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

DFL Candidates Vie To Replace Vulnerable MN GOP Congressman

One DFL candidate will replace Chip CravaackVIDEO Thanks to Kristin Larsen, chair of the St. Louis County DFL who provided The UpTake with this unedited video of the forum and the UpTake for posting this VIDEO. This video give you an opportunity to hear from all three DFL candidates desirous of replacing the highly vulnerable GOP Congressman Chip Cravaack. The candidates participating were Rick Nolan, Jeff Anderson, and Tarryl Clark the three are experienced and talented Minnesotans. They describe themselves briefly as follows :

Rick Nolan says he is a former 3 term Congressman, who has committed to abide by the endorsement of the 8th District. Rick says, “My experience as the owner of a saw mill and pallet factory in the heart of the 8th district, my experience in world trade, my experience as an active union member, a teacher, a farmer, a hunter, a husband and father who has lived in the 8th district my entire life, all prepares me to be your representative in Congress. ”

Tarryl Clark says she is a proven leader who has spent the last 24 years fighting for the priorities of Minnesota’s kids, seniors, veterans, families and communities. In Washington, Tarryl will make sure that our families and communities –not Wall Street CEOs and Billionaires– come first.

Jeff Anderson says he’s a fourth generation Iron Ranger and resident of Duluth. He has been a strong, progressive leader on the Duluth City Council and will be a strong, forward thinking progressive leader in Washington,DC, who says he can win because of his roots on the Iron Range and his electability in Duluth, the largest city in the district, he says, make him the most electable candidate in the race.

All three candidates Tarryl Clark, Jeff Anderson and Rick Nolan were articulate and responsive to questions from the audience and moderators.

Response to Tommy Rukavina

Tommy Missed the Point-Of Course

When Tommy Rukavina wrote his counterpoint to the two part article I wrote contrasting Vermilion Range iron mining to the proposed copper nickel mining, he was so far off base, I wondered if he had really read it at all. As several people pointed out in their responses to Representative Rukavina’s initial rambling tirade; Rukavina didn’t write a counter point, he wrote a missed the point instead. Someone asked me how any elected official could be as stupid as to try to make out that tourism was the main thrust of my column. I told them that it wasn’t ignorance or stupidity that prompted Tommy’s response, but rather a cunning ploy on the part of Rukavina to put a good spin on the damage my article did to the hopes of people like himself who want to bring ruination and degradation to our back yard. Don’t let Rukavina’s apparent stupidity fool you. Tommy Rukavina isn’t stupid he is dumb like a fox,

When Tommy couldn’t find any fault with either the history in my commentary, or my description of the proposed copper nickel mining which was clearly spelled out in the second part of my article, he needed a diversion to take the focus off the ugly reality of copper nickel mining. According to Representative Rukavina, the reason why things aren’t so good on the Mesabi Range is that they spend so much money trying to bolster the feeble tourist based economy in places like Ely, Tower, and Grand Marais. Listening to Rukavina rant, all of us poor cousins living north and east of the Mesabi Range are a veritable welfare state, and the only thing that keeps us alive is the charity of the good people of the Mesabi Range. What Tommy Rukavina doesn’t want to admit is that when the State of Minnesota created the IRRB seventy years ago its mission was to help the economy of the Arrowhead Country which includes almost all of Cook, Lake, and St. Louis Counties. The money that funds the IRRB doesn’t come from the people of Virginia, Eveleth, Chisholm, Hibbing, or any other Mesabi Range city, the money comes from a tax the steel companies pay to benefit all the people within the range of the state’s mandate. If you don’t like the rules which govern the IRRB Tommy you best stop complaining and take the matter up with the state legislature.

I don’t know what people think of you on the Mesabi Range, Tommy, but north of the divide some of my Ojibway friends refer to you as, Kijikawin-Kiniw, The Slow Walking War Eagle, because you’re so full of rubbish that you can’t possibly fly. At one point you call yourself a Marxist railing against corporate America. It made me wonder Tommy, which one of the Marx Brothers you like best? You demean people who don’t agree with you by saying that you will write real slow so you won’t confuse us: Don’t worry Representative Rukavina you’re plenty slow enough just as you are. In order to try to score a point you state that if we can go to the moon, we should be able to safely mine copper and nickel in Minnesota, but after six years and thirty million dollars of trying these multinational mining companies still can’t meet the state’s standards. I’m surprised that you haven’t suggested we lower the standards to help your foreign friends that help fund your re-election campaign. With a forty ton ratio of wasted sludge for one ton of copper or nickel harvested, maybe the truth is that we will never be able to mine sulfide bearing rock without wasting the land and poisoning the water.

I don’t know about William or Robert, Tommy, but I don’t own an automobile or a cell phone. My lap top computer is so old my computer technician tells me my computer’s operating system is so out of date, that when they upgrade next year, my lap top won’t be able to run the new soft ware mandated by the company, and I will be forced to buy a new unit. The electricity in my home was installed in 1938, and I see no point in uninstalling it. The plumbing in my family home was done the same time as the electricity. I checked about having an outhouse dug in the back yard, but they are illegal within the city limits. About the only real luxury I have are two toilets, and yes, Tommy, they do flush, but I only use one at a time. If that makes me a hypocrite by your standards you have a right to your opinion, which is more than you seem willing to grant to people who think differently than you.

Iron Mike Hillman

Rukavina lambasts Minnesota Tourism, Mike Hillman and Bob Tammen

Beating received by Mike Hillman Bob Tammen and MN Tourism

Beatings by Rukavina

Tommy Rukavina’s reaction to the article below by Mike Hillman, comments made by Bob Tammen and I believe current citizen backlash against Non-Ferrous (Sulfide Rock) mining can be felt in these recent comments he made in a letter to the Editor of the Timberjay.

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

I’ve been thinking! Once a Mining Town, Always a Mining Town?

Thinking about Ely

Always a Mining Town?

10 November 2011; Once a Mining Town, Always a Mining Town, by Mike Hillman

Some of my best friends have asked me why so many old town people seem so strong in their support of sulfide mining. It is a valid question that leaves many people scratching their heads wondering why any intelligent people would risk the future of their home town based on the empty promises of multi national companies who have one real interest; making as much money as possible. In order to answer the question one has to delve deeply into the psyche of the old town.

Ely is very proud of both its mining and logging heritage. There wouldn’t be an Ely without the iron that brought people here in the mid 1880’s. The truth is that without iron deposits, we might all be paddling out of Duluth. The same can be said about Ely’s satellite community Winton three miles to the east. The difference being that Winton owes its existence to logging. Both towns were established where they are because of location. Ely was built as close to the richest small deposit of iron ever mined anywhere in North America.

All you have to do is to go down to Miners Lake and you can see for yourself just how small the pocket of Ely’s iron deposit was. The dimension of Miners Lake pretty well follows the shape of the old deposit of rich hematite. It might have been small, but the deposit dived deep down into the earth’s outer crust. When the tonnage of iron was added up, over eighty two million tons of iron was extracted by the six mines that worked the rich deposit.

Winton was built where it is because of the number of rivers that flowed into Fall Lake. Back in the big lumbering days, we lacked the machinery to move all those logs to the mills. There was no powerful equipment to haul the logs to Winton. The best way to move the millions of logs that were harvested was to float them down the lakes and rivers to the mills operating in Winton. As in the case of Ely location was everything. It was no accident that the two towns were built where they were.

The major difference between the industries was that the iron mining involved a much smaller surface area than the logging did. The other major difference between the two industries was time; the iron mining lasted much longer than the logging did. Winton started cutting pine a couple of years after Ely started mining iron back in 1886. When the timber cruisers reported to the logging companies how vast the stands of red and white pine were in Northeastern Minnesota, the logging companies told local newsmen that there was so much pine in Minnesota, that it would be impossible to log it in a single lifetime. They wanted to give the impression that the timber would last for at least two generations. To say that was an overstatement is being very kind. In less than thirty years all of the great stands of white and red pines were gone, and the lumber companies moved west.

The Vermilion Range Mining enjoyed a bit more longevity. The Soudan Mine shipped its first iron in 1884, the last Vermilion Range mine closed in 1967 when the Pioneer shut down the pumps and gave up the iron to water and darkness. United States Steel closed operations in Ely as a cost saving measure. It was much cheaper to pit mine down on the much bigger Mesabi Range. There is still a lot of iron left under the waters of Miners Lake, but as soon as the company didn’t need the iron, they ceased operations and sold all their holdings in the City of Ely for a dollar. And then they were gone, leaving Ely and its loyal and hardworking people to their own devices.

I have no problems remembering and honoring the thousands of men who worked in either industry. They were good hard working people who earned their bread by hard back breaking work. Much of my writing and many of my stories are about those hard working miners and lumberjacks. They left us a colorful history that their descendents have a right to be very proud of. I don’t know how many lumberjacks were killed out in the woods, or riding logs down to the mills on the big log drives crossing lakes and shooting down dangerous rapids. They kept better records of the miners who were killed. We know that over two hundred men were killed in mining accidents on the Vermilion Iron Range. I have nothing but respect for those hard working loggers and miners. Their hard work made it possible for their children to get an education and enjoy the chance of a better and easier life. Looking honestly at the companies who employed them is an altogether different matter.

When Theodore Roosevelt sent foresters to survey the soon to be created Superior National Forest, they reported back to him that there was no forest to manage. The big logging companies had taken it all with no regard to the needs future generations. After operating from Maine to Minnesota for close to two hundred years, it didn’t occur to them until 1900 that there wasn’t enough white pine seed in America to reforest the land for future generations. In an act of desperation, they imported seed from England in order to plant a new generation of white pines. Unfortunately the imported pines brought the devastating white pine blister rust to America. So many white pines were deformed by the imported blister rust, that it is still impossible to sustain a logging industry today. All anyone need do is to take a walk around Ely’s forests to see the legacy of deformed white pines. After years of research, we still haven’t found a cure for this crippling disease.

The iron mining left a much better legacy for future generations of Elyites. Looking back on the eighty three year history of the Vermilion Iron Range all any reliable mining historian can say is that we were very fortunate the iron mining was as benign as it was. Part of the reason for this was the iron mining around Ely was limited in size. Because of the vertical configuration of the iron, the Vermilion Range was spared the vast open pits that scarred the Mesabi Range. All that is left of Vermilion Range Mining are the few open pits at the Soudan Underground Mine, Miners Lake, and two small pits near Section Thirty. The rest of the mining is hidden from sight because it was all done underground. But what of the residual effects of that mining, surely there must have been some negative impact from eighty years of iron mining.

Nope. There is nothing bad to be said about it. As far as mining goes, Ely was about as lucky as it could possibly be. None of the lakes and rivers suffered any damage from the waste rock that was dumped near there shores. In fact one can even point to the large pile of waste rock dumped right next to Shagawa Lake to prove the point. That waste rock came from the Pioneer Mine, and it now provides the firm foundation of The Grand Ely Lodge. The Shagawa Lake Boat launch was built on more of that waste rock. Looking at it in this light, one could even make the point that mining is actually providing a firm base for our current tourist driven economy.

The six Ely mines provided most of the town’s economic base for eight decades. When the Pioneer Mine closed four hundred and fifty men had to seek employment else where. Looking at our mining history in this light, is it any wonder that many old town people are in favor of returning to mining to jump start our flagging economy? If we did so well with the iron mining, and with all the advances in mining technology, shouldn’t we welcome the proposed sulfide mining with smiling happy faces and grateful open arms?

Not so fast. Comparing our old iron mining to the proposed sulfide mining is like comparing a potato to a carrot. Yes, they are both vegetables, but one look at them, and anyone can see the differences between the two. While many people would love a breakfast of ham, eggs, and fried potatoes or hash browns, how many people would care to get rid of the potatoes and have a side order of fried carrots instead? It is about the same thing comparing iron and sulfide mining. Yes, they’re both forms of mining, but if anyone thinks that sulfide mining would be as kind to future generations as the iron mining was is either very desperate or very stupid. We were very lucky in the past, but if we open Pandora’s Jar, and allow these foreign owned companies to start operating near the Kawishiwi River our luck is going to run out.
When we mined iron there wasn’t much of a process involved. All we had to do was blast the iron and crush it into workable pieces. In Ely we didn’t have do even do much of that, because nature had already pre-crushed the iron for us. All we had to do was to haul the iron to the surface and load it on the train. Our iron was all over sixty five percent pure, and it was the best iron anyone ever mined in the world. We never had to process any Vermilion Range Iron it was good to ship just as it was.

Sadly, the same thing cannot be said of the vast deposit of sulfide ore lying along the shore of the Kawishiwi River. If we start mining copper and nickel, the process will involve a lot of beneficiation. Don’t be frightened by a big word. All beneficiation means is that before any copper, nickel, gold, or platinum can be successfully mined here, but it will need a lot of processing, and there is the big rub. Before we can ship any of this ore to market it’s going to take a lot of work to get it ready, and that has always been the rub with this type of mining. The problem isn’t with any of the metals we would mine it is with the process and what will be left behind when the mining is finished.

Processing the copper and nickel on the Kawishiwi Range would be much closer to they way we process taconite rock today on the Mesabi Range. There are people in Ely who work on the Mesabi Range. Many of us have visited a taconite mine to see how the low grade iron is mined and processed. The first thing that needs to be done with the rock once it is drilled and blasted, is to separate the iron from the rest of the waste rock. Almost all the taconite rock mined in Minnesota is less than thirty percent iron.

The rock is loaded into trucks and then hauled to a crusher. From the crusher, the smaller pieces of rock are put on a conveyer belt where they go to a big building called the concentrator. The rock enters large mills that turn around like big hollow metal wheels. The mill wheels keep turning and the rock is ground into sludge. From there the sludge is passed through large magnetic separators. The large drum like magnets takes the iron and separates it from the other rock which is then sent out to the tailings basin. Any one who has never seen just how large a tailings basin is should take a flight over one of the taconite mines and see just how large an area it takes to deal with all that pulverized sludge.

The main difference between taconite mining and sulfide mining comes in the separation process. Copper, nickel, platinum, and gold are non magnetic, so we need a different way to separate the minerals we want from the rest of the rock which is wasted. In place of magnetic separators sulfide mining passes its pulverized slurry through tanks filled with thousands of gallons of either potassium or sodium cyanide. The cyanide acts as a bonding agent that keeps the desired minerals while the rest of the sludge is sent out to a tailing basin where the heavier rock settles to the bottom of the pond and the water left over is recycled to be used again in the process. It is this waste product that has always presented a problem for sulfide mining, because it leaves a lot of sulfur exposed to the elements. When water combines with sulfur, it makes sulfuric acid which is bad stuff.

In order to be fair to the sulfide companies I will be generous in the comparison between the desired minerals which will be kept, and the other components which are considered to be waste. The highest concentration that the sulfide mining companies will keep for profit is five percent or less. This means that out of a ton of rock, they will keep about fifty pounds of copper or nickel. That leaves 1950 pounds of waste that will be left behind. A small percentage of that waste product contains sulfur. There isn’t much the mining companies can do about it, and still make a profit. It is the nature of the beast.

The best that can be said about the proposed sulfide mining, for anyone who cares about the areas vast resources of fresh water, is that the sulfur content of Minnesota’s rock is less than the rock previously mined in parts of the western United States. Out west places that once gave sulfide mining a try are still dealing with bright orange colored creeks and rivers that are still polluted with sulfuric acid over a century after the mining was finished. One company employee of Twin Metals tried to pacify my concerns by reassuring me that in the worst case scenario, the acidity of the water that will eventually flow into the Kawishiwi River will only have the acidity of a cup of orange juice. It sounded pretty benign until I tried to put minnows and leeches in a gallon of orange juice. We might be able to drink orange juice, but nothing can live long in a glass of orange juice.

I know that companies like Twin Metals have assured us that everything that can possibly be done will be done in to make sure that when the mining is finished in a couple of generations that we won’t be left with the same legacy that they have left in other places all over the world. They like to throw out terms like new technology, to assuage our fears, but in truth there is no technology in the world that will keep the acid from entering our water and flowing into the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area and eventually polluting the Rainy River Water Shed. Look out Canada, because sooner or later this water will make its way all the way to Hudson Bay.

In the past decades Iron Range Resources has poured millions of dollars trying to help the Mesabi Range diversify its economy. They have built elaborate golf courses, the Iron Range Interpretive Center, and the Giants Ridge Ski area, but nothing they have tried has ever turned a profit. The Mesabi Range made a great sacrifice to America’s history. They have a right to be proud of that generous contribution to our nation, and they are still making that contribution today. They have little choice but to continue to mine whatever else can be mined. Every year the huge open pits will get wider and deeper, the piles of waste rock will grow higher and higher, and the tailings basins will spread and deepen across the land. It is too late to change the fate of the Mesabi Range.

But we fortunate few living north of the Continental Divide do have a choice. We can say no to sulfide mining. Ely was a mining town, and it should be proud of its history, but if anyone thinks that sulfide mining will leave us a future nearly as bright as the iron mining did is sadly mistaken. For over forty years we have been a tourist based economy and a place where people come to retire, because we are one of the few unspoiled and under exploited places left in the world. If we stick with the beautiful bird that we have in hand, Ely will continue to have a future with no end in sight, but if anyone thinks that sulfide mining and tourism can co-exist they need only to look at places like Virginia to see the eventual ruination that sulfide mining will bring to our future. We can be one thing or the other, but we can not be both.

Glad to be a Nimby!

Last week the Ely Echo took up the issue of mining leases on privately owned land in the state of Minnesota. It would appear that the Echo took up the cause of the pro-mining people who were upset because Governor Mark Dayton and the State Executive Council declared a six month moratorium on granting mining leases on privately owned land in Northeastern Minnesota. It would appear that many property owners don’t want to have mining companies prospecting on their land.

The Echo took a small quote from an editorial in the Star Tribune that said the delay was caused by the largely unfounded fears of property owners about mineral exploration on their land. Considering that there has never been a sulfide mine in the state; that has ever reached a production level, we have nothing to go on other than the track record sulfide mines have left in other places. Based on their poor historical record, to say that property owner’s fears of sulfide mining on or near their land are largely unfounded is a real stretch even for the Ely Echo. The Echo plays down the genuine concerns of landowners as making a mountain out of a mole hill, or the anti-mining crowd using people as they crusade against sulfide mining. It would seem that these poor multi national mining companies are being unfairly picked on by places like Stony River Township who unanimously voted against any sulfide mining in their township. It would appear that the Stony River people seem to think that sulfide mining is a bad deal.

Towards the end of the editorial the Echo uses a quote from Ely Mayor Roger Skraba who is very much in favor of sulfide mining in Northeastern Minnesota. His reasoning is that in his opinion Ely is dying, and the mining companies will bring a resurrection to his dying town. While there is no doubt that Ely has lost population since the last iron mine closed in 1967, to say the town is dying is a bit of an overstatement. You don’t award the coolest small town in America to a dying town. In ten years Ely’s population has dropped by several hundred people, but the populations of the townships surrounding Ely have seen a large increase in population. It is these people who are speaking up against the exploitation that sulfide mining has always brought to any place where they have done business.

Mayor Skraba states that it is all a matter of time before the mining companies have their way; if it isn’t in this generation, then it will be the next. There may be a lot of truth to what the mayor says. The minerals have been here for two thousand three hundred million years, and they certainly aren’t going anywhere. The editorial touts that new technology will allow sulfide mining to be done in harmony with tourism and clean water. Well, there is a first time for everything, but to date all this talk of new technology is nothing but an empty promise with nothing to back it up. By, Iron Mike Hillman

Northeastern Minnesota is home to the second largest deposit of copper and nickel in the world that has yet to be exploited by multi-national mining conglomerates. To date the mining companies haven’t come close to meeting any environmental standard. When they are done with business, the companies move on and take the profits with them, and leave rivers of sulfuric acid in their wake. Let these companies go to Africa and practice their new and improved mining techniques. When they can show all of us Nimbys that they really are able to do their work without destroying one of the world’s most valuable fresh water places this blogger, “Originally from Ely”, will welcome them with open arms.

Pagami Creek Fire in the BWCA near entry points on Lake One is now 30% contained – Sept. 21, 2011

Pagami Creek Fire had Ely Residents and Visitors Concerned about Fire

The Pagami Creek Fires had burned for over three weeks, and the small fire burning near Lake Two was not deemed much of a threat. The Pagami Creek Fire was of such a small nature, that the Forest Service decided to help it along by dropping a load of jellied gasoline on the smoldering blaze in order to help the fire do its work in a difficult to burn spruce swamp. That was when nature conspired to surprise the weather experts, and warm, windy, and very dry conditions caused the fire to explode into the largest fire in Minnesota since 1918. All of a sudden, the fire marched out of the wilderness area and headed into Superior National Forest proper like an avenging angel. All of the modern tools available to us were employed by the Forest Service to try to stop the Pagami Creek Fire from threatening structures on the fringe of the wilderness area.

Since then the fire has garnered much interest around the nation, as the smoke from the fire reached as far south as Chicago. Many people thought that Ely and the entire Boundary Waters were on fire, but thus far the conflagration has burned over one hundred thousand acres, and only one government owned cabin on Insula Lake has been lost. Much work remains to be done before the fire is brought under control and millions of dollars will be spent to accomplish the task of extinguishing the blaze. You can bet the debate on using fire to manage the area will garner considerable debate long after the Pagami Creek Fire has been extinguished. Keep reading the Ely Buzz, and we will keep you informed on the latest information and the historic implications of the Pagami Creek Fire.

One of the things you get used to when you live in a place like Ely are forest fires. That was one of the reasons not many people paid much attention when a lightening strike started a wild fire between Lake Two and Clearwater Lake on August 18th of this year. The fire was burning in the Boundary Waters Wilderness not far from one of the busiest Boundary Waters entry points on Lake One at the end of the Fernberg Road. The Fernberg was a one lane gravel road that was built in the late 1920’s for the sole purpose of giving better access to the Superior National Forest. It was built for the sole purpose of providing better fire suppression. Later on when tourism became more important to the local economy, the road was widened in the 1960’s to its present condition to better accommodate the increased traffic.

When the Fernberg and Echo Trail were built, the Superior National Forest was a ten million acre government created forest reserve conceived to prevent anyone from exploiting our timber lands the way the large logging companies did to Northeastern Minnesota from the mid 1890’s to the early 1920’s. When Gifford Pinchot sent foresters to survey the newly created national forest, just after the turn of the twentieth century, they reported back to Pinchot that there was very little forest left to manage. It was almost all logged off. Pinchot and the Forest Service were determined that any future logging operations in any U.S. National Forest would be done under government supervision and managed as a sustainable crop.

In order to protect the forest from fire, lookout towers were built and staffed during the summer season. They were built on high hills and ridges which gave them a good look at the surrounding country.

Ely area Fire Towers were common years ago

Fire Towers in Ely looked like this.

One of these towers was built on a large hill that was called the Fernberg. Before the Fernberg Road was built, the Fernberg Lookout was supplied by canoeing up the Kawishiwi River. All of the material needed at the Fernberg Tower and Cabin traveled up the river and across six portages. It was a lot of work to keep the Fernberg Lookout supplied, and what was even worse, if a fire was sighted it took time for the attendant to get word back to Ely in order to muster forces to battle the fire. Fire suppression became much more efficient when the Fernberg Road and Echo Trail were built to help protect a valuable national resource.

After World War Two, Fire Towers were gradually phased out and replaced by airplanes. The airplanes offered a much better service, because they were not fixed to any one position, so they gave a much more comprehensive overview of the entire national forest. Today there are only a few old abandoned towers left in the area to remind people how we once monitored fire in the Superior National Forest, and we still rely on airplanes to spot fires in the national forest today.

In 1973 Congress created the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area. They took one point one million acres of land from the Superior National Forest and gave it special designation as the only true wilderness east of the Mississippi River. It was the first time in our nation’s history where the spiritual and ascetic value of national forest land was deemed more valuable to America than the harvesting of either timber or mineral resources.

This new status of wilderness meant that the land set aside could no longer be managed by conventional means like logging. The Forest Service was given the task of managing the land set apart by natural methods. The first big test of this wilderness ethic was the big wind that blew down millions of trees on July 4th, 1999. According to experts, the wind was a once in a thousand year event that altered the face of a large portion of the wilderness area, and many local people living close to the blow down area were fearful that the once in a thousand year wind would eventually lead to a catastrophic forest fire. Many people called for a special moratorium that would allow logging in the area, but in order to do this, Congressional action would be required. The Forest Service stuck to the mandate, and since then the blow down area has been reduced by a number of controlled burns during the years since 1999. Thus far the blow down area hasn’t gone up in flames, but the Forest Service still keeps a close watch on the area.

Instead of managing the area by logging it off, harvesting the timber, and then reforesting, the Forest Service uses fire to alter the conditions in the wilderness area. In most instances the management fires have been controlled burns essentially to get rid of a build up of unwanted fuels and to regenerate the area. Once in a while nature takes a hand and starts a fire all on her own, and then the Forest Service makes a decision on how such natural fires are going to be handled. The Pagami Creek Fire is one of those natural fires that was ignited by a lightening strike. By: Iron Mike Hillman

Manhattan Island was purchased for a bag of beads and trinkets, why not Northern Minnesota

Wetlands of Minnesota More Valuable for Human Health and Well-being

How much for Lake Superior?

Coming home with a white plastic bag filled with various beads and trinkets from the open house of the new Twin Metals Building in the Ely Business Park was truly a great feeling. There are few things in life that can possibly compare to walking home swinging a plastic bag filled with neat things like a Frisbee and pizza cutter, and all you had to do was just show up. I am sure that most of the several hundred people who turned out for the Twin Metals open house felt the same way I did when they dumped their sack full of treasure out on their kitchen table after they finished taking a look at what really is a fine looking building.

People can say what they want about sulfide mining inside the Rainy River Water Shed; Twin Metals of Duluth put up a fine looking building in the business park. Everyone seemed pleased with the good turn out, but then nothing brings people out like a free bag of neat stuff, and their building in the business park is first rate. So how could you not like Twin Metals of Duluth? Most of the people wearing the company badges looked like darn nice people, but they are all strangers. How do I know if they are telling me the truth, or just feeding me a company line in order to get a foothold in the second richest deposit of copper and nickel in the entire world? I have friends here in Ely who have mixed feelings about opening Pandora’s Jar of surprises in order to enjoy the period of prosperity that would come with mining such a vast deposit of low grade ore that would scar the land close to Ely.

There is no single mindset that describes how Ely feels about things like sulfide mining and wilderness; there never has been a unified opinion here about anything, and perhaps that is the way America was meant to be. I was talking to a fellow who wanted to know what kind of place Ely was? I was looking for the right word to describe my hometown, and I chose the almost right word, when I told him that Ely was a liberal place. That person was of a conservative nature, and the word liberal caused him genuine offense. It was my fault. Ely really isn’t a liberal or a conservative place; Ely is a tolerant place where people are free to have their say, without fear of retaliation for expressing their opinions. People will let you know if they don’t agree with you on certain things, but I have never been afraid to express my opinions. Ely doesn’t like hypocrites or fools, but if you live the way you talk, then Ely is a good place to be.

The other year Ely was voted by some magazine as the coolest small town in America, and sometimes I wonder what makes it cool? I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that Ely sits in the heart of hundreds of beautiful lakes and rivers next to the only genuine wilderness east of the Mississippi River. I would love to see a tee shirt that called Ely the luckiest small town in America. We were very lucky that the iron mining here was as benign as it was, and that there is very little negative lasting impact from that iron mining.

This year the politically correct stand for anyone thinking of running for local office about sulfide mining is: If it can be done well and won’t have a negative lasting impact on the area; then I am in favor of sulfide mining. But if it can’t be done safely and cleanly, then I am not in favor of it. The trouble with that safe political stand is right up there with people who tell me that they are not opposed to mining, but rather that they are in favor of clean water is that by the time anyone realized there was a problem would be years down the line.

I am not concerned with the generations who might make a living from sulfide mining. I am concerned with the generations that would follow when the mining was finished, and what kind of country we would hand over to them, and what they would do in another post mining era. What we do here during our time will judge us to the latest generation. Ely is surrounded by beauty. I hope it will always be a beautiful place where people can come to enjoy the spirit of the Quetico-Superior Wilderness.

By: Iron Mike Hillman