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

MPCA Admits….No Solution in Sight on Wild Rice Sulfate Issue

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) finally released the comprehensive independent report conducted by Bolton & Menk, Inc. and Barr Engineering Company on the affordability of sulfate removal from wastewater, as well as looking at alternative treatment methods for sulfate removal.  Minnesota is the only state in the nation that has a sulfate standard for wild rice waters.  The standard developed from research in the 1940’s is intended to protect wild rice but has never been enforced since put into law in 1973.

The Minnesota legislature providing financing and a directive to the MPCA in recent years, to undergo new research on the impacts of sulfate on wild rice, conduct public hearings, develop a new standard and determine the cost of treatment for local municipalities and industrial dischargers.  After several years of contested research, many public hearings, and a new proposed standard, an administrative law judge determined the new rule was “constitutionally vague and unenforceable”.  Subsequently, the legislature passed bills to abolish the standard and provide additional funding for wild rice restoration,  which Governor Dayton vetoed (twice). All of this occurred before this affordability report was completed and released calling into question the wisdom of spending all that time and effort at the Capitol last session on this issue.

The report states in plain English the following determination: “The study results show that reverse osmosis is the one treatment method that is closest to being feasible – but that it is NOT currently affordable.  The 30 other treatment processes evaluated either would not effectively remove sulfate from wastewater, were not yet developed enough to be used, or would cost even more than reverse osmosis.”  This is virtually the same testimony provided at the MPCA public hearing on this matter by RAMS, and the same position taken by our organization on behalf of the 13 Iron Range communities targeted as having wastewater plants that discharge to wild rice waters as identified by the MPCA.

At the end of the legislative session, after twice vetoing bills to correct this situation, Governor Dayton issued an executive order to establish a task force on wild rice.  The task force would be made up by a diverse group of people representing industry, our native tribes, environmentalist, independent scientists, a public waste water operator and a non-government representative along with staff from the MPCA and DNR.  The task force was to meet and develop recommendations for the 2019 legislative session by December 15, 2018.  To date the task force has not been selected making their task virtually untenable for this important issue.

Two final points of interest.  The firms conducting this independent study were allowed to analyze treatment options that would result in a final sulfate limit of 250 mg/L, not the current standard of 10 mg/L.  For those who don’t know the standard for potable water is 250 mg/L, so why is the standard for wastewater so much lower?  The report also states: Sulfur in wastewater is most commonly present as sulfate or sulfide, which originates primarily from drinking water sources, human waste, and industrial discharges. More than 95% of municipalities in Minnesota use groundwater as the source for their drinking water. The concentrations of sulfate in the groundwater vary geographically across the state from less than 10 mg/L to over 500 mg/L.

 

Unfortunately, this issue was not addressed in the last session and will once again be in front of the legislature and the new Governor in 2019.  Perhaps common sense can be applied to the problem this time now that much needed information around costs and feasibility of treatment options are now available.
This should not be that difficult.  Make a permanent funding source available for wild rice growth and rehabilitation efforts.  Allow our native people to control water levels and invasive species proven to be one of the most detrimental factors to wild rice growth and Minnesota will have a vibrant natural wild rice crop for generations.  Isn’t that what we all want?

 



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