AURORA — With county officials meeting on the struggling East Range, the mining project that holds hope for new jobs in the area gained another endorsement Tuesday.
St. Louis County commissioners passed a resolution without objection to submit comment to the state Department of Natural Resources supporting the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the PolyMet mine near Hoyt Lakes, marking the board’s first on-the-record support of the project.
“These decision makers in St. Paul need constant re-enforcement to understand what we know on a daily basis,” said Commissioner Steve Raukar of Hibbing. “This has been a data-driven process that has uncovered every stone.”
Commissioner Keith Nelson of Fayal Township introduced the directive motion. Commissioners passed a motion supporting the EIS earlier this year.
The PolyMet copper/nickel/precious metals mine continues to make positive strides toward operation. Last month the DNR posted the FEIS and opened a 90-day comment period on the controversial project before a state Determination of Adequacy decision. If the project is deemed adequate, the permitting process can begin.
Seen as a light at the end of the tunnel, of sorts, East Range political leaders on hand for Tuesday’s meeting guided the County Board through the economic struggles that make PolyMet and its 350 jobs critical to their cities.
With idling mines across the central Range and North Shore regions, the outlook for a secondary economic impact is grim without the project. This year alone, the East Range lost its Minnesota Power office and Mesabi Nugget in Hoyt Lakes, while Aurora is down to its only dentist and, as of August, its drug store.
“We know our condition on the east end of the Range,” said Aurora Mayor Mary Hess. “We have felt it for a long time. We are struggling, our businesses are struggling.”
And if all the businesses already lost weren’t enough, the community is keeping close eyes on Zup’s Food Market, Aurora’s only grocery store, which is teetering on closing.
“We’re very close to losing our grocery store,” said Aurora City Councilor David Lislegard. “How many communities do you know that don’t have a grocery store?”
Hoyt Lakes Mayor Mark Skelton echoed sentiments from Aurora.
Retail in his city is nonexistent, he said, but PolyMet and a biochemical plant in Mountain Iron are the needed boost to impact the entire Range. He asked those opposed to the projects to do their homework, noting PolyMet is only one example.
“We’re in the fight for our lives here. We don’t want to do it the wrong way,” Skelton said. “Everything in life is a gamble, but we’re hoping that has a direct effect on us on this end of the Range.”