McKINLEY — Residents of the small mining community between Gilbert and Biwabik packed the McKinley City Hall Tuesday night to hear about ArcelorMittal’s plans to extend its Minorca Mine operations closer to the city — and to discuss their options to sell their property or to stay.
Mayor Tony Nygaard told the residents there has been a “lot of concern with permitting the mine 500 feet from town” and “ArcelorMittal is looking for what direction it wants to move.” One of the “concerns is that property values can drop,” he said, and that other communities such as Parkville near Mountain Iron have been through the same thing.
Councilor David Peterson said that ArcelorMittal’s calling for a public meeting a few weeks ago means that the mining company has fulfilled its first step. “If you think they aren’t coming into town, you’re sadly mistaken. We have to decide what we’re going to do. They want the ore that’s underneath us... The mining company doesn’t care if they get this rock now or 75 years from now — it’s still going to be there... Now is the time to get your property assessed.”
A resident in the audience said, “McKinley has no good property values... What kind of house are we going to be able to buy with the money they (ArcelorMittal) give us?” Another said it is “going to be quite awhile” before the mining company acts.
Councilor Joe Vaida said if residents “start complaining about environmental issues, you’re looking at 15, 20 years” before the mining company could expand operations closer to the city.
Someone in the audience praised McKinley, saying, “There’s no better place to live than right here.”
Don Purkat, who has lived in McKinley all of his 91 years, recommended a show of hands as to “who wants to go and who wants to stay.” The mayor recommended people have their property appraised. Nygaard said, “They’re not planning to mine the city, but the property within 500 feet.” Comments were made that the mining company was not ready for the resistance received from the McKinley people. Councilor Peterson said the city should have a “law firm that’s going to back us.”
The mayor and council conducted a vote by paper — write “yes” if wanting to sell to the mining company, “no” if not interested in selling. The mayor said McKinley had an IRRRB wish list of $6 million. “We don’t have $6 million” and Local Government Aid from the state decreased, Nygaard said. The vote was 28 yes and 10 no. “I will contact the mine and let them know the outcome,” Nygaard said.
As the meeting was ending Chris Ismil of the IRRRB arrived. “I’m here to help,” he said. Councilor Peterson said, “They (mining company) are going to take over this little tiny town. Then they decided, ‘We should listen to this little tiny town.’”
Ismil said if the residents say they are not interested in moving, the discussion ends. “If they (mining company) hear you are willing to sell, then the process begins.”