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Duluth commissioners' letter against copper-nickel mining raises ire of Range contingent

Duluth leaders defended their right to speak out after Commissioner Keith Nelson charged that they attempted to pass themselves off as a majority. He said he'll take the issue to the state's attorney general.

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As Chair Mike Jugovich called for an end to division Tuesday on the St. Louis County Board, the gulf between Duluth and rural commissioners only widened.

The Range and rural majority targeted an anti-copper-nickel mining letter signed and sent out this month by Duluth commissioners.

One rural member said he’ll ask the state’s attorney general to investigate the legality of the letter, saying the Duluth commissioners were attempting to deceive and pass themselves off as the majority.

The letter in question, dated Feb. 4, was sent to President Joe Biden’s agriculture and interior secretary nominees, and also Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith.

“At best, the letters that were sent to those nominees were absolutely meant to misinform,” Commissioner Keith Nelson, of Virginia, said, citing the board’s repeated support for the advent of copper-nickel mining on the Iron Range.

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Keith Nelson

In response, the Iron Range-led majority took an affirming 4-3 vote to send the board’s past resolutions in favor of copper-nickel mining to federal elected and appointed officials in an effort, they said, to set the record straight.

The Duluth commissioners' letter called for the senators, along with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack (confirmed Tuesday) and interior nominee Deb Haaland, to protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from copper-nickel mining proposals, calling the prospect “a recipe for disaster.”

The Duluth commissioners defended their letter, saying both theirs and the majority position on the matter are no secrets, and that they have a right to express their opinions.

“There was no intent to deceive,” said Ashley Grimm, representing western Duluth, who described the letter as including Commissioner Frank Jewell’s letterhead.

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She added that she'd prefer sending letters to the board's passing of resolutions on topics over which it has no jurisdiction.
“I have just as much right as the four of you to say what I think,” Jewell, representing central Duluth, told the majority.

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Commissioner Patrick Boyle signed the letter, but did not address the topic during the meeting, which saw Duluth members' positions targeted across multiple topics.

Nelson charged the Duluth commissioners with going behind the back of Board Chair Mike Jugovich to send their letter. The board chair said the Duluth commissioners should have noted in their letter that theirs was a minority opinion.

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Mike Jugovich

“I fully respect the opinions of the three of you,” Jugovich said.

Earlier in the day, Jugovich, of Chisholm, had called for an end to the north-south division on the board, a soft position considering he subsequently railed against Duluth commissioners for raising questions about the city of Chisholm's financial commitment to a new clinic partnership approved unanimously by the board .

Jewell called on commissioners Keith Musolf and Paul McDonald to speak up, and protect their colleagues from Nelson’s leveling of charges of lies and deceit. Commissioner Paul McDonald didn’t like the sentiment, explaining that he speaks when he has something valuable to say.

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Paul McDonald
Paul McDonald

“All we’re looking for is clarification that says this is a minority opinion of the board,” McDonald said. “And I get it — you get a chance to say what you want to say, and that’s what makes our country great.”

The meeting in Virginia opened with mining and Iron Range callers speaking out against the Duluth commissioners' letter.

" It’s kind of disheartening … we have to argue our way of life up here," D an Snidarich, a union official from Angora, said. "But it seems like every day we have to."

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