Legislative Luncheon 2022

Some of the legislators and candidates at the Aitkin Action Alliance event were, from left, Steve Wenzel, Jim Newberger, Dale Lueck and Hannah Alstead.

Clarification and/or correction is needed for a June 22 Aitkin Independent Age article entitled, Local officials noticeably absent.”

According to Dale Lueck, Minnesota 10B representative, he did not say businesses should be allowed to self-regulate with regard to water use, waste treatment and air quality. 

Lueck said his position on natural resource-based industries “continues to be that mining, forestry and tourist-based industries all can coexist while at the same time, we protect our wonderful north woods environment.”

See Lueck’s letter to the editor in June 29 Aitkin Independent Age.

The Age apologizes for any errors or confusion created by the June 22 article.

Growth Innovations sponsored the Aitkin Action Alliance third annual legislative luncheon event last week at the Aitkin County Government Center.

The Aitkin Action Alliance is the Economic Development Committee of the Aitkin Area Chamber of Commerce. The panel discussion was moderated by Aitkin County Economic Development Coordinator Mark Jeffers.

A bipartisan  panel consisting of Rep. Jen Schultz (U.S. House District 8 candidate), Steve Wenzel (Minnesota Senate District 10 candidate), Jim Newberger (Minnesota Senate District 10 candidate), Rep. Dale Lueck (retiring Minnesota House), Hannah Alstead (Regional Outreach director for Senator Tina Smith), Isaac Schultz (District director for U.S. House Rep. Pete Stauber),  Hunter Froelich (Minnesota Senate District 10B candidate) and Rep. Ron Kresha, Minnesota House District 10A candidate) attended the luncheon.

Panelists introduced themselves and spoke briefly about high priority issues they are passionate on or which they are campaigning.

Broadband connectivity, extractive industry permitting, “excessive” regulation of water and other resource use, workforce shortfalls and inflation were some high profile issues mentioned by panelists.

A few local business leaders were present, representing Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative, American Peat Technology (APT), and Gramma’s Pantry and Market and The Beanery Cafe   and the Aitkin County Lakes and Rivers Association. Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) board member Spencer Igo was among attendees.

No city council or county board members were present at the meeting.

Panelists spoke about impediments to economic development, including environmental activism, state and federal environmental regulation and a perceived lack of a pipeline of trained tradespeople ready to take jobs in mining, transportation and manufacturing.

Lueck said that from his perspective as an IRRRB board member, he sees uncertainty as a primary obstacle to economic development.

However, in response to a question about whether the corporations wanting to undertake extractive development  would commit to prove that they would mine responsibly prior to beginning operations, Lueck and others said they felt certain that business owners would be responsible about water use, waste treatment and air quality mitigation if allowed to self-regulate.

Jen Schultz, the lone Democrat on the panel, said that Minnesota’s clean air and clean and abundant water resources are among the state’s greatest assets. She said that every effort must be made to protect those resources, to ensure that young Minnesotans want to remain in the state to raise their families, work  and start businesses. Shultz said that the University of Minnesota’s Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI) should receive funding support for its work to address sulfate pollution in the environment. She also pointed to tourism and health care as major economic drivers in northeastern Minnesota. Schultz is an economics professor at University of Minnesota Duluth.

A large part of the conversation among panelists and between panelists and business leaders was about internet connectivity as an essential component of a thriving economy.

Kresha agreed with Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative CEO Sarah Cron that broadband is critical infrastructure.

“Getting fiber to homes is critical. Rules regarding cost share for installation should be changed. Hot spots and WiFi on school buses would level the playing field for students in rural areas,” Kresha said.

Amy Wyant, manager at Gramma’s Pantry and The Beanery, said that for small businesses, fuel surcharges are crushing, to which Wenzel responded that excessive government spending is responsible for fuel surcharges and other cost of living increases.

The subject of the proposed Rio Tinto-Talon Metals nickel project in the Tamarack area came up in discussion. Doug Green of APT stated, “Our society runs on rare  earth metals. We have enough rare earth metals in this immediate area to make East Central Minnesota the economic driver of the state.” Green asked how small, special interest groups can be prevented from interfering with economic development. In response to a question from the audience, Green said that he included the Fond du Lac Band of Minnesota Chippewa (Ojibwe), which has treaty rights in the Talon  exploratory area, in the category of small, special interest groups.

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