Minnesota lawmaker's letter threatens retaliation against Northland township over board's mining voteState Rep. Tom Rukavina says he was only about half serious when he sent a scolding letter to the Pequaywan Township board threatening to take away the township’s share of taconite tax money after town supervisors voted for a resolution critical of copper mining.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
State Rep. Tom Rukavina says he was only about half serious when he sent a scolding letter to the Pequaywan Township board threatening to take away the township’s share of taconite tax money after town supervisors voted for a resolution critical of copper mining.
Town officials confirmed this week that Rukavina sent them the letter after the supervisors voted March 13 in favor of an advisory resolution raising issues with proposed copper exploration and mining in the region.
“I told them that if they don’t like mining then they should send someone down to testify when I introduce an amendment to take them out of the Taconite Tax Relief Area,” Rukavina, DFL-Pike Township, told the News Tribune this week, adding that the town’s resolution was “full of B.S.”
The township is eligible for a small portion of the state’s per-ton tax on taconite iron ore because it is within the Taconite Tax Relief Area where local governments and schools share the state tax benefits.
In this case, the township sits within a school district in Lake County that makes it eligible, even though no taconite is mined in the township, about 30 miles north of Duluth.
The town board resolution that passed 3-0 advocates a go-slow approach to new kinds of mining in the region. The resolution, which holds no real weight, asks for a state “prove it first” law that shows copper mines can be operated and closed without environmental degradation somewhere else before they are allowed to operate here. And it asks for changes in state laws to give property owners more power to say no to mining companies that own mineral rights under their land. The resolution also calls for stronger requirements for upfront money to cover costs of environmental cleanup should any mine close.
Scott Mead, one of the town supervisors, said the issue surfaced at the board’s meeting last week. Mead said he knows Rukavina is well-known for shooting from the hip “but we still took it as a real threat,” Mead said. “I think the door’s open for dialogue. But he isn’t going to change our minds and we aren’t going to change his.”
Mead said Rukavina may have misread the resolution. “We aren’t anti-mining. We just want to make sure it is done right,” he said.
So far none of the township’s suggestions on copper mining has advanced at the Legislature, and mining advocates say they aren’t needed.
Rukavina said he never did introduce legislation to pull Pequaywan’s tax relief and said it probably won’t ever happen. But the fiery lawmaker said he was upset that the township doesn’t appreciate the benefits of what mining brings to the area — including jobs, wages and taxes.
“They wouldn’t be able to afford their property taxes if it wasn’t for taconite mining subsidizing it for them,” Rukavina said of the Pequaywan residents. “If they don’t like mining then they shouldn’t take the tax relief they get from mining.”
Rukavina said it didn’t make any difference that the township wasn’t critical of traditional taconite iron ore mining, only copper mining, which has never before been done in Minnesota.
Pequaywan joined Eagles Nest Township near Ely and Lake County’s Stony River Township near Isabella in passing resolutions to limit or oppose the push toward mining for copper, nickel, platinum and other valuable metals. All three townships are outside traditional Iron Range mining areas but are now hotspots where mining companies are exploring or hoping to explore for mineral deposits.
More than a dozen communities across the Iron Range have passed resolutions in support of copper mining, from Hibbing, Virginia, Babbitt and Ely to St. Louis and Lake counties.