second hearing.

The hearings were well attended, but the one held in Ely was standing room only! People had to sign up for a random drawing from one box and were allowed 3 minutes to state their opinion. A true environmental review requires science and technology to be presented for consideration, in this process, opinion was all that was under consideration. Emotions ran high with both those for and against continued exploration (remember, this is not a mining permit, it is for exploration for a potential mine site operation).   Overall it was a tedious process in a packed high school auditorium that was overheated by the 80 degree weather and the hundreds of concerned people in attendance.

Now that the “public comment” hearings are completed, the US Forest Service will review the many opinions they heard and make a decision on whether to renew the leases or not. If these leases are not renewed the project will have to close up shop after investing nearly $400 million dollars in the past several years and leave Minnesota for more viable locations for mining of precious minerals so desperately needed by every American today.

Why is this about more than Twin Metals? In 2015 Minnesota Congresswoman, Betty McCollum introduced H.R. 2072. This legislation in very simplified terms will prevent virtually any and all mining in the Rainy River Watershed Basin. This is an enormous swath of land that stretches from Roseau all the way to Lake Superior. It includes several active taconite mine operations. Here is a summary of the bill:

National Park and Wilderness Waters Protection Forever Act

Withdraws federal lands within the Rainy River Drainage Basin in Minnesota from all forms of: (1) entry, appropriation, or disposal under the public land laws; (2) location, entry, and patent under the mining laws; and (3) operation under the mineral leasing and mineral material laws.

Deems the approval of any lease or permit for activities relating to mining on federal lands in the Basin to be a major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment. Requires an environmental impact statement conducted for such an action to include consideration of any potential impacts to units of the National Park System (NPS) or land in the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) located in the Basin. Conditions the issuance or renewal of any such lease or permit on a requirement that the permittee or lessee seasonally monitor water quality on such lands throughout the Basin. Requires all mining activities to be suspended if any mining related contamination is detected in any NPS unit or NWPS land in the Basin until all contamination has been remediated.

Bars a federal agency from approving any mining related activities on federal lands in the Basin until the entity holding a lease or permit for that activity has submitted: (1) an acceptable contamination remediation plan, and (2) a full reclamation and performance bond sufficient to return the affected area to its original condition and treat any potential contamination for 50 years following the conclusion of any mining activities.

Exempts sand, gravel, and granite operations that exist on the date of enactment of this Act.

This weekend the Minnesota DFL party will be debating a resolution that can only be described as anti-mining. This is further evidence of how shrewd and deliberate the environmentalist convicts are. They have mapped out a strategy to take away our economic base in northeastern Minnesota so they can better protect their weekend playground. They have members who are willing to play the game of DFL party politics, work themselves into positions where they can be elected as delegates to the DFL convention and to introduce resolutions that would make our ancestors roll over in their graves. We have been taking minerals from the ground on the Range for over 130 years. We still have some of the most pristine and clear waters that can be found anywhere in the country. As a state we have some of the toughest environmental standards found in the country and that is still not good enough. Until they shut down every last mine operation, they will not be satisfied and they will not stop. They also have elected officials who will do their bidding even though they are not from the region, they do not represent the people of this region and were not elected to represent us, but they have the gall to introduce legislation “to protect us from ourselves”. Believe me when I say, this is much bigger than Twin Metals, this is about our economic future and our ability to use what nature has provided us in this region – raw materials, natural resources and a work ethic and the moral principles to harvest those assets in the safest way known in the industrial world, and at the same time to protect and preserve our own backyards.

 

Message From Director

2020 – A Year We Will Never Forget

PANDEMIC…CORONA – 19….STAY AT HOME…SELF QUARANTINE…SOCIAL DISTANCING all reflect the vocabulary that we have suddenly had to learn and become familiar with during this historic time in America. Everything that we once considered normal, routing or mundane is now questioned or presents a challenge that we never gave a thought to previously. Need to discuss an issue with your co-workers – simple, meet in the conference room. Now, since you are working from home, under the “Stay at Home” declaration, someone needs to schedule a Zoom meeting or Google chat.

Elected officials have had to quickly learn about video meeting formats, decide how or when to allow public participation and hope that they have enough broadband bandwidth from home to even connect to the meeting. The State Legislature has quickly developed new rules and adjourned the Legislature for weeks at a time, conducting leadership meetings to quickly develop a relief bill for the COVID -19 pandemic that provided for waiving the waiting week on unemployment, altered the eligibility rules for UE and allotted millions of dollars for short term low interest loans to businesses. School were closed and instructed to develop plans for “distance or E Learning” in an eight day window provided by the Governor. Businesses were identified as either “Essential” or “Non-essential” and only the essential were allowed to continue operating.

RAMS as an organization immediately went to work reaching out to our school districts to try and assess the issues on connectivity with students in our rural environment and to see what could be done to assist with this issue. The Northeast Service Cooperative (NESC) offered to increase speed and bandwidth to all locations connected to the middle mile fiber network and create hotspots in school, library or town hall parking lots to reduce travel time or provide a location for rural students to utilize as a spot where they could connect a device and receive or send their class assignments.

RAMS also scheduled a meeting with Iron Range Mayors along with Congressman Stauber, Senator Tomassoni and Rep Dave Lislegard. Area mayors were able to learn more about the State legislative relief package as well as the CARES Act, the Federal $2.3 Trillion dollar relief act. RAMS circulated emergency declarations shared by Mayor Novak and encouraged all mayors to adapt similar resolutions as soon as possible to provide their communities with all avenues of relief that may become available.

Fortunately, to date (April 20) the Iron Range has not seen or heard of many reported cases of COVID 19. Unfortunately, we have also heard from medical experts who learn more about the virus every day that many people may be infected, and are able to spread the virus while being asymptomatic. This makes this virus that much more difficult to treat and diagnose. Testing is not nearly as available as it needs to be, and Minnesotans remain hopeful that the Mayo along with the University of MN will be releasing and providing testing that is quick, using a finger poke that reveals if an individual has developed antibodies that have fought off the virus and may also provide a method of treatment for those who are infected and suffering the effects.

 

Personal Protective Equipment has also been a cause of concern, and there is a lot of uncertainty if that issue has been addressed for our regional healthcare centers or not. This past weekend the Governor led an effort for people to sew masks at home and make them available so that local police or fire departments could distribute them across the communities to locations where they are most needed. Wearing of masks if advised but not mandated at this time.

This past week the Governor opened up more businesses as protests took place outside the Governor’s mansion on Summitt Street in St Paul. Republican Majority Leader Sen Gazelka has been an outspoken advocate for “opening up Minnesota” and allowing more if not all businesses to return to work. Governor Walz is carefully assessing how and when more people will be able to return to work but is concerned that the peak infection rate of the virus has yet to hit Minnesota and does not want to accelerate the community spread of the infection by opening up more businesses too soon.

Now the COVID has impacted our local economy with two mines announcing significant layoffs. April 19th, Keetac laid off over 100 workers with plans for the mine to shut down after some repair work is completed at the end of May. The layoff is described as “indefinite”. Earlier this month North Shore Mining and Cliffs operation, announced that the North Shore facility would lay off the majority of their workers in Silver Bay and Babbitt with a small crew doing maintenance and loading of pellets stockpiled at the Silver Bay site. This layoff is proposed to last through August based on market demand at that time. It is anticipated that additional announcements may be forthcoming from Arcelor Mittal who is the majority owner of the Hibbing Taconite plant and the Inland Steel site in Virginia. The bad news for the Range is we know that layoffs at Taconite plants take longer to start up than the mills in other locations.

What will tomorrow bring? What is the new normal? At this time, no one knows for sure. Medical experts at the CDC have consistently stated that the development of a vaccine will likely take 12 to 18 months. Without a vaccine that provides protection against the virus, we will likely have to adapt to social distancing, wearing PPE, and conducting business and daily activities in manners we find foreign and challenging. Perhaps we will learn more social acceptance of others, appreciate little gestures of kindness more than ever, and look forward to being in a crowded gymnasium, theatre or stadium and be grateful for the experience.

In the meantime, stay safe, stay home, stay strong.



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