Rhonda Silence

An update on the legislative special session, tribal rights to clean water

Recent comments from state Sen. Tom Bakk suggesting that taconite tax dollars in northern Minnesota should only be distributed to tribal and local governments that support all types of mining in the region are drawing the ire of residents from St. Paul to Grand Marais.

Bakk, who in addition to being a senator is also a member of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB), said June 10 that “he can’t remember ever having a situation where a local government came to us that was anti-mining and asked for mining tax dollars.”

At issue is a request from the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa for $250,000 taconite tax dollars to upgrade infrastructure that would improve the tribe’s drinking water. The money would help fund a new water tower and treatment facility on the reservation, according to the official request submitted to the IRRRB.

In recent years, the Fond du Lac Band has expressed concern and opposition to varying mining projects in northern Minnesota, including the Polymet copper-nickel mine. The band has also expressed concern over a tailings basin on the Iron Range.

After discussing the issue at length June 10, the IRRRB opted to table any decision on the request until a later date.

District 3A Rep. Rob Ecklund is the chair of the IRRRB. He spoke with WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs about this topic. Also in their interview, Ecklund and Friedrichs discuss what to expect regarding the special legislative session that convened June 12.

The audio to their conversation is shared below.