Outside of all the politicking and counter-politicking yesterday during President Donald Trump's historic visit to Duluth, a bit of time encouragingly was set aside for matters that matter a little more.
Specifically, mining and the Trump administration's efforts to curb the Iron Range-harming practice of China and others to dump government-subsidized steel into our nation's markets were to highlight a roundtable discussion Trump was scheduled to hold with elected and other leaders from Minnesota ahead of his evening rally at Amsoil Arena.
Duluth Seaway Port Authority Board President Ray Klosowski told the News Tribune he hoped the conversation also would include the dire need for hundreds of millions of dollars to take care of deferred maintenance and to build another lock the size of the Poe Lock at the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. A Poe twin would ensure shipping traffic could continue should something, heaven forbid, ever shut down the Poe Lock.
Great Lakes shippers, port officials, elected leaders, and others have been advocating for a federal investment at the Soo Locks - screaming for it, really - for more than 10 years, recognizing that if the Poe Lock went down, Duluth and Lake Superior would be cut off from the rest of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The nightmare scenario not only would halt shipping here and mining on our Iron Range; our nation's gross domestic product would take a $1.1 trillion gut punch and 11 million Americans would be thrown out of work, according to a 2016 Homeland Security study.
In late April, Trump spoke publicly in support of finally making an investment at the Soo Locks. The president can follow through on his encouraging words.
Trump can also take a lead on rescinding the withdrawal of 235,000 acres of federal lands and minerals in Northeastern Minnesota from future mineral leasing, exploration, and development, Frank Ongaro, executive director of MiningMinnesota, a copper-nickel mining advocacy group, told the News Tribune Opinion page prior to the president's visit.
Calling the withdrawal "unnecessary," Ongaro said, "The Trump administration has been supportive of the mining industry issues such as steel dumping (and) fair trade and reinstating mineral leases (for Twin Metals). The one outstanding cloud over the region for mineral development and investment is the withdrawal."
A presidential visit is a big deal, a rare deal, and an historic moment - even if it is mostly a political rally. Encouragingly, Trump's visit to Duluth this week was also to include matters of more substance. We can keep our expectations in check, but we can also watch now for the results this moment can reap for our region.