For Iron Range 2019 Can’t Get Here Soon Enough

It’s already a Happy New Year before 2019 even officially arrives on the Iron Range, where they’ve already seen glimpses of what the future will bring.  After years of bureaucratic hold-ups and red tape, northern Minnesota stands on the cusp of an economic boom from a new generation of environmentally responsible mining.

The Star Tribune highlighted the breakthrough on the front page of the Sunday edition that’s read by hundreds of thousands statewide.

“We’ve been talking for years about how to get ready,” said Biwabik Mayor Jim Weikum. “It’s been hard to keep people’s spirits up. You want people to be excited and to know that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, but it was a really long tunnel.”

After 14 years of regulatory back-and-forth and a pitched environmental battle that’s ongoing in the courts, northern Minnesota’s mining industry celebrated a double win last week when PolyMet Mining Corp. cleared its last obstacle with state regulators while federal officials opened a path for a second mine just outside of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

An American Experiment report this year estimated expanded mining of Minnesota’s world-class untapped mineral resources would add at least $3.7 billion a year to the state economy and generate 8,500 jobs. With the regulatory hurdles largely cleared, cities see a new economic era coming with hundreds of well-paying mining jobs on the horizon.

In Aurora, there’s talk of upgrading the child care options for new families who might move in. In Biwabik, Weikum and others have wondered if the city’s railroad spur might find new uses. Elsewhere, local officials are gauging the condition of the housing stock, talking up workforce development and looking for broadband connections to make their cities more livable.

And it’s not just the PolyMet project, thanks to a recent boost from the feds.

On the same day last week, the U.S. Department of the Interior said it would renew mineral leases for a copper-nickel mine near Ely proposed by Twin Metals Minnesota, a St. Paul-based subsidiary of the Chilean mining conglomerate Antofagasta PLC. The company has not yet filed a formal mining plan and faces a years long review process.

It’s been a long time coming for Iron Range residents, who’ve waited far too long for 2019 to get here.