Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Major work needed at Pioneer Mine historic site

City council faces $2.5 million preservation assessment report

Keith Vandervort
Posted 6/19/19

ELY – The city council here, on Tuesday, learned of another significant need in the community, one that could cost millions of dollars to address. Celia Domich, of the city’s Heritage …

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Major work needed at Pioneer Mine historic site

City council faces $2.5 million preservation assessment report


ELY – The city council here, on Tuesday, learned of another significant need in the community, one that could cost millions of dollars to address. Celia Domich, of the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission, provided the council with the results of a recent assessment of the Pioneer Mine complex site, which shows that as much as $2.5 million in renovations are required to maintain this significant piece of Ely’s history and culture.

Domich asked for the city’s help in obtaining funding for the continuing efforts to maintain the site.

Ely’s last mine closed in 1967 after shipping 41 million tons of iron ore during its operating life. The city acquired the property in 1977, and the site was placed on the National Register a year later.

Significant restoration work has already been completed on the Pioneer Mine site over the past 40 years, noted Domich, including:

 Head frame rehabilitation.

 Smokestack tuck pointing and repair.

 Shaft house renovation, including roofing, ventilation and electrical upgrades.

 Significant Miner’s Dry building renovation including roof, wall and window replacement, heating and safety improvements, floor repair and fire suppression additions.

 Other site improvements to the road and parking lots, lake access and retaining wall.

“We can safely say that the city and community have been very supportive in keeping the Pioneer Mine an asset of this city,” she said. She noted that many sources of funding over the last 40 years, including IRRR, MnDOT, Minnesota Historical Society, Ely Greenstone/Arts and Heritage Center, Gardner Trust and the city of Ely, have all contributed to maintaining the Pioneer Mine.

Domich aknowledged that the recent assessment report “took her breath away” as she reviewed the amount of money needed for continuing preservation needs.

The total of $2.472 million includes two high-priority items, the retaining wall reconstruction ($190,000) and the Captain’s Dry building roof ($150,000). Other work needed includes:

Captain’s Dry building exterior ($1.2 million).

Smokestack masonry ($75,000).

Shaft house repainting ($90,000).

Miner’s Dry building painting and trim ($277,000).

 Miner’s Dry building interior renovation ($120,000).

Miner’s Dry and shaft house HVAC ($120,000).

Head frame and water tower painting ($250,000).

“The total number is large by anyone’s standards,” Domich told council members. “We would like to know what your priorities are and what you are thinking about the Pioneer Mine site?”

Mayor Chuck Novak asked Domich of her top priorities, and then offered to try to obtain funding to get work completed. “What we do for the city is prioritize our projects and put a timeframe to it,” he said.

Domich pressed her point,“Do we still have support from the city?” We are not expecting a $2.5 million check from the city. Will you stand beside us as we try to get money from these bigger entities? We hope to work with you to figure out where we can find money to help support the site and keep it standing.”

Council member Paul Kess played the role of devil’s advocate. Work on the Captain’s Dry building alone will cost as much as $1.35 million, he noted. “Is it worth it?” he asked.

Domich conceded that she asked herself the same question, and admitted that it may not be possible to save every building on the site. “It is not an easy thing to walk away from, but we have to be realistic about what can be done.”

Kess said he does not understand the significance of the Captain’s Dry building. “What else can you do with the $1.5 million needed for that building?”

Domich noted that the Historical Preservation Commission determined that every building needs a purpose. The quoted cost for the Captain’s Dry building work is just for stabilizing the building. “It is not about making it useful as art studios, event space or even offices. This about fixing the exterior,” she said.

Council member Angela Campbell commended the efforts of the Heritage Preservation Commission. “I find that this is a valuable asset to this city. We will find a way. This is our heritage, and I fight for the heritage of Ely’s miners. I value this as an economic tool for the city as a tourist destination.”

Domich said that between 1,500 and 2,000 people visit the Pioneer Mine site in a given summer. “I think the site has value, but we have problems there that we need to work on,” she said.

Clerk-Treasurer Harold Langowski lauded Domich for her efforts to obtain grants for historical preservation work around the city. “This study does give us a priority list of what needs to be done,” he said. “There are funds available.”

He noted that the city is working with the Department of Natural Resources for possible state funding to improve the road down to the Miner’s Lake boat access. “The DNR is looking at putting in a new fishing pier down there in the next year or so,” Langowski said.

He also agreed that a purpose must be found for the Captain’s Dry building to justify the amount of work that needs to be completed on the building.

Equal pay

Members of the American Association of University Women and Ely Rotary Club presented a request to the city council and the city of Ely to be the one-hundredth employer here to affirm a commitment to providing equal pay for equal work for employees.

A key initiative for the national AAUW organization is to advocate for equal pay for women, according to Ely AAUW member Pam Ransom. The local chapter is partnering with the local Rotary Club in advancing the initiative.

“We believe that pay should be based on the kind and quality of work done, and not according to age, race, sex, religion, political association, ethnic origin or any other individual or group characteristic unrelated to ability, performance orqualifications,” Ransom said.

“Here in Ely there have been 99 businesses that have signed the equal pay affirmation. We are asking the city council to the 100th signer of this affirmation. Your support will significantly help us in reaching our goal of Ely being a 100-percent equal pay community.”

Council members unanimously agreed to sign the affirmation.


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