TBT: Amtrak returns to the Twin Ports

April 15,1975 marked the inaugural run of Amtrak’s Arrowhead train, providing passenger rail service between Minneapolis and Superior, Wis.

Minnesota Gov. Wendell Anderson (right) and Wisconsin Gov. Patrick Lucey

Minnesota Gov. Wendell Anderson (right) and Wisconsin Gov. Patrick Lucey

 State Rep. Irv Anderson (foreground) and Jack LaVoy

State Rep. Irv Anderson (foreground) and Jack LaVoy

State Rep. Willard Munger

State Rep. Willard Munger

Amtrak changed the train’s name to North Star when it extended service to Duluth in 1977. Passenger rail service to the region was discontinued in 1985.

Photo credit Iron Country Free Press

From the Archives: Iron Range Delegation asks Governor Dayton to veto anti-Range Republican tax bill

(originally published on May 18, 2011)

In yet another attempt to avoid public scrutiny, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed the Omnibus Tax Bill (HF 42) during the wee hours Wednesday morning. The Republicans do in fact have ample reason to be ashamed of the bill, for it contains onerous provisions that directly target the people of the Iron Range. One would pilfer $60 million from the Douglas J. Johnson Economic Protection Trust Fund, a business development fund that derives its revenue from the tax on production of taconite paid by the mining companies in lieu of property taxes. And apparently stealing Range property tax revenue isn’t enough for the Republicans, for another provision takes aim at reducing the taconite tax by freezing it at levels when the demand for steel was low. IRRRB Commissioner Tony Sertich estimates that the agency will lose approximately $20 million in the next biennium as a result, money that will not be available for economic development and diversification of the region’s economic base.

In other words, the Republicans are requiring just three percent of the state’s population to give up their property tax revenue and to disproportionately fund the state’s budget reductions while at the same time making a significant cut to that same revenue stream and guaranteeing the region’s major industry windfall profits as it removes a non-renewable resource.

Sounds reasonable.

The Iron Range Delegation sent the following letter to Governor Mark Dayton urging him to veto HF 42:

We the undersigned members of the Iron Range Delegation of the Minnesota Legislature, are writing to call your attention to the following provisions of the omnibus tax bill that punish the Iron Range.

First of all, the Republicans confiscated our local property tax by taking $60 million from the Taconite Economic Protection Fund. As you know, Article X Section 6 of or Constitution clearly states that taconite production taxes are in lieu of local property taxes. Secondly, they froze the escalator which was agreed upon with the mining industry at the time when taconite pellet prices are at an all time high. Governor, the mining companies’ profits are at record levels. Finally, they eliminated the small amount of money that we appropriated in statute for the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools (RAMS) and the Hockey Hall of Fame in Eveleth, both of which are very beneficial to the people of the Iron Range.

Clearly, Governor, the attacks by the Republican Majority on all the DFL areas of the state are an embarrassing way to govern and set a new low in public policy for the state of Minnesota.

We respectfully request that you veto the omnibus tax bill and ask that you mention our issues in your veto message.

Republican Rep. Carolyn McElfatrick of Grand Rapids is the only member of the Iron Range Delegation who did not sign the letter. McElfatrick did, however, previously join the Delegation in denouncing the raid on the DJJ fund.

On Tuesday’s edition of MPR’s Midday program, Governor Dayton clearly voiced his displeasure about the assault on the Iron Range’s economic development fund:

It’s terribly wrong and it’s unacceptable.

Nolan Puts Mining Company Interests Above Workers, Communities

Mining is deeply ingrained in the culture of Minnesota’s Iron Range, and this issue more than any other defined the candidates in the 2012 race for 8th district Congress. Candidate Rick Nolan’s position put the Cuyuna Range native on the correct side of the worker v mining company nuance that made him a true ally of Rangers: strongly support mining, but enforce the rules and regulations that protect our environment and the health and safety of our workers. Unfortunately, Congressman Rick Nolan appears to have abandoned this common sense approach in favor of a Company Man position, voting for the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act, legislation he previously vowed he would not support because it expedites the permitting process at the expense of our workers, communities and our environment.

The current legislation, HR 761, is a reincarnation of HR 4402 passed by the US House of Representatives in 2012. DFLer Jeff Anderson, Nolan’s opponent in the primary, and Republican 8th District Rep. Chip Cravaack both strongly supported HR 4402 and criticized Nolan for refusing to do so. In fact, the harshest criticism came from Anderson (now Nolan’s district director), who deliberately and methodically mischaracterized Nolan as being anti-mining. But candidate Nolan was adamant that one did not need to compromise safety rules and regulations in order to expedite the permitting process and repeatedly blasted both for supporting the legislation that was being pushed by right wing Republicans at the behest of the mining companies. Indeed, Nolan made his position quite clear in this statement from July 2012*:

Yet on 18 September 2013, Congressman Nolan voted in favor of HR 761 (legislation that contains language identical to that of HR 4402), a move that stunned many observers, supporters and constituents. And Nolan told the Mesabi Daily News that he’s comfortable with the legislation and continues to insist we don’t need to sacrifice safety in order to expedite permitting:

But Nolan said he believes we can have both expedited permitting and environmental safety.

“I’m pro-mining. But I also very strongly believe we have to do it right. And we can. We have the brains and the technology to do so,” Nolan said.

So, is the congressman going to hold his nose and vote yes on the bill?

“No, I’m comfortable voting for it. It’s not the bill I would write, but they’re not asking me. But it’s a start in streamlining and standardizing the permit process,” Nolan said.

Wow.

When questioned about the change in his position, the Duluth News-Tribune reports

Nolan’s office said the difference this year is a “deeper appreciation on Congressman Nolan’s part for how the delayed and broken permitting process is holding back projects” on Minnesota’s Iron Range.

Huh?

Does that mean that candidate Rick Nolan didn’t understand the issue or truly support mining as alleged by his former primary opponent and current district director Jeff Anderson?

Does it mean ‘screw our workers, screw our communities, screw our environment – mining projects come first at all costs?’

Or does it mean that staffers have convinced Nolan to compromise his beliefs and take the easy road to favorable headlines in order to boost his support on the Iron Range as he heads into an election year?

Nolan’s press release does nothing to clarify his position and offers little more than Orwellian doublespeak:

Even though this is not the bill I would have written, I voted YES on H.R. 761 because we need to streamline and standardize a broken mining permitting process that is delaying projects with the potential for thousands of good paying jobs, and billions of dollars in economic development, across Minnesota’s Iron Range. We are long past the time when we need to choose between good jobs and a healthy environment in our great nation. I will continue to do everything within my power to advance good paying mining jobs, and work for strong environmental protections in all the laws and policies that affect the mining industry.

What we do know is that Congressman Nolan firmly believed that provisions in last year’s bill were harmful to workers, harmful to the environment and harmful to communities, and that gutting rules and regulations was not necessary to expedite the permitting process. We know that he clearly stated he would not support that bill. And we know he inexplicably reversed his position and chose to vote for a bill introduced this year that contained identical language.

Going back on one’s word and throwing our workers, environment and communities under the bus in order to further the interests of the mining companies is a questionable strategy at best, and definitely not what one would expect from a candidate who campaigned on a theme of integrity and changing the way we do politics ‘Because you matter’.

Congressman Nolan certainly got the headlines he wanted, but at what cost?

*Text of Nolan’s statement in the above video is as follows: “….HR 4402 that was passed by the House of Representatives here recently ostensibly to expedite the process, and to the extent that it does that I would quite frankly have no problem with that legislation. But careful observers and journals all around the country and around the Congress say that the bill does more than that. I don’t know if Jeff (Anderson) just read the Republican press releases or if he’s actually read the bill. The fact is that the bill guts many environmental health and safety provisions for workers, for the community, for the environment. It guts provisions requiring mining companies to pay royalties and to forego many of the rules and regulations…. Democrats and Republicans both support mining. The primary difference is the fact that Democrats insist on rules and regulations to protect the health and safety of workers, to protect the health and safety of our communities, the health and safety of our water and natural resources and our heritage. Make no mistake about it – mining is very, very important for our region, but so are the pensions of the workers and the health and safety of the people who work in those mines and the footprint that will be left behind. That is every bit as important. Mining has a time-certain limitation on it. The long range consequences are something that will be with us not simply for a lifetime. They will be with us here forever. So don’t underestimate under any circumstances the importance of stepping up and making sure that we insist on these kind of protections for the people here now today and for future generations.”

Itasca County Gives Veterans Memorial Forest to Scab Metro Area Home Builder

“Any county may by resolution of the county board set aside tax-forfeited land which is more suitable for forest purposes than for any other purpose and dedicate said lands as a memorial forest and manage the same on forestry principles…Any tax-forfeited land which has been included in a memorial forest established in any county under the provisions of subdivision 2, and which is found more suitable for other purposes may by resolution of the county board be withdrawn from the forest for disposal as tax-forfeited land if the commissioner of natural resources approves the sale of such land.”

In 1971, Itasca County followed the above Minnesota statute and established The Lt. Franklin Danyluk and Sgt. Emmett Loucks Memorial Forest in honor of two of the region’s fallen WWII soldiers. The easily-accessible 119 acres is popular with the public for all manner of outdoor recreation, including hiking and hunting. Yet despite strenuous opposition from the public, the Itasca County Board recently determined that a housing development is a more suitable use of that beautiful land rich with flora and fauna, voting Tuesday to transfer the veterans memorial forest to a non-union home builder from the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area.

Of course, the Board’s action wasn’t that transparent. The land exchange requested by Bradley Dumonceaux and approved by a 3 -2 vote of the Itasca County Board was presented as a request from a private landowner who owned property adjacent to the veterans memorial forest lands and wanted the additional parcels for hunting and recreation. But the record reveals that Dumonceaux personally owns neither the land adjacent to the Danyluk-Loucks Memorial Forest nor the private property offered in the trade and suggests a more sinister motive: Profit at the public expense.

Bradley Dumonceaux owns Progressive Builders, a 20-year old company that, according to the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters, has never built homes with union labor. Like many other metro area developers, Dumonceaux has in recent years been aggressively buying lake and other prime property in northern Minnesota, including Third River Township in Itasca County. County land records show that since January 2005, his Cottonwood Acres LLC has acquired approximately 564 acres in Third RiverTownship, including all of Upper South Twin Lake and some land adjacent to the veterans memorial forest (other adjacent property is owned by the state and federal governments). County records also reveal that the relatively inaccessible 154 acres of private property in the distant Bearville Township offered by Dumonceaux for exchange is actually owned by John and Margaret McCoy. As part of the proposed land exchange, the home builder submitted to the county board a purchase agreement with the McCoys contingent to the land exchange being approved. While nothing in Minnesota statutes requires that one proposing a land exchange owns the property to be traded, it does give an indication as to just how badly Dumonceaux wants the veterans memorial forest lands.

Indeed, Danyluk-Loucks Memorial Forest has been in Dumonceaux’s sights since May 2004, when he unsuccessfully tried to buy the land from the county. Since that time, Dumonceaux has relentlessly pursued a land exchange, presenting numerous proposals involving various private properties (including parcels he personally owns in Bearville Township) with no success until Tuesday. Controversy has surrounded Dumonceaux’s proposals over the years, including charges of conflicts of interest and lack of transparency that date back to 2005. Recent reports that the Board replaced a local appraisal of public and private lands not favorable to Dumonceaux with one from a Wisconsin appraiser he selected, and the fact that Commissioner Davin Tinquist (who pushed hard to pass this land exchange for the home builder), owns Cohasset Mill and Lumber Company have heightened those concerns.

But the county board’s approval of the proposal is only the first step towards stripping the public of their cherished veterans memorial forest in Third River Township. This land exchange must first be reviewed by the Department of Natural Resources to be sure it complies with state rules and regulations governing Class B land exchanges, and then it must be approved by both the commissioner of the DNR and by the Land Exchange Board. The land exchange process is outlined below:

– Itasca County submits the proposal and related documents to the DNR Division of Lands and Minerals for review of statutory compliance with Class B land exchanges. Public comments about the land exchange may be directed to that office as well.

– The northeast regional DNR office in Grand Rapids reviews the proposal for its impact on natural resources. How the property is to be used will be of concern to the various departments. The review generally takes 4 – 6 weeks.

– If the DNR determines the County’s proposal does not comply with statutes governing Class B land exchanges, it is sent back to the County.

– If the DNR determines the proposal does comply with statutes, the review and any comments received from the public are forwarded to the DNR commissioner.

– The DNR commissioner will take into consideration both the agency review and public input and either reject or approve the proposal. If approved, the proposal goes to the Land Exchange Board.

– The Land Exchange Board consists of the governor, attorney general and auditor, and can either reject or approve the land exchange. The Board meets quarterly, with their next meeting scheduled in June. A unanimous vote is required in order for a land exchange to be approved.

Despite strong opposition from area residents, from citizens who enjoy using the land and from veterans who view the Danyluk-Loucks Memorial Forest as a legacy, the Itasca County Board inexplicably approved a land exchange that gives veterans memorial forest land to a scab metro area home builder. In view of the facts, no reasonable and prudent person could possibly believe for one minute this land is wanted for personal hunting and recreation. That an outsider like Dumonceaux would use the culture of northern Minnesota as a smokescreen for his intended use of the land is despicable; that 3 members of the Itasca County Board would aid and abet this deception of the public is absolutely outrageous and all should be held accountable by their constituents. The question now is who will ultimately prevail: Local residents who are determined to retain access to their land for the common good and to honor the memory of their fallen soldiers, or a packsacker who selfishly wants to build pricey homes with scab labor at their expense?