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Proposed Taconite Assistance Area expansion receives pushback

Iron ore at one of U.S. Steel's Minnesota mining operations. Those sites include Minntac in Mountain Iron and Keetac in Keewatin.
U.S. Steel
Iron ore at one of U.S. Steel's Minnesota mining operations. Those sites include Minntac in Mountain Iron and Keetac in Keewatin.

State Sen. Jason Rarick's proposal to add some Carlton County school districts to the TAA was strongly rebuked by Iron Range legislators.

ST. PAUL — Twice a year, iron mining companies pay a production tax to the six Iron Range counties and the Minnesota Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation. From there, the money is distributed to towns and schools in the Taconite Assistance Area. The Department of Revenue describes the tax as a major source of income for the region.

State Sen. Jason Rarick, R-Pine City, introduced an amendment to the Taconite Assistance Area on Feb. 15 that would bring mining money to schools in his district. The bill was referred to the Senate Taxes Committee.

Right now, Carlton County and subsequently the Cromwell, Moose Lake and Willow River school districts are not included. That’s what Rarick hopes would change if Talon Metals were to start mining on leased land in the county, but not before.

“They would not be brought into the TAA until mining commenced within their school district boundaries,” he said.

If the bill gets a committee hearing, Rarick said he would also add the Barnum School District.

While Talon Metals does have exploration leases in Carlton County, there is no indication that mining would start any time soon, if ever. That’s part of other legislators’ concern.

Sen. Robert Farnsworth, R-Hibbing, said in a statement that he can’t support the bill until there is a better idea of the county’s mineral reserves, but he thinks the discussion should be had.

“Ultimately, the expansion of mining in Minnesota is a good thing,” Farnsworth said.

Rarick said he also talked with Sen. Grant Hauschild, DFL-Hermantown, who agreed that Rarick’s proposal was premature. Rarick said he understood the sentiment, but he knew the process might take a while.

“It’s never too soon to start these conversations because sometimes it takes a number of years to get things through,” he said. “I just didn’t want to put my school districts in that position.”

Hauschild and Rep. Dave Lislegard, DFL-Aurora, issued a joint statement on Feb.16, calling for the proposal's retraction, saying it is a direct threat to their region. Lislegard said in a separate release that the proposal would not become law while he was in office.

Rarick said he was surprised by the vocal opposition, especially because Lislegard was one of a dozen legislators who introduced a bill last session that would expand the TAA to include the McGregor School District if Talon Metals’ Copper Nickel mine opens.

Lislegard responded to a request for comment in an email.

“Talon has been clear there is no mineralization in Carlton County that warrants mining,” he said. “If Sen. Rarick wants to support his school districts and communities, he should have voted for last year’s historic education investments and record increases in Local Government Aid and County Program Aid, rather than try to steal money from the core Iron Range.”

Megan Buffington joined the KAXE newsroom in 2024 after graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Originally from Pequot Lakes, she is passionate about educating and empowering communities through local reporting.