Congratulations to Eileen Netland, of Tofte, on the occasion of her 90th birthday. A gathering of the large Netland clan was held last week to celebrate the event. Eileen is one of Tofte's most-loved residents. She's smart, funny and easy to get along with, not to mention being the mother, grandmother and great-grandmother to many of our region's most respected citizens. Happy birthday Eileen, and many happy returns.
You may have noticed the pile of wood in front of the Commercial Fishing Museum in Tofte. That is the timber-frame, built at North House Folk School, that will soon be erected to protect Walter Sve's historic fishing boat, Viking, in front of the museum. This is the frame that stood in the North House plaza most of the winter and is built in the ancient "grindbygg" style. Although the pile of timbers seems small, it will make an impressive structure when it's completed, which will happen yet this summer. The "grindbygg" style utilizes timbers that are cut from naturally curving tree parts, and uses round timbers for the roof joists. This produces a strikingly beautiful frame that is durable enough to stand for centuries. Everyone should keep an eye on the museum to enjoy the frame raising and the subsequent arrival of the Viking.
Sugarloaf Cove in Schroeder, the facility owned by the North Shore Stewardship Association, is holding a really interesting workshop next week. It's a master class with Peter Juhl, who is an acknowledged expert in the balancing of rocks. That may sound silly until you see pictures of his rock-balancing masterpieces. They are jaw-droppingly amazing, and taking the class will give you the skills to impress your friends and family. The class runs over two days, with an introductory session Saturday, July 6 from 1 to 4 p.m. and then a hands-on master class Sunday, July 7 from 9 a.m. until noon. There is a charge for the class, unless you are a Sugarloaf member, and registration is required. You can register online at sugarloafnorthshore.org, by emailing email@example.com or by calling 218-525-0001. As always, you can call WTIP to get full contact information. I look forward to seeing balanced rock sculptures all over the West End once the class is complete!
I attended an interesting lecture last week by Dr. Thomas M. Power, the retired chair of the economics department at the University of Montana, who spent most of his career studying the economies of communities located near mines. Dr. Power is neither pro- nor anti-mining, but he does encourage communities that are near a proposed mine, especially the mining of ore from sulfide-bearing rock, to proceed with extreme caution.
His main points were that, almost without exception, communities near large mines struggle with lagging economies, persistent poverty and high unemployment. He pointed out that every prospective mining project starts with high hopes for tremendous wealth and promises of high-paying jobs. The reality, though, is usually pretty grim, because the mining companies, and often the political leadership, only tout the benefits of the mine and rarely consider the costs, both economic and social.
Dr. Power recommends that a full accounting of the costs be publicly explored before a new mine is permitted. Those costs include that fact that mines drive away amenity-based businesses and population gains, create a boom-and-bust economic cycle, leave no sustainable jobs after closing and, in 100 percent of past mining that involves sulfide-bearing rock, leave a legacy of really bad pollution. He also points out that automation is drastically reducing the number of workers that are needed to operate mines, something we've seen firsthand over the last 30 years on the Iron Range.
Dr. Power's studies show that before every mine in the country has opened, the company and politicians have promised that "this time it will be different" and no pollution will result from the mining activity. He advises communities to be very skeptical of these claims and only accept absolute proof that no lasting harm will be done.
I wonder if Minnesota isn't giving away its minerals too cheaply. In my opinion, out-of-date mining laws and policies, on both the state and national levels, tend to let the vast majority of the wealth from mining leave the region. While mining does create some short-term local job opportunities, the vast majority of the wealth goes out of the country to further enrich already-wealthy investors. These investors, who are really driving the push to open new mines, don't live here and don't care what happens to our communities.
In any case, it is all food for thought…