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Mining interests, partners seek to polish Iron Range's image

View of the Rouchleau mine pit in Virginia showing two drilling rigs at work. (2014 file / News Tribune)

Some of the Northland's most prominent players aim to reboot the Iron Range's image with a new promotional publication unveiled during a press conference at Glensheen Mansion Thursday morning.

The glossy 16-page magazine is meant to burnish the Range's reputation, said Mark Phillips, commissioner of the Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Board.

Often, Phillips said he encounters "very antiquated visions of the region" that date back to the days of miners working with picks and shovels instead of state-of-the-art technology. He said the notion of the Range as an economically depressed area also seems to persist.

Phillips said the reality is that mining has been a relatively stable year-round enterprise since the 1950s, with most modern disruptions due more to unenforced trade policies than structural industry flaws.

"This is modern mining. This isn't the old cyclical thing. But people still want to paint that picture, and we're trying to change that antiquated narrative to the new narrative," he said.

In all, 11 entities invested a combined $40,000 to produce and print more than 50,000 copies of the special insert in collaboration with staff from Twin Cities Business. The publication was distributed to the business magazine's subscribers earlier this week and will also be inserted into this Sunday's edition of the News Tribune.

With a nod to Bob Dylan, a native son, the publication is called: "The Iron Range: The times they are a-changin," and its sponsors include mining interests, chambers of commerce, the Iron Range Tourism Bureau and the IRRRB.

Nancy Norr, director of regional development for Minnesota Power, said young leaders on the Range "are eager to take their place in building and growing this region and working together to emphasize what brings us together as a region, as opposed to what from time to time divides us."

"It seems that way too often, there are organizations working to drive a wedge between the Iron Range and Duluth. That is really based on a false premise: that we're not able to support our thriving industries in this region, including our natural resource-based economy, and still maintain that incredible pristine environment here in Duluth, as well as on the Iron Range," Norr said.

"Today, I think we say with pride, and we invite others to repeat this: We can have both jobs and clean water. And we are stronger, as a region, working together," she said

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson noted how her city and the Range mutually benefit from one another's successes.

"Of course we have some differences. Some are real. Some are perceived. But if we are smart, those differences are part of what can bring us closer and make us better and stronger, because when we spend our time focusing on our strengths, we find ways in which our efforts and success can multiply," she said.

"Our values as a city, and those of our region and the Iron Range are never in conflict," Larson said. "They actually are in concert. We can and should be united in the economic realities of a diverse and inclusive regional economy."

Besides promoting ferrous mining, the publication also touts the prospect of proposed new copper-nickel mines as a source of future Iron Range jobs.

But those same mines continue to stir controversy.

John Doberstein, who is a member of a group called Duluth for Clean Water, spoke out against the proposed PolyMet development promoted in the special section.

"Although we applaud and support the technological advancements in iron mining, we know that there are no examples of safe copper mines (modern or old) in water-rich environments like the Duluth Complex. In fact, putting a copper mine in the Superior National Forest near Lake Superior and the St. Louis River is the worst place imaginable considering that this type of mining, which has never been a part of our rich mining heritage, has a devastating track record and comes with far too many risks," he said.