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Minnesota and mining: Our children, our waters and wild rice are political pawns

Photo by CC/Flickr/Brett Whaley

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) announcement came just two weeks before public comments were due for PolyMet’s Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement. PolyMet’s proposed NorthMet Mine is the first in a long line of sulfide mining projects aimed at turning Minnesota’s Superior National Forest, the lake country of the Arrowhead, into a sulfide-mining district — a district that would impact both the Lake Superior and Rainy River watersheds, arguably in perpetuity.

The announcement? The MPCA had decided overnight not to release its recommendation to maintain or to change the 10mg/L sulfate standard for wild rice waters. Results from the MPCA wild rice study, released earlier, looked promising that the sulfate standard would be upheld. The timing of the agency’s postponement was too coincidental, too sudden, and it just plain reeked. Now we know the stench was real. Investigative digging by the Star Tribune’s Josephine Marcotty uncovered its source: “Iron Range rebellion halted wild rice initiative.”

In 2010, when the MPCA finally decided to start enforcing the sulfate standard, the howls of protest from Iron Range legislators, sulfide mining lobbyists, and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce could be heard echoing throughout the state Capitol. The Chamber of Commerce sued and lost. Unfortunately Gov. Mark Dayton and the Legislature initiated an unnecessary $1.5 million (taxpayer funded) wild-rice study; and now when the study did indeed indicate the current sulfate standard is reasonable and defensible, Dayton and MPCA Commissioner John Stine are again running for cover. Whatever happened to backing up your scientists instead of caving to political and corporate interests?

Whatever happened to putting the health of the public front and center? The people of northeastern Minnesota have been corporate victims for far too long. And saying so is not denigrating the Iron Range heritage, much as certain Range politicians ratchet up inflammatory rhetoric.

What’s preventing a hard look at the industry?
It is long past time to take a hard look at the mining industry in Minnesota, an industry that still does not meet state water- and/or air-quality standards at any of its currently operating taconite mines. Why not?

Take your pick: lack of enforcement by agency heads; political blackmail by entrenched Iron Range legislators under the guise of jobs; familiar threats by mining corporations to close their doors and leave; or the machinations by the Chamber of Commerce, paying for its own crazed wild-rice report stating that sulfate standards are unnecessary or could be set at 1600 mg/L., with PolyMet Mining, US Steel Corp., Xcel Energy, and the Koch Brothers (Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC.) represented on its board of directors.

Minnesotans continue to be told we should welcome foreign mining corporations with reprehensible records who will magically be able to do a perfect job with sulfide mining, an even more toxic mining process for our waters than taconite. We are told to believe that the decisionmakers at state agencies will suddenly start demanding adherence, insist on writing and enforcing strong water quality standards, never bowing to political pressure. We might as well believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.

Remember the mesothelioma-study cover-up? In 2007 Sen. John Marty wrote, “MN Health Department Cover-up – Mistake or Malfeasance?” about MDH’s withholding of information on mining deaths — information that was critical to Minnesota taconite miners’ health.

Again, as in 2007, no one involved in responding to the wild-rice study is thinking foremost about the health of the people, in this case especially the health of our children.

Whoa, someone will say. This is about wild rice, not about people.

Really? Those same sulfates that ultimately lead to damage of wild rice also ultimately lead to damage of our children through conversion of inorganic mercury to methyl mercury. [“Methyl mercury is particularly damaging to developing embryos, which are five to ten times more sensitive than adults.” (USGS)] In 2011, the MDH released its study, “Mercury in Newborns in the Lake Superior Basin.” In Minnesota, 10 percent of tested newborns were above “safe” levels for methyl mercury.

It is not just the fish we eat that we need to be concerned about either. Studies in California have shown that wild-rice plants apparently have the capability to uptake methyl mercury to the seeds. Yet the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce was adamant that methyl mercury could not be discussed during the wild-rice/sulfate standard study.

A message
To past and present Chamber of Commerce executives, attorneys, and board members; corporate lobbyists; power and mining industry executives; Iron Range legislators; Minnesota governors; Minnesota Department of Natural Resources commissioners, Land and Minerals Division directors; MDH commissioners; and the MPCA commissioners and directors who initiated the use of variances and consent decrees, who just a year ago abruptly walked away from a million dollar four-year project (TMDL) designed to identify sources of mercury pollution in the St. Louis River: Ask yourselves how many people have died or been physically or neurologically damaged by your actions or inactions.

How many have died from mesothelioma or from other mining-related health issues, deaths that may have been prevented? How many lives have been shortened? How many children have been brain damaged? It is time we talk about accountability and responsibility.

How many children have been neurologically damaged by toxic levels of manganese from the LTV/PolyMet site; or damaged by nickel (Dunka Mine), a carcinogen and a mutagen? What about autism; now linked to mercury, manganese, and nickel in air pollution? (2013 Harvard University Study). How many newborns have lost IQ points proportional to the amount of mercury above “safe” levels in their blood? How does this affect their success in school? When these children reach adulthood how many jobs are denied them as a result? What is the cost for the loss of possibilities in a life?

What is the cost of a life?

This is Minnesota’s watershed moment, literally and figuratively. For the St. Louis River Watershed and Lake Superior, for the Rainy River Watershed and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, for the Mississippi River Watershed, and for ourselves. Will we protect our water, and in so doing protect our health? Protect our children?

Will we speak? Or will we be silent? Silence is complicity.

C.A. Arneson lives on a lake in the Ely area.  This article was originally published in MinnPost April 15, 2014

Thank you Carla for being one who has never been silent on these vital issues confronting us all.   rw

Mining History 1888-1967 and a few local stories by Iron Mike Hillman

Iron Mike Hillman is active this cold winter, maybe a record cold winter for Ely, with writing, acting, reading his stories at local venues and recently giving a slide show at VCC talking about iron mining and logging between 1888 and 1967.  The receptive crowds have asked for a repeat of his story telling and his history slide show.  So, we present them here.  The VCC slide show was made possible by the generous loan of  historical photos from their growing and very impressive collection, we just converted them to slides for the larger audience at VCC.

Mining History 1888-1967

Earlier in the winter Iron Mike was, at the invitation of a local Arts group, on stage reading some of the historical stories he has written over the years.  Again, the request was to place these recordings on line for others.  And, here those are.

St. Anthony’s Bells

The Story of Ella Hall

Daisy Redfield

Misc. Stories by Iron Mike Hillman


In Ely there is a Schism! The tragic Circle!

In Ely there is a schism,

caused by filiopietism *,

but Elyites tell mining jobs are the sell

and NO to clean water environmentalism!

* “the tragic circle”

The Lesson of the Monkeys-The Tragic Circle

From: February 7, 2012uncategorizedcognitive scienceculturepolitics Jason Wellshttp://jason.wells.me/3551

I was first told of this experiment* by a former work colleague, and later discovered this illustration of it. It’s both illuminating and disturbing.

























































There is a clunky word that describes this phenomenon: filiopietism, or the reverence of forebears or tradition carried to excess. But I prefer another term for it: the tragic circle. I believe many of these tragic circles exist, mostly unseen, in across all cultures and societites, causing untold harm. When discovered, they should be terminated.

The lesson is as obvious as it is important: question everything. Dare to be skeptical. Think of all the age-old idiocy and insanity waiting to be exposed.

* Stephenson, G. R. (1967). Cultural acquisition of a specific learned response among rhesus monkeys. In: Starek, D., Schneider, R., and Kuhn, H. J. (eds.), Progress in Primatology, Stuttgart: Fischer, pp. 279-288.


Paradise Lost? The Ocean as Harbinger by Chuck Dayton September 3, 2013

Chuck Dayton presented personal slides and his observations from a trip to numerous coral reefs in the South Pacific recently to the Ely Tuesday Group at the Grand Ely Lodge last Tuesday.  Chuck described and showed evidence with his slides of the negative effects humans are having on the health of corals in this region.  The same is reported by scientists to be happening to most coral reefs around the world.  Chuck is an accomplished photographer and underwater is a new adventure for him that he has also now mastered.  Take a look at the slides from his trip and we think you will agree.  View the video of his presentation with slides Here.

Chuck pointed out that a very small change in the ocean water temperature causes the food source, special algae, to be expelled from the coral causing the coral’s death.  He also talks about the ramifications of this process, occurring on many of the world’s coral reefs, to other marine life that depends of the coral for their existence.  He also talked briefly about the vitally important plankton food chain in the ocean.  A great source of information about the plankton food chain and another startling look at what we humans are doing to the ocean, and thus to ourselves, is a video called Planet Ocean by Yann Arthus-Bertrand and Michael Pitiot with narration by Josh Duhmel.  This would be a highly recommended view after watching Chuck’s presentation.

Needed Bee Pollinators both Honey Bees and Bumble Bees are disappearing-What can we do?

Elaine Evans a researcher at the University of Minnesota gave a talk in Ely August 21, 2013 sponsored by the Ely Field Naturalists.  She also conducted a short field trip in the afternoon to help us identify local native Bumble Bees.  The facts are Bumble Bees are disappearing, along with Honey Bees, and there are things we can all do to help prevent further declines in our bee populations.   As native plants are replaced by non-native invasive species native pollinator populations, like our native Bumble Bees, also decline.  One thing we can do is bring back native species to our gardens and local areas.  Another important point made by Elaine was to check with your local nursery when purchasing native plants and make sure they do not contain long lasting persistent pesticides.  Scientists now know that pesticides have played a significant role in the decline of bee populations around the world.  Many species now extinct.  You can see Elaine’s full talk here.

We’re going to do it right this time!

If you wake up next week with a serious illness will you be searching for a doctor with a 100% failure rate?  Silly question eh?  Well maybe not.  Maybe it depends on the circumstances.  Maybe you are more interested in wealth than your health and this doctor offers you the promise of a quick fix at a cheap price, to you, besides the promise of “I’m going to do it right this time.”  What would you choose, health or wealth?   Some say they would choose wealth because then they could pay for good health.  Personally,  I think I’ll choose a doctor with close to 100% success rate…just seems my odds are MUCH better that way.

St. Louis County Board rushes past Citizen involvement…if they can. Legal?

Iron Range Politicians for Copper

Fealty Demanded

Iron Range Politicians demand fealty from St. Louis County Board regarding a BWCA land swap to benefit Copper mining in Northeastern Minnesota, all their subterfuge aside.

In a meeting intended for business so urgent that it cannot be delayed till the next meeting on January 8th, St. Louis County Commissioners passed a resolution that weighs in on an issue that has been highly controversial to citizens in St. Louis County, Minnesota and indeed the entire nation for more than 30 years. The only urgency was to avoid the voices of the public weighing in on an issue that has daunted public policy makers for decades.

In reality less money would be made for Minnesota’s schools with the politicians plan than a plan proposed by citizens at this meeting. A proposal that was completely ignored by the board.

Response to Tom Rukavina Letter Two; 7 March 2012

Citizen Mike Hillman versus Goliath Iron Range Politician Tommy RukavinaI see no reason why I can’t just stick with my opening statement that after a hundred years of open pit iron mining near cities like Virginia and Eveleth they are like two islands of humanity in a sea of mining dumps and pits. When I mentioned that all people had to do was take a look at the area around Virginia to see what a huge impact open pit mining can have on an area. Each year the expanding pits and dumps press in closer and closer on the City of Virginia until now even the main highway is going to be moved between Eveleth and Virginia.

Tommy I would like to have everyone living in the Lake Country north of the divide to stop this summer at Viewpoint in the Sky just south of Virginia to take a good look around at the huge contribution of iron this area of the Mesabi Iron Range has given to America. Please don’t waste time, because they are going to dig up the highway soon between Eveleth and Virginia, and I believe the taxpayer will foot the bill, and no doubt IRRB money will be spent in the highway relocation project? I want all the people of Ely and the Greater Lake Vermilion Areas to ask them selves a question: Do you want this mining in your backyard? We are talking the second largest reserve of Copper Nickel and nickel anywhere in the world, and if it is done it will be done on a scale comparable to the mining done near Virginia, and I don’t want to see that done north of the Continental Divide.

Ely and Tower Soudan are small towns surrounded by an ocean of lakes and forest. I would like to keep it that way. How many beautiful homes are there Tommy on Lake Vermilion or Burntside Lake and the dozens of other lakes and rivers where thousands of people have come to build retirement homes in the Superior National Forest? Then there are the hundreds of thousands of people who visit the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area or Voyageurs National Park each year Tommy. Tourism is a seven hundred million dollar business that is self sustaining. The Ely Chamber of Commerce director just won a major tourism award this year. As long as we keep the land and water safe from the certain consequences of mining non ferrous minerals in the Rainy River Water Shed people will want to keep coming to visit this area forever.

Copper Nickel Mining has a terrible reputation. I can listen to what someone says, or I can watch what they do. In the case of these mining companies, their history of conducting business isn’t good. Tommy you want to try to shame me into agreeing to make what I consider to be a bad decision regarding the future of my home. I think this new mining would be a bad thing for future generations to deal with. To you Copper Nickel Mining is a good thing, because it will bring jobs to the area, but you don’t want to look any further than that. To me Copper Nickel Mining is a bad thing, because of the inevitable damage it will bring to the land and water. It is just the nature of the business Tommy. This type of mining will dwarf any mining previously done in the area, and millions of acres of land will eventually be drilled, blasted, and pulverized into millions of tons of noxious sludge. To me Tommy, non ferrous mining is a bad thing because it will blast the land and pollute the water. Doing a bad thing for a good reason as opposed to doing a bad thing for a bad reason is the difference between cat poop and dog poop, and I for one don’t want all that mining poop parked in our back yard.

You write in you second letter that I was arrogant and condescending to you Mesabi Rangers, and if I came out that way I am very sorry. It wasn’t the City of Virginia I was writing about Tommy, but rather the area around it I was alluding to in my history of area mining. And what’s wrong with me pointing out that the two first class golf courses and the beautiful Giants Ridge Ski area, I believe are located on the Mesabi Range, and I believe they were built to help bring tourists to the area. I wonder how much the IRRB spends on Iron World near Chisholm each year to keep that excellent facility in business. I am not criticizing you or the IRRB for investing in the future of the Mesabi Range I think it was money well spent. I think your changing what I said allowed you to give the false impression that all the money you spent was spent everywhere but the Mesabi Iron Range.

The only time I ever worked with the IRRB was when I wrote a half dozen or so grants through the Mine Land Reclamation Division of the IRRB. In order to qualify for Mine Land Reclamation Money the site had to be within a mile of a mining area. That meant that the Pioneer Mine was in the running for IRRB funding The first grant was at the behest of a group of retired miners who once worked in the Ely Mines and then later in places like Mintac, Reserve, and Erie Mining Companies. They elected me chairman of the Retired Miners Committee, and my first order of business was to get the Sheave Wheels up on the head frame of the Pioneer Mine. Over the years your help preserving a National History Site was greatly appreciated by many people and none more than me.

I wrote grants to preserve and disseminate American History in Ely. Those retired miners felt that their work on the Mesabi Range entitled them to a little funding from the IRRB. The last grant I wrote was a few years back and the IRRB helped preserve one of two radial brick chimneys in the State of Minnesota. Thanks to help from many people including the IRRB, Federal, State, County, and City helped the Miners Dry House become a place where hundreds of people come to visit a beautiful part of American History each summer. Everything made of steel in both world wars had a small amount of Vermilion Range Iron in it, and I thought that history deserving of preservation, but I have no desire to see non ferrous mining done north of the divide.

What you Mesabi Rangers do with your back yards is up to you, and I will respect your decision, just as I hope you will understand my desire to keep the bird now in hand. As long as we are good stewards of our land and waters, each generation will have something to keep them here forever, but if we violate that covenant and pollute the Kawishiwi Water Shed, then we are ruining things for future generations. There are very few places like Ely left in the world Tommy, sitting like it does on the edge of a two millions acre Wilderness Area flowing directly into a National Park. I would rather this generation re-affirms the decision of past generations who certainly thought that this area was deserving of respect and preservation as the only true wilderness area east of the Mississippi River in the Contiguous United States.

By: Iron Mike Hillman


Frank Moe to deliver petitions to Govenor Dayton March 8, 2012

Frank Moe and his Huskies
The Race To Protect Minnesota from
Acid Mine Drainage

SLED DOGS TO ST. PAUL – Sunday and Monday events in Duluth, Thursday at the Capitol.
Reminder –
March 4, Duluth Lester Park Event 3-4 pm
(Lester Park Pavilion 61st Ave. East and Superior St)
March 5, West Duluth Munger Inn Event 9-10 am
(Williard Munger Inn, 7408 Grand Ave.)
March 8, St. Paul Capital Event 10:30-11:30 am
(75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.)

Former State legislator and dog sled musher Frank Moe is planning a dog sled run from northeastern Minnesota to St. Paul. Frank Moe and his dog team will deliver petitions from across the state to the Capitol on March 8th. Concerned citizens, local businesses, and many environmental organizations and groups are involved in the fight to save our beloved Arrowhead Region from copper-nickel sulfide mining, a dangerous new type of mining never before permitted in Minnesota.

Gordon’s Got Me Buzzing

Ely Buzz Blog 29 February 2012; Gordon’s Got Me Buzzing, by Iron Mike Hillman

I’ve seen a long of strange things happen at the Ely City Hall, but last night was one of those nights that will long linger in my memory. About a month ago someone sent me an anonymous letter. As soon as I noticed that the neatly typed letter had no signature alarm bells started to go off, because most unsigned letters are hurtful and hateful. I am accustomed to them. I got my fair share of them during my tenure as the general manager of WELY Radio, and the four years I served on the Ely City Council. When I was on the radio, I would edit out the profanity and read them on the air. When I served on the council, I would just let them go. Like it or not such things are legal under the First Amendment of our Constitution, and there really isn’t much to be done about them. It’s called freedom of speech, and even nasty and negative speech is covered. Oh, there are exceptions like libel or slander, and some of the worst of it is illegal because it is deemed a hate crime but other than that freedom of speech is wide open.

Much to my surprise, when I read the letter, it wasn’t hurtful or hateful, which made the letter unique. It is the only anonymous letter I’ve received that actually had something good to say. The letter told me that the Ely Charter Commission had been approached by a concerned citizen over alleged violations made by former Ely City Clerk Terri Boese during the 2010 election. The letter told me that the Charter Commission was under siege by certain members of the Ely City Council who didn’t want these allegations of misconduct to come to the public’s attention. The unknown author told me that I had a reputation for being an honest man who wasn’t afraid to state his opinion, and that our city needed someone to stand up, look into the matter, and then to publicly write about what I found. It also suggested that I join the Charter Commission to help insure for the continued proper conduct of our City Council.

After thinking about it for a couple of days, I went up to City Hall and told the acting city clerk that I was interested in joining the Charter Commission. She told me that I had missed the dead line to fill one of the seats on the commission, and I thanked her for her time. Later on I got a hold of the packet of information of the allegations during the 2010 election and I dug into what turned out to be very comprehensive list. After studying the packet twice, I thought that the charges levied were worthy of investigating, and was happy to learn that Larry Wellvang was going to appear before the local council to present these allegations for public consideration.

I was invited to attend the Charter Commission earlier this month, and I was surprised to hear that Gordon Sheddy had publicly expressed his displeasure at a council meeting that one of our citizens was questioning the conduct of our former city clerk and that this was something that shouldn’t be allowed to happen. I was even more surprised to learn the two members of the city council; Warren Nikola and Gordon Sheddy had tried to join the Charter Commission. Rather than going through the proper channels that I did, both of these people sent letters directly to the judge, but the time limit had expired for them just as it had expired for me. Apparently they thought that because they had the privilege of position that they were above the rules which applied to the rest of us. Fortunately the judge played by the rules, and neither councilor could get on the Charter Commission.
I said fortunately, because I value good government, and I believe that no member of the council should be allowed to serve on the Charter Commission. I believe it is a counter productive to good city government. It is my understanding that good government needs to have checks and balances to make sure that our local government is conducted in a proper manner. Ely is a Charter City which means that it must operate under the rules of a local charter meant to insure that our city council operates in a legal, moral, and ethical manner. The only check and balance to our City Council is the Charter Commission. I believe that any merging of the Ely City Council or its Charter Commission is counter productive to maintaining good city government. These two city agencies need to be kept separate in order to insure that everything is above board in our city.
Last night Larry Wellvang finally had a chance to address the Ely City Council about his concerns over the conduct and outcome of the local results of the 2010 election. I believe the council needs to address Mr. Wellvang’s questions, like what happened to the 681 voters that were there in the 2008 election but not there in 2010. Where did they go, and what happened to them? I would like that explained to me as well as many other questions raised by Mr. Wellvang. I commend both the council and commission for conducting business in a dignified and business like manner at the February 28th meeting.

The next event really got me buzzing. Towards the end of the joint meeting between the Council and The Charter Commission, all of a sudden Councilor Gordon Sheddy stood up and introduced a letter into the meeting. It was a personal letter that someone, unknown, sent to Dassel, Minnesota, the city where Terri Boese is now working as a city clerk. It was not a complimentary letter, and Gordon Sheddy was incensed that someone could send such a letter about a person whom Gordon Sheddy holds in high esteem. Councilor Sheddy stated that he wanted the Ely City Council to send an official letter from the City of Ely, countering the negative and unsigned letter sent confidentially to Terri Boese’s bosses in Dassel Minnesota.

I don’t understand Councilor Sheddy’s conduct last night, because many questions stated in the Dassal letter are the same questions raised in Mr. Wellvang’s packet delivered to the city council last night. I’m sorry Gordon, while you might think the letter was out of line, such things are covered by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It’s called freedom of speech, and perhaps you should read the Constitution again so you will understand that even though you might not agree with someone that it doesn’t mean they lose their right to write or speak how they feel. Had you not done what you did, no one in Ely would have known that this letter even existed, but you made what was meant to be a confidential letter a matter of public record. I can think of no greater damage that could possibly be done to Terrie Boese’s reputation than you making this nasty letter a matter of public record. You could have sent a private letter to Dassal, Minnesota expressing your high opinion of Terri Boese, but you chose to make it a public affair. I don’t know why you chose to do this to someone you supposedly hold in high esteem, but perhaps the answer will come to light at the next city council meeting when you can explain your actions and after you have reviewed the information presented by Mr. Wellvang. That being said, this blogger thinks the Charter needs to be amended to prevent any member of the Ely City Council from serving on the Charter Commission so that no one serving on the council can destroy the system of checks and balances needed to insure the proper conduct of government.

Letter Sent to Dassel, MN re: Terri Boese