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MN VOICES | Former miner and school teacher lobby against national forest land swap
Bob and Pat Tammen rolled into the Twin Cities in their sturdy mobile home on January 5 to attend the Parents United for Public Schools legislative kickoff. They planned to stay in town over the weekend so that they could head to the capitol to make some noise about an issue that both of them care deeply about: making sure Minnesota doesn’t go ahead with a land swap deal that would open up national forest land to mining companies in exchange for funding for Minnesota public schools.
|The Land Swap|
Bill H.R. 544 was initiated by former Congressional representative Chip Cravaak last May. The bill directs the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to complete a land exchange between state-owned land within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area and federally-owned lands in Lake Superior National Forest. The deal would allow revenue gathering activities (read: copper mining) to benefit the public school system. Though it passed the house, was killed in the Senate in September. Still, there are signs that the proposed bill might have new life, with St. Louis County voting in favor of the proposal, and a number of Greater Minnesota political leaders pushing for it. State Senator Tom Bakk and State Representative Dave Dill are two DFL politicians that Bob considers “fairly progressive,” but at the same time haven’t been effective in stopping the land swap, he said.
Bob started working in the mines in 1969, near the couple’s home in Soudan. “I’ve seen a lot of changes in my lifetime,” he said. The trains are gone, and new technology has revolutionized the industry. Plus, the productivity of the mines has doubled. When he first started, there were no women working in the mines. His wife, Pat, thinks productivity increased when women were allowed jobs in the mines.
While Bob worked in the mines, Pat worked for the Ely school district, until she retired in the 1990s. Now the couple act as advocates against the mining industry in what they see as a foolhardy plan to destroy public lands for not enough return to education.
Though Bob spent most of his career working as an electrician in the taconite mines near Soudan, he opposes copper mining. He said that, according to most sources, the mining deal would generate about $26 per student, per year. “It’s phony to sell school trust land for such a small amount,” he said. The couple both see the land swap as a bad deal, particularly since the bill allows for no environmental restrictions.
Bob and Pat are pretty much the sweetest couple you’ve ever seen. Bob does most of the talking, but they both deliver their message with a cheerful serenity. “You have to be diplomatic,” Bob said. And persistent. That’s not a problem for the couple, who can stay in their mobile home until they get their message across, before traveling back to Soudan.
1/11/2013 CORRECTION: It's National Forest land, not park land, as the commenter points out.