Taconite dollars kept the tourist “economy” afloat, says Tommy Rukavina.
I like Mike Hillman. Whenever I bump into him, it’s always a pleasant experience. But I have to confess, Mike broke my heart with part 2 of his “Ely Legacy” article. Part 2 was interesting: Part 2 however was inaccurate, patronizing and somewhat hypocritical. Hillman wrote “for over 40 years we (Ely) have been a tourist based economy,” nothing could be further from the truth. I remember when I worked at MinnTac in 1973, there were hundreds of Ely guys working there. Hundreds more worked at Reserve and Erie Mines. It’s those retirees’ pensions and the living wage salaries of the 90 miners who currently live in Ely and work in the “Range” mines, that keep your economy going. Its’ our taconite tax dollars that come to Ely, Morse Township, Tower Soudan, Lake and Cook counties, year after year, that form the base of your economy, not tourism.
And while I’m on a roll here, let me address Mr. Bob Tammen’s condescending statement in his Nov. 5 letter to the editor, where he wrote “just … drive through Virginia, Minnesota, which has three mines within a rifle shot of Main Street. They’re losing population, they have a poverty rate in the high teens, and they can’t even keep their library open on a Saturday”
Let me explain why this is, Bob, It’s because Virginia, Eveleth, Gilbert and Mt. Iron hardly get to keep any of the taconite tax dollars they produce. They go to you and your neighbors. We gave you $3.5 million for a new bridge in Tower to help your “tourism economy” and Mike what were you thinking when you wrote in the past decades, IRRRB has poured millions of dollars trying to help the Mesabi Range diversify its economy” Thems fighting words, my Cousin Jack friend. Your accurate statement should have been over the last three decades the Vermillion Range, North Shore and Cuyuna Ranges have received hundreds of millions of dollars from the Mesabi Range to shore up their tourism economy.” Because, Mike and Bob, here are the facts.
In 2009, just as we did in 1999 and 1989, Mesabi Range citizens gave homeowners in the Ely school district $581, 000 of taconite homestead relief. At the same time the homeowners in the Mt. Iron/Buhl school district (which has the MinnTac Mine paying over one third of all taconite taxes in any given year) got $469,000 – why? Because those good people in Mt. Iron and Buhl know Ely would die without their help. Homeowners in the St. Louis County School District got $1.9 million in taconite homestead relief in 2009. Virginia homeowners, surrounded by three mines were pointed out above, only got $1 million – why? To shore up Cook, Orr, Crane Lake and Tower Soudan’s “tourism economy.” Homeowners in the Nashwauk Keewatin school district received $386,000 in taconite homestead relief while the resident homeowners in the Lake Superior School district got $1.4 million. Now, why do Lake Superior residents get three times more money every year than the good people of Nashwauk- Keewatin when their mines pay the same amount of taconite taxes annually? You guessed it my friends, to shore up their “tourism economy”
Folks, this is just one of the many formulas that distribute over $90 million annually in taconite taxes. The same inequities could be pointed out in other distributions. Why for instance do the St. Louis County school kids get $1.44 million of taconite taxes to help their education in 2009, while the Mt. Iron-Buhl kids got only $1.1 million? You guessed it, to help out their meager “tourism economy” Why under the unfair township formula recently established in law, does Duluth Township (on beautiful Lake Superior) get $50,000 a year in taconite tax money, and Morse Township get $49,000 while little Embarrass , which currently has more miners than all of Ely and Morse Township combined, gets only $23,600? You guessed it, to help you”tourism economy Rangers survive!!!!!
But enough numbers lets address another fact that I’ve seen with my own eyes. And I hate to point this out to you, Mike, but why if Ely’s tourism economy is so good do Sheridan Street and Chapman Street look as run down as some of our mining towns, who generously give you their taconite taxes every year? Enough Said!
No, us Mesabi Rangers will continue to diversify Ely’s Lake and Cook Counties’ and Tower Soudan’s economy just like we did last year, last decade and for the last 30 plus years. We helped build your Wolf Center, your Bear Center, your Revenue Call Center, your gold course etc. etc. We did the same for Lake County, Cook County, Grand Rapids and Grand Marais. And why? Because we thought we were all one Range. We thought we’d all share the good times and the bad times together.
But maybe all good things must come to an end as the old cliché goes. Maybe us Mesabi Range Chumps who don’t live “north of the Continental Divide” should rethnk this union. After all doesn’t any good marriage require both spouses to pitch in? Now that its your turn to once again dig the wealth out of the earth, shouldn’t we Mesabi Rangers expect the same sharing of the wealth from you “tourism rangers”
Here is the bottom line, Mike and Bob, and whoever the hell else wants to dabate: don’t you think we can do this nonferrous mining while protecting our environment? After all, isn’t it hypocritical that all of us as consumers are demanding these precious metals so we can have electricity, cell phones, computers, heart monitors, new knees (mine’s made of molybdenum, titanium and chromium), windmills, solar panels, etc. etc. but you don’t want to mine them?
I mean its’ gone to the point of being absurd when we have some “new immigrants” in the Eagles’s Nest Township area complaining about realigning and repairing that dangerous highway to Ely because we might disturb some sulfide bearing bedrock. Look around folks, We built a railroad To Ely over 125 years ago that cuts through the same bedrock and I don’t see where that polluted anything!
To sum it all up, am I the only dummy that can see the absurdity, hypocrisy, and downright patronizing nature of all these arguments? Happy New Year to all my friends who live on the Vermillion Range, North Shore and Cook/Orr area. I love you all but it’s time for you to suck it up and help us get this copper-nickel mining going so we can have another 130 years of mining in order to keep our schools and communities thriving because as I’ve shown above, tourism just ain’t cutting it!!!!!! Now excuse me, I’ve got to go mend a broken heart. Tom Rukavina is State Representative from District 5A He lives in Pike Township