Anti-mining meeting in Ely raises stir

Klobuchar staff claims surprise over gathering at Vermilion

by Tom Coombe
An unannounced meeting in Ely, where anti-mining advocates showed up en masse to share their concerns with representatives of U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, appears to have raised more questions than it answered.
About 100 people gathered in the theater at Vermilion Community College Monday and - according to a published report - railed against proposed copper-nickel mining projects and were critical of Klobuchar for not taking a hard stance in opposition.
The meeting was not publicized and was apparently organized in secret, although another publication was notified of the session.
Klobuchar aides Ida Rukavina and Brian Werner attended, and the Klobuchar office have since claimed surprise over the nature of the meeting.
“We were surprised,” said Ben Hill, a spokesperson for Klobuchar. “We weren’t trying to be sneaky. We were under the impression there would be no press there. There was confusion about what the meeting was.”
Word of the meeting, attended by prominent local opponents of copper-nickel mining including attorney Becky Rom, leaked quickly.
Nancy McReady, president of Conservationists With Common Sense and an advocate for local mining projects, said she was tipped off about the meeting and showed up at VCC about an hour after the event started.
“I went into the theater, and ducked my head in and recognized Becky (Rom) down toward the front,” McReady recalled. “A guy came that I didn’t know and I said I was wondering what was going on, and he said that Klobuchar staffers were here to hear concerns about mining.”
A few hours later, McReady said she heard from Rukavina and Werner, offering explanation for the surprise gathering and contending they were caught off guard by the amount of people in the room.
“About 5 p.m., I got a call from Ida and Brian, and they said ‘we just want to explain that this was not what we anticipated at all,’” said McReady.
According to McReady, the Klobuchar staffers also met with representatives of PolyMet and Twin Metals Minnesota during a visit to the East Range.
“I came to find out that Brian came from D.C. to tour both PolyMet and Twin Metals,” said McReady.
McReady said she has since seen emails from those who were invited to the session at VCC, in which respondents were asked “not to tell anyone” about the meeting.
McReady said she was disappointed in Klobuchar’s staff for not also arranging a session with pro-mining advocates.
“Why didn’t they call Gerald Tyler (of Ely-based pro-mining group Up North Jobs) and initiate a meeting?” asked McReady. “We would not have been as overwhelming and not done something as underhanded as this where they brought every anti-mining person in the book out.”
According to a post on the pro-mining Fight for Mining Minnesota Facebook page, Klobuchar aides also reached out to that group in the aftermath of Monday’s session.
“Ida called me to let me know that they would never call for just a meeting with Becky about mining and they were here to tour the PolyMet and Twin Metals sites - particularly Brian Warner from the DC office of the Senator,” wrote Joe Baltich, the founder of Fight for Mining Minnesota. “Becky was a courtesy call and surprised the heck out of them. Their fear is that a real s***storm (my words) could develop out of their being inclusive with the anti’s for fairness.”
According to the published report, the meeting included criticism of Klobuchar, with mining opponents saying a vague stance on copper-nickel mining is “deafening” and that her lack of vocal opposition to the Twin Metals project has caused some to be less than enthusiastic about the Democrat’s bid for president.
Numerous speakers also raised various objections to proposed copper-nickel mining projects. Jeff Pike, identified as president of the White Iron Chain of Lakes Association went so far as to call for a “permanent mining ban, not just for Twin Metals, but for everybody,” according to the published report.