If it wasn't for the copper-nickel mine that could result in the end, even the most hardened PolyMet opponent could find something to cheer in the proposed land exchange between the federal government and the mining company.
U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan and U.S. Sens. Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar - all Democrats who represent Northeastern Minnesota in our nation's capital - have said so and have sponsored and/or supported bills to make the exchange. Others have said so, too, including the News Tribune, using those exact words in a 2017 editorial.
Joining the cry now are 145 national and Minnesota-based organizations, businesses, unions, elected officials and others. They all signed a letter dated Nov. 28 urging congressional approval of the land swap before the end of the year and the end of the 115th Congress. A copy of the letter was provided to the News Tribune Opinion page.
"Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have advanced this with bipartisan support," the letter points out. "Mining is a pillar of the economy in Minnesota, particularly the northern part of the state. Mining contributes $1.8 billion to Minnesota's economy every year. Long-term investment, like that proposed by PolyMet, would provide robust economic value to local communities. The project will generate hundreds of jobs, including 2 million construction hours over 18-24 months, and an annual $515 million boost to the St. Louis County economy."
The 484-word letter was sent to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, and U.S. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. Northeastern Minnesotans can hope the letter prompts a vote to finally finish the deal.
Yes, it would help to "facilitate the efficient operation of a proposed copper-nickel mine (PolyMet Mining's NorthMet Project) on the site of a closed iron-ore mine," as the letter stated.
But beyond that, the public is to receive more land than it'd give up: 6,690 acres would become part of the Superior National Forest in exchange for 6,650 acres at the mining site near Babbitt. What's more, the land to be received by the public has road access, making it ideal for things like fishing and hunting. It also offers access to wild rice lakes. And it includes valuable shoreland property, including frontage on the Pike River in the headwaters of Lake Vermilion. The land the public is to give up, by stark contrast, is almost entirely inaccessible and has been surrounded by mining activities since the 1950s.
Legislation to complete the swap was introduced by Nolan in the summer of 2017. That was after it was first proposed under the administration of President Barack Obama and after the U.S. Forest Service signed off on it, an official nod that the deal was fair and appropriate. Nolan's bill was co-authored by Democratic and Republican representatives alike, and it passed the House with broad bipartisan support, 309-99. But it wasn't included in the final conference deal, an oversight that can still be remedied.
There are 145 national and Minnesota-based organizations, businesses, unions, elected officials and others who certainly think it should be.