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

Ely Legislative Lunch

Session 2019


 2019 – A FRESH BEGINNING IN ST. PAUL
The 2019 legislative session will be historical as it will be recorded as the only state with a divided government as the DFL controls the majority in the House, while the Republican party maintains a one seat majority in the Senate.  Governor Walz is retaining DFL control at the top of the ticket and will face challenges as he tries to embrace and expand his campaign mantra of “One Minnesota”.  Speaker Melissa Hortman will enjoy her majority position in the House while working with a bevy of first time legislators.  I believe we will see change and debate throughout the session but I remain optimistic that Governor Walz will provide the leadership needed to see the legislature complete their work on time and adjourn on May 20.  RAMS will stay on top of all the action with our ever capable lobbyist Gary Cerkvenik working the halls at the Capitol and moving our RAMS legislative priorities through the system. 

 

DAILY SESSION UPDATES

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RAMS –  2019 LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES:

  1. Broadband expansion across the Taconite Assistance Area –(long term goal).  RAMS is a member of MN Rural Broadband Coalition (Director Giorgi serves on the Executive Board) 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 ($70 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.
  2. Protect and preserve Local Government Aide payments while working with Governor Walz to return the LGA formula to the 1993 levels.
  3. 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.
  4. Request that the MN DOT plan include completion of Highway 169 to complete 4 lanes of traffic from highway 65 to the Scenic highway.  This project was started in the mid “60’s and is still unfinished.  It currently is not in the 10 year DOT plan for our region and that needs to be addressed.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.  RAMS supports legislative funding that would provide for a new youth mental health crisis center to be located in the former Buhl High School.
  7. Support funding for the routing and pumping of rising pit water levels in the Canisteo Mine Pit chain as well as the St. James pit in Aurora. $4.5 million has been estimated to assure these pit water levels will be contained and controlled to assure communities are safe and have a reliable potable water supply.
  8. Support an annual increase in the education formula as well as support for Senator Bakk’s legislation to provide funding to the Iron Range School collaboration that will provide summer school opportunities for vocational curriculum programs.  Funding for aging school buildings is also on the list.
  9. Support legislation that will provide funding to communities who will be faced with a new Presidential primary and restrict the dissemination of party declarations information.
  10. RAMS will pursue funding for a fiber optic connector loop that runs through Carlton, Aitkin and Pine Counties that will enhance the NESC middle mile fiber and provide reduced broadband rates, assure redundancy for the entire network, improve and increase many times over the gigabit services available across the network.  For $3.5 million dollar investment, this would benefit 7 counties.

 

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.



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