We’re going to sorely miss having Tom Rukavina in St. Paul, so I’m glad that we can continue to look forward to his (hopefully) regular contributions to our editorial pages— even when I don’t agree with him, as was the case last week.
As Tom and I have both recognized, while we like to debate our differences, we’re usually in full agreement on 95 percent of issues. Of course it’s those differences that keep life interesting, so the debate goes on over the issue of BWCAW land exchange legislation.
In his letter last week, Tom posed some questions, so I’d first like to answer them to the best of my knowledge. His questions are as follows, and are repeated here in his own words:
Q: Why is open pit mining allowed in the Superior National Forest when you and your environmental friends keep referring to the Weeks Act which allegedly prohibits open pit mining in national forests?
A: The Weeks Act only applies to federally-owned lands within the national forest. As Tom is aware, there are many other ownerships, both public and private, within the boundaries of the Superior National Forest. The Weeks Act does not apply to lands owned by private individuals, private corporations, or the state or counties.
That being the case, converting federally-owned lands in the national forest to state ownership would eliminate the strip mining prohibition of the Weeks Act on those lands.
Q: What other national forest let a whole new community (Hoyt Lakes) be built inside of it? Does the Weeks Act exempt the Superior National Forest from allowing new communities to be built within its boundaries?
A: The answer to this is the same as the first question. Hoyt Lakes was built on non-federally-owned land. The Weeks Act, as such, did not apply.
The Weeks Act does apply, however, in the case of PolyMet Mining’s NorthMet deposit, much of which is currently located on federally-owned land. That’s why PolyMet is engaged in a land exchange process with the federal government. Under the current ownership, PolyMet could not strip mine the land, as company officials have proposed.
That’s one reason that environmentalists have bristled at the current land exchange legislation, which has identified more than two full townships located near Hoyt Lakes as the highest priority lands for exchange. A number of known copper-nickel deposits located in this high priority zone, including NorthMet, would shift from federal ownership to state ownership by this provision, which would eliminate the jurisdiction of the Weeks Act over any future development of these deposits. Tom would have readers believe it’s just a weird coincidence that lawmakers identified these lands for exchange, and that their known mineral resources had nothing to do with it. That’s just not credible.
Which is not to say that mining companies are necessarily supportive of the exchange, at least as proposed by lawmakers. In fact, Brad Moore, PolyMet’s Executive VP for Environmental and Governmental Affairs, recently told me that PolyMet was not aware that their lands had been identified for exchange by legislators. He said the company would definitely prefer to complete the land exchange process it already has underway with the Forest Service, rather than have that process short-circuited by the proposed legislation.
As for the mineral potential of the Mesabi Purchase Unit, Tom has now shifted his argument. In the past, he definitively stated that there was no non-ferrous mineral potential there at all. Now, he’s claiming that nothing is likely to be developed for the foreseeable future. I don’t dispute that, but it was his original claim that I disputed in my column last month, and I never suggested that mineral development there was likely any time soon.
The rest of Tom’s letter— a mix of rambling hyperbole and the usual pummeling of straw men— doesn’t require much response. Tom insinuates that anyone opposed to the latest land exchange legislation is an “environmentalist” who favors federal confiscation of state lands in the BWCAW, and wants to shut down taconite mining and logging across northeastern Minnesota and turn the entire Superior National Forest into wilderness. It’s a ridiculous claim, backed up by nothing but wind. I think Tony Sertich was right when he said the eastern-most wind turbine at Taconite Ridge only blows when Tommy’s at home— because that’s when all the hot air is emanating from Pike Township.
Whether the land exchange goes ahead as Tom proposes, or not, will have no impact whatsoever on taconite mining or logging in our region— and Tom knows it. And, whether Tom knows it or not, the exchange he supports will eliminate the very real protections of the Weeks Act on lands containing known mineral deposits in the Superior National Forest. Tom can continue to insist that these mining lands were included in the bill by accident— it’s just that no one in his or her right mind is going to believe him.
In last week’s story on the legal newspaper bids for ISD 2142, I made an error in the accompanying chart that compared the bids from the Timberjay and the Cook News Herald. When measuring the width of our standard column, I neglected to account for the fact that our legals appear in our classified section, which runs seven columns, rather than the standard six-column format in the rest of the paper. This meant that our column width should have been listed as 8.0 picas rather than 9.5.
The change does not alter the fact that the Timberjay offered the lowest bid, but it does reduce the margin of the difference. In either case, the point of the story was that the business manager had inaccurately informed the school board when she claimed the Cook News Herald bid was lower—and that point remains the same.