Sorry, wrong numbers

Mesabi Daily News
Bill Hanna 

Former state legislator Frank Moe captured a lot of media attention when he staged a 350-mile sled dog run from Ely to the North Shore, through Duluth and down to the State Capitol in St. Paul.

The purpose: To deliver, on March 8, a reported 12,500 to 13,000 signed petitions to Gov. Mark Dayton to try to block any copper/nickel/precious metals mining in Northeastern Minnesota.

But two critical elements were missing: 

1. Snow to make the trek much more enjoyable for the dogs. 2. Honesty regarding the true number of signatures (about 2,000 less than touted) and residency by region of the vast majority of signees (70 percent were from the Twin Cities area and out-of-state, not northern Minnesota generally; the Arrowhead region specifically, as was claimed).

MiningMinnesota, an advocacy group for nonferrous mining in the region, at first had some difficulty getting copies of the petitions. But when it filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the governor’s attorney, the petitions submitted to the Department of Natural Resources commissioner were made available immediately.

MiningMinnesota officials then did an extensive breakdown of the data. Here’s some of what the group found:

• Once duplicated signatures are deleted, the total of legitimate petitions was 10,244, considerably shy of the 12,500 claimed by some environmental groups, including Friends of the Boundary Waters, and reported by media as fact, including Minnesota Public Radio and WCCO television. And it was another 500 short of what anti-nonferrous mining group Water Legacy has on its Web site.

• 70 percent of the signatures are from the seven-county metropolitan area (4,498 or 45 percent) and out of state (2,612 or 25 percent) combined. That differs considerably from what Steve Morse, executive director of the Minnesota Environmental Patnership, said at the March 8 rally at the State Capitol regarding the “petitions of 12,500 Minnesotans from northern Minnesota primarily.”

• Only 18 percent of the signatures (1,805) are from Northeast Minnesota, with 12 percent (1,201) from other areas of Greater Minnesota. There are 128 with addresses unknown.

The Mesabi Daily News secured copies of the signatures and looked deeper into the petitions. Here’s some of what we found:

• Of the 1,805 from Northeast Minnesota, the vast majority of them are from places outside the Iron Range, with the most from Duluth and the North Shore.

• Ely had the most from the Range, about 300. Isabella was next with about 30.

• Babbitt barely made it into double-digit signatures.

• The core Iron Range had few signatures. Here are those unofficial numbers as counted: Virginia, 9 (including former City Councilor Rob Raplinger); Chisholm, 6; Soudan, 6; Bovey, 4; Hibbing, 5; Tower, 6; Buhl, 1; Makinen, 2.

• Aurora and Hoyt Lakes, cities closest to the proposed PolyMet nonferrous project, each had one signature.

• There were many signatures with only a first name. 

• There were several signatures of “Anonymous.”

• The out of state signatures were from across the U.S. and also from some other countries, including Norway, the Netherlands and Germany.

A call was made to Frank Moe of Hovland for comment and a message left. A message was also left with Conservation Minnesota, a Minneapolis-based group against copper/nickel/precious metals mining.

Frank Ongaro, executive director of MiningMinnesota, said what was found in examining the petitions was not surprising.

“I think it confirms what we thought all along … that a significant percentage of the people submitting petitions are not from Northeast Minnesota. That should be concerning to all of us who live and raise families in the region.

“When organizations keep touting 12,500 or 13,000 signatures sent to the governor and say that on camera and videos, they need to be held accountable,” he said.

Ongaro also said that when Morse said nonferrous mining “has been a Superfund site wherever it has been done in this country” his comments were “blatantly false.”

“The true facts are that there are many examples of hardrock mines that have been permitted without major environmental issues,” he said.

“The total number of hardrock mines permitted (on United States Forest Service lands) since 1990 is 2,658; no sites have been placed on the CERCLA Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (commonly known as Superfund) list” Department of Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack wrote in a letter to a U.S. senator on July 20, 2011.

“There have been 659 plans of operations authorized by BLM’s (Bureau of Land Management) Mining Law Administration Program since 1990. There have been no sites on which a mining plan of operation was approved since 1990 that has been placed on CERCLA,” wrote BLM Director Robert V. Abbey to a U.S. senator on July 21, 2011.

Ongaro also said Moe, who operates a sled dog business, was “not even close” in citing the number of jobs in the region dependent on “clean water.” He put the tourism jobs number in the region at 30,000.

“The total tourism-related private sector employment number for March 2012 in Cook, Lake and St. Louis counties combined is 15,153. Yes, half of the claimed 30,000. If you take out Duluth, that number drops to 9,113,” Ongaro said, referring to state Department of Employment and Economic Development statistics.

“Keep in mind where the real employment impact is in Northeast Minnesota. It’s mining. And, there are more credible sources to back up this claim,” Ongaro said. “The people who support responsible mineral development in Minnesota are not going to sit by and let these ridiculous accusations go unchallenged.”

PolyMet is currently in a lengthy environmental review and permitting process that is expected to be completed the first quarter of 2013. It is expected to create 360 permanent jobs, many more spin-off positions and about 1.25 million hours of construction work. It is the farthest along of nonferrous projects on the Range. The Twin Metals venture near Ely and Babbitt is projected to create thousands of jobs.