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Northern Minnesotans sent a message to the Trump administration this week in the Iron Range city of Virginia. Hundreds of residents spilled into the streets to make sure Washington understands they support mining, according to the Duluth News Tribune.
A large crowd of supporters of copper-mining projects near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness rallied on Tuesday afternoon at Field of Dreams Park in Virginia, calling for people to speak as “one Range, one voice” and to “stuff the box” with pro-mining comments on Tuesday evening during the U.S. Forest Service’s public hearing on its plan for a two-year moratorium on the issue and a generic environmental review of potential copper-mining impacts on the regional watershed. At one point during the rally, John Arbogast of the United Steelworkers Local 1938 broke a cellphone in half and threw it on the ground to indicate that if people don’t support mining, they shouldn’t use such devices because of the mined minerals they contain inside.
A refreshing sense of pride and purpose was also on display in the Iron Range residents that took a stand.
Kathi Croft, who has five generations of miners in her family and whose husband works at Minntac, said they value their life on the Iron Range.
“We are a proud, hardworking people who respect our heritage and love the communities we live, work, worship and volunteer in. We want nothing more than to continue our mining heritage and to provide quality jobs for our children, all while continuing to maintain the love for our forests, lakes and our outdoor heritage,” Croft said.
Supporters filled the streets and the Virginia High School auditorium for the final public hearing on the last-minute Obama administration regulation to ban mineral exploration and hold off copper nickel mining in the region.
It was standing-room only on the auditorium floor of Virginia High School, the crowd overflowing into the auditorium’s balcony, with many supporters wearing pro-mining T-shirts, hats and stickers. Speaking to loud applause from the audience at times, many of the supporters said that copper mining will be regulated for safety and that responsible mining can coexist with responsibility for the environment. Supporters also pointed out that the Iron Range is home to both mining operations and some of the cleanest lakes in the state.
Besides thousands of jobs in mining and related businesses, the quality of northern Minnesota schools hangs in the balance.
Mesabi East Superintendent Gregg Allen pointed out that the Forest Service was holding Tuesday’s hearing in a school building funded by the Iron Range’s mining industry. Range schools receive funding via production tax on the mines, he added.
“If the mines are running at full capacity, schools receive funding based on the amount of minerals produced from the mines. However, when the mines are struggling, the production is low and schools see a reduction in revenue. Therefore, school districts have to make up the difference by taxing homeowners and businesses at a higher rate or by going without,” he said.
A ban on copper mining in the region could cause “a devastating hardship” on future students, he said.
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