The RAMS Board will meet at 6:00 P.M. on Thursday, May 30, 2019 at the Northeast Service Cooperative in Mt. Iron. (Please note this date is a change from the regular meeting schedule.)
The RAMS Finance Committee will meet at 5:30 P.M. on Thursday, May 30, 2019, at the NESC office in Mt. Iron.
Message From Director
2018 was another year of challenges for RAMS as an organization, and for the Range as a region. Much time and energy was spent trying to find a solution for the wild rice/sulfate standard issue that threatens the economic viability of our mining industry and local communities. While there was bi-partisan support in the legislature to find a meaningful solution, the Governor ultimately vetoed all options and left the problem for the next administration. Once again, this issue has been kicked down the road leaving the debate smoldering for another year,
2018 also left the Range and the region without any advancement in the expansion of rural, quality broadband, the economic engine for job diversification and growth in our region. The Minnesota Border to Border Broadband grant program was left unfunded after the paltry $15 million allocated by the legislature was vetoed in the 990 page omnibus tax bill by Governor Dayton. While Range communities have engaged in surveys, studies and conversations about broadband needs and possible expansion thanks to a Blandin – IRRRB grant program, without State, Federal and private funding, the expansion of rural broadband will remain an empty promise. RAMS and the MN Rural Broadband Coalition will lobby for $69 million in base funding for the Border to Border grant program during the 2019 session and have secured the support of Rep. Rob Ecklund as the chief author of the bill in the House. Sen Erik Simonson will be the lead author in the Senate and the Range delegation as a whole is a strong advocate for this funding request. One positive note, due to the diligence of an Iron Range broadband committee, a potential broadband project is being developed in conjunction with the NESC middle mile fiber as the backbone and CTC as the last mile provider…the City of Ely is also close to commencing a project to connect fiber to their downtown business core in 2019 …STAY TUNED!
2018 saw some positive developments for our region when the Trump administration lifted the 2 year moratorium on nearly a half million acres in the Rainy River Watershed. Finding no new evidence to conduct yet another environmental review, this action allowed for a renewed level of activity by multiple exploratory mining companies in the region. The Trump administration also approved the land exchange between PolyMet and the USFS that had lingered on far too long. Congressman Nolan succeeded in passing legislation on the land exchange that would void any legal recourse on the land exchange but to date the Senate has not been able to pass similar legislation despite the valiant efforts of both of our U.S. Senators. At the state level, both the DNR and the MPCA have issued the final permits required for the PolyMet project including the first ever permit to mine for a non-ferrous mining operation in the history of Minnesota mining.
2018 should also be remembered as the year two Iron Range rival communities joined together for serious discussions on joining forces to create a world class educational academy. Virginia and Eveleth/Gilbert school districts, led by two courageous and progressive leaders, Dr. Noel Schmidt and Jeff Carey, superintendents of those districts commenced conversations between their school boards and ultimately, their communities on the need for a real change in the delivery of education for future generations of Iron Rangers. These discussions should result in referendums held in both districts sometime in 2019 that could lead to a new campus, a new partnership, and a real enhancement in learning for generations to come. Congratulations to both districts and their communities for taking on this significant challenge for all the right reasons.
RAMS hosted numerous “Lunch & Learn” forums this past year brining our community leaders together to learn more about programs and opportunities available through DEED, MN HFA, or the PFA that can enhance the quality of life in their communities while minimizing the financial impact on local economies. The Northland Foundation took the lead in the region trying to address the child care shortage that is creating real concerns for employers on the Range. The IRRRB provided a grant that enabled a brave entrepreneur to open a new child care facility in Mt. Iron providing over 80 child care spots. Conversations on joint fire and ambulance services are taking place across the Range between multiple communities, and the Range mayors continue to meet on a regular basis to discuss best practices, how to share services and they remain committed to building a better future for their downtown corridors and communities.
I also have the pleasure of working with Range superintendents and appreciate hearing first hand of their tireless efforts to improve the educational opportunities for students across the region. Taking advantage of programs like EIP, (Education Innovation Partners) Joe Silko, and ALI (Applied Learning Initiative) Roy Smith, our Iron Range districts work hard to stay current and competitive with districts in larger and more affluent areas of the state. A number of districts are now working together via telepresence and other initiatives to provide a much more expansive curriculum to students than can be provided by individual districts on their own.
2019 is the 80th anniversary for RAMS as an organization. 80 years of challenges, up and downs, set-backs and victories. RAMS started in 1939 because of the threat imposed by the Oliver Mining Company to change the taxation of iron ore and the assessment of iron ore rich properties in our communities. RAMS and Fred Cina (the Godfather of RAMS) led the charge to approve the Taconite Tax amendment, RAMS sent a resolution to Congress in the ‘50’s in support of copper nickel and silver mining on the Range. RAMS has supported changes in how our schools are funded and successfully lobbied to secure $38 million dollars for capital improvements for our Iron Range schools. RAMS as an organization will remain engaged in the issues that impact our region. We will continue to march along with Jobs for Minnesotans and Nancy Norr, MinnesotaMining and Frank Ongaro, our friends in labor, trades, chambers and business as we make our voices and presence heard whether it be in St. Paul or Washington DC. Challenges will be ever present for our region our communities our schools, but for the past 80 years because of your steadfast support, RAMS has been a strong, recognized advocate for our region. 2019 will be a year of celebration and hopefully one filled with small victories for the Range. As the director I am confident that our board of directors, 24 dedicated and tireless public officials will continue working on your behalf, growing ever stronger – ONE RANGE – ONE VOICE, for another 80 years.
THANKS SO MUCH FOR YOUR SUPPORT, FOR YOUR ATTENDANCE AND FOR ALL THAT YOU DO AS AN ELECTED OFFICIAL, AS A BUSINESS, AS A SUPPORTING SPOUSE TO ALLOW US COLLECTIVELY TO WORK EACH AND EVERY DAY TO MAKE TOMORROW BETTER FOR OUR NEXT GENERATION.