Midday presents an MPR Special report on the Minnesota Supreme Court's unanimous decision that Reserve Mining Company be allowed to use the "Milepost 7" site for its taconite tailings on-land disposal. Program includes various reports, interviews and commentary from both sides of the court fight.
Reserve Mining had been dumping taconite tailings straight into Lake Superior near Silver Bay. After public health and environmental concerns, the company presented the controversial option of on-land disposal “Milepost 7.”
Read the Text Transcription of the Audio.
This is Byron Stearns going Grant married to see you. Grant came down with their decision today. They affirmed a map of seven unanimous. It was issued about a three-page order. I am had a chance to really study it and it seems to contain a number of conditions permit type conditions and says opinion to file. That's all we got, but I just want you to know right away if he's not even released yet. It's going to be about 5 minutes before it's out. So that was General darkness of course was breaking what was to him some very bad news acting with unexpected speed in Minnesota supreme court today at 2:55 p.m. Issued an order allowing Reserve Mining Company to proceed with plans to build an online retailing disposal site at milepost 7 a term used to describe an area of land near the town of silver bay where the company operates taconite processing plant. For nearly eight years. The government has been trying to Force Reserve to stop. It's dumping of taconite tailings into Lake Superior. And on that issue Last Summer the government what company is now under a federal court order to dispose of its wastes on land. But since that decision this summer The Battle has been over the question of precisely where are the tailings would go Reserve wanted milepost 72 State milepost white today's Supreme Court action of fur in the lower court decision earlier this year in favor of milepost 7. Both sides would be the source of potentially carcinogenic Airborne asbestos fibers of the state is contended that the milepost 20 side would represent less of a danger because it would be farther from heavily populated areas. Obviously today's Supreme Court action was a major setback for the state of Minnesota. Rugby run has a report faces were long at the Attorney General's office. The order came as a surprise. It wasn't expected until sometime early in May haven't heard the word that I just When was coming attorneys began to gather but no one would speculate then finally. It came short and concise by unanimous decision the Supreme Court affirmed the Lake County District ruling permitting the use of the milepost 7 site you order says the commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Pollution Control agency or accordingly directed to issue forth with permits run on land disposal facility at the site for which Reserve mining company has applied. The order goes on to say that the permits are to be subject to all of the conditions previously demanded by the PCA and the DNR those conditions have already been agreed to buy reserve and its parent companies and according to the Supreme Court. They are to include a requirement that the permits are to be limited to a specific five-year term. This is to ensure that the companies have no absolute rights beyond the five years and that there will be a regular review of the tailings disposal operation. Armco and Republic steel companies are to beco permittees and the court said all three companies shall assume all risks and liabilities arising from the implementation of the milepost 7 disposal site and system. Another requirement is that the companies must perpetually maintain the tailings Basin and the project will require the construction of one of the 15 largest dams in the United States Andy Perpetual maintenance provision is to ensure the Integrity of that. I tend other dams and to prevent the deposit detailing from re-entering the states air and water other requirements are that all tailings except those used for Dam construction be placed under water to the maximum extent possible and that all exposed tailings be adequately vegetated as soon as possible Reserve is not to allow the use of tailings for any other purpose in the past. The gravel like tailings have been used in various types of construction including road beds and similar uses resulting in Airborne asbestos. The court order requires the company's to apply the best available technology to maintain air quality and comply with all applicable laws and regulations of the Court said this is to include but not be limited to the use of chemical dust retardants a similar condition requires the best available technology to maintain water quality standards at this condition specifies at the disposal site will be operated as a closed system designed to prevent any seepage or surface runoff. It says to that any water discharge must be treated to the extent necessary to conform with all present and future water quality standards. Another requirement is the monitoring of both air and water adjacent to the disposal area for the purpose of enabling a reaction to any potentially hazardous condition and this air and water monitoring program is to be approved by the pollution control agency and cost is to be borne by the company's the court order was briefed three pages in length and size. By Justice James Otis. It said a formal opinion will follow and that will likely provide a detailed discussion of the many specific issues raised in the case. And the relevant points of law on Greg bear on the Dick daily has been following the reserve case in northeastern Minnesota now for several years today Dick's sample some opinions and his area to the Supreme Court's ruling. Buddy a hamster have gotten to know literally dozens of articulate North Shore residents during the several years of covering Reserve story off and on the scene and Silver Bay. So we considered several names when we came of the state High Court decision. Finally settled on drug of Tom Elmo who was one of the first to open a business in the new community of Silver Bay 23 years ago. We called Malmo and have usually when there was an adverse development for a Silver Bay we felt it was fitting this time to call the some good news and some in fact at 2:55. We told Tom Elmo of the Supreme Court ruling and he became so emotional we couldn't take just then about 15 minutes later though. He was ready to react little feeling. What's what's happening there in the town and then your drug store at this point. And I got your call. I was too choked up for work because I Feel Good Friday. Wee wee, wee course all realize that these people are going to keep appealing but pretty soon down the line that got to realize that they're wrong. Are you speaking of perhaps the environmentalists pursuing that are just what they're the governor tried to make that agreement with Reserve buying company in the State offices that nobody would appeal they would abide by this decision. But Reserve mining country was the only person listed by their guns and said they would not appeal your kind of anticipating. There will be an appeal in the other one is putting themselves Above the Law all the time because the members of the state executive Council of what I sent from what you're saying time is that you think that you want a battle, but you haven't won the word yet is everything Hang up or anything like that time that you're aware of it. We all have to fight tonight. And if you want I can get you all kinds of beautiful. Do I know the the coffee shop there was just a few doors away and I'm at the coffee shop and everybody is beautiful times. I've heard you say S&M Ruth Erickson and in others who have spoken for the area. I think there's been a feeling that you were just weren't getting in and even Shake anywhere along the lines through the various of Courts and administrative agencies, right? back If you just can't believe you're here I give you a hug putting talk to you. I was so excited because Thursday service and let it be over. Tom are there have been some other occasions. I can remember very vividly the time judge Lauren shut the plant down for a few days. They're wrapping pretty pretty somber faces of that happened over a weekend. The plant was closed on a Sunday morning and I went to church and Silver Bay and it's awesome prettiest ombre looking people up there. I bet they'll be lots of smiling faces for Easter Sunday. Hey, I think this the good Lord had a hand in it. There are still those who believe of course the reserve isn't serious about this that they never will Bill milepost 7 now that they have the opportunity. I'm I'm sure you don't agree with that. Don't feel that way. That is possible. You do think it's possible. I do think it's possible because if you can't find something or you can't do something economically just like in life is as I'm very small but if you can't do it you can't do it this year and a half two years ago. So you're not absolutely confident that that again things are going to work out for the best after this morning struggle me having to close because they can't produce and I can't meet an economic Market but I can't take is a group of people who did not want the mining company in, Minnesota. Come out, but there is no market for your product. So you think if it doesn't happen that would be the reason that anybody else would have to work in airplane plants or something else, but just to shut them down because you didn't like the way that they did you heard earlier Reserve has reaffirmed its decision to construct milepost 7 just as soon as the necessary permits are issued and Company spokesman damn right told me the sure to quote us clearly on that. There's no question. We're going to hit that of course will be possible only after some more hurdles are cleared, but those concerns are often the future now for the moment Gary there's joy. Play in Silver Bay axe deck. There was far less. Joy and parts of Saint Paul today. Of course Byron Starnes. You heard him earlier the attorney general and Charles Dayton attorney who represents the Sierra Club in the save Lake Superior Association Dayton's clients are direct parties to the case here is his reaction to today's court order personal reaction is that the decision is a repudiation of everything that I've been working on for the last 5 years in the area of trying to protect the environment. He throws out basically all of the laws that have been enacted for Environmental Protection and in effect says that when a company threatens to shut down that's sufficient to allow them to disobey the law. the court appears to rely on permit conditions which was the same approach that was taken by the Department of Natural Resources in 1947. When the permit to dump in the lake was issued Reserve promised at that time that they would comply with permit conditions and they didn't do so and the state found it impossible to require them to do. So until they have the health issue in this bestest fiber issue came up here. The court is saying exactly the same thing that we're going to rely on permit conditions were going to require the company to meet these conditions and if they fail to meet the conditions and I'll have to shut down. It's an unrealistic decision one, which I think ignores the fact I'm very disappointed than it can you can you give us an idea of a particular point of the law or a particular law to give us an idea of a law that has jeopardized by this decision specifically in specific terms of the Environmental Policy Act. Hey a permit is likely to result in pollution of cannot be granted where there's a feasible imprudent alternative his repudiated by the decision because the evidence showed in the hearing officer in the agency found that there is a feasible improved alternative. And nevertheless the Court's going to allow the permit. To what extent is this decision appealable aside from the question of whether or not it will be appealed. I think that that the federal and state governments should consider whether they whether the level of fibers and Silver Bay, which will result from this project is so high as to prevent the issuance of the permit under the under the eighth circuit decision and should consider taking the matter back to the federal courts for resolution of that question because the court appears to abduct at issue here. Now, you're representing the Sierra Club in the save Lake Superior Association to what extent my your clients engage in further litigation. I haven't discussed that with him with Greg Barron. We should correct ourselves. By the way, Byron Starnes obviously is not the State Attorney General but rather an Assistant Attorney General will take daily today talk with a representative of one of Dayton's clients. Please save Lake Superior Association deck one of the environmental intervenors in the case Linda Express disappointment with the Court's decision. Of course, he said that he has not had an opportunity to review the judges findings having received. And he won't be in a position to choose the course of action until he gets some idea of the judge's reasoning. He confessed surprise. However at the speed with which the court acted I think that it's indicative of the courts not having done a good job of reviewing the record. It's a very complicated record in order to understand everything there and I just don't believe that the court to a brief time that it took were you surprised it wasn't a nine to Nothing Gold wouldn't be the first time that the courts have made prior agreements among themselves that once a majority is achieved on a particular question. Come out United saw absolutely no threat to human health or no fundamental threat to the environment no danger and a decision to permit the disposal if they've struck down real estate agencies. How do you think the court believes this development will be policed line break heavily upon permit conditions, and I think that's a very dangerous Department of Conservation Chester Wilson likewise relied upon reserved. Publicly stated at that time not once but twice that those permit conditions would be honored that it would be up to his responsibilities. We all know how dangerous for the the court to rely upon permit conditions. In this case, even if it had been demonstrated, it wasn't demonstrated the data, they projections of fiber levels and the other consequences of a mop 07 location were made on the basis of the assumption that all primitive conditions which were discussed by PCA and agreed to buy Reserve in last July. Holden it's been a long hard struggle for you. How do you feel today that decision? I think while I hope that they are right with regard to the health evidence that there is no threat to human health and make a bet on it. And if they are wrong then it's a very very sad day indeed for the people of Silver Bay in Babbitt and especially for their children. Old Inland spokesman for the save Lake Superior Association and I'm Claudia Hampton was not happy with the decision either spokesman Don Skinner. Station of the extent to which a court decision can be both legal in the immoral at the same time. I think that the evidence that came out of hearing some insiders efficiently waiting to indicate that there's a severe hazards of asbestos dust the milepost 7 side and from the question of the safety of the of the dams at the milepost 7 side in the possibility of a dam breach sometime in the future with pretty serious consequences for everybody between the milepost 7 site itself and the short legs. This time. He does not believe in appeal will be legally possible. But he added that his group will still have a role in the general environmental issues involved in milepost 7 the attorney for the Minnesota public interest research group. Days of the Minnesota public interest research group will likely not appeal the decision as for an official appeal from the state of Minnesota Governor Rudy perpich has refused to comment on the reserve decision, press secretary. Bob ahrendsen. The governor may not have any comment at all on the decision until Monday. Perfect you spending the Easter weekend that is hitting home attorney general Warren Spanish whose office has the legal option of appealing the case to the US Supreme Court would not comment on the decision. Although he was in his office today. There is a possibility of healer know that the legislature could affect today's decision Dick Dale. I talked with two key Minnesota legislators this afternoon about that part of the issue. And what did you find out you have perhaps been the most outspoken on the reserve the issue representative Willard Munger Inn Duluth is powerful chairman of the house natural resources committee. He's been fighting Reserve since those original Lake dumping permit hearing. Back in the 1940s have the building committee right now, which could make my own po7 off-limits as an online site to spite the card action longer wasn't willing today to make a statement until he reviewed. The court opinion told me he hasn't it been pushing his North Shore preservation Bill, however, and don'ts it could win legislative approval in the current session that it might need an interim study maker is state. Senator Doug Johnson of cook represents. The area is involved Babbitt and Silver Bay was obviously delighted with the Supreme Court decision and characterize the announcement this way overdue decision that the map was 7 and Agony that the people of Silver Bay in Babbitt have gone through as well as the rest of the people in northeastern Minnesota, and I think that I wanted to scream Court Statewide court rules PCA and DNR had acted the wrong lane D9 permits. The the next big hurdle dog would seem to be whether the state executive Council might now try to subvert this process and deny the land transfer a necessary for milepost 7 web torture your thoughts on that anymore. I think that if they do it would strictly be for political reasons than and not based on the fact that a majority of the Minnesota Legislature think that it's time to move on. It's time to get out of Lake Superior and smile for 7 and I think if there was stalling by individuals on the city council that we could get the And I'm sure you'd be at the supposed to sponsor such legislation. If they also Senator Doug Johnson of cook if his reading of the legislative mood is correct. And if Munger in fact does not plan to push his bill to preserve the NorthShore that it seems that the only likely action at the st. Paul Capitol might be something to actually help milepost 7 along not hinder it. This is Dick daily is the possibility of executive Council action. We talked with several members of the executive Council today. The state's executive Council to find out how they feel on the issue of transferring land Reserve money transfer that must occur if the milepost 7 sides to be used with Jenna Governor Alex Olson who's a member of the executive Council said the day that he is satisfied with the decision. that this gives us the Breakthrough to just go ahead and resolve the the whole question. I really don't feel myself and I as I said, I had expected the decision to be for my iPhone 7 or in fact rather appalling the district court that they could get permits for my iPhone 7 and I feel that question damn safety can be satisfactorily resolved that the engineering for a for that damn can be assured as far as safety is concerned and I think as far as the Dust that cannot be controlled can a governor Alex Olson to other members of the executive Council disagree state auditor Robert Matson and Treasurer Jim Lord. We're surprised and disturbed by today's Supreme Court decision. Matson says, he hopes the Attorney General's office will appeal the case to the US Supreme Court. I believe the Attorney General should and a list of the US Supreme Court think the state's interest in protecting the health of the people in the North Shores. So critical that the fact that the six years believing that asbestos is is a poison and is extremely dangerous. I believe with that background. He's going to appeal to the US Supreme Court. Turn a state auditor rather Robert Matson Lord for his part the state treasurer would also like to see the decision of Po and he says it's still possible that the executive Council will refuse to turn over state lines for the milepost 7 site whelming evidence that the asbestos that will be discharged from that site will cause cancer. So we'll have to see what what the priorities are to me. My first priority is for the health of minnesotans over the priority of the very obscene profits made by two giant corporations who seem to always get their way in corporations to do not even reside in Minnesota State Treasurer Jim Lord Secretary of State John and grow for her part was unavailable for comment this afternoon. And as we said earlier the Attorney General Warren spanis and the governor Rudy perpich. Said that they would have no comment. No immediate comment on today's decision. And so those are the possibilities Greg bear on his in the studio and Greg is this now the end of the reserve mining issue. Well that of course is anybody's guess however, there are still some possibilities for more conflict of the mapo 7 so I could be stop still and it does have to do with the state executive Council there two different kinds of land involved in one particular type of land about could allow the use of the milepost 7, but it should be pointed out here that Bob Mattson a state auditor has a control of another kind of land are two classifications as I mentioned and it is possible through the procedures that are established by law for math some to act alone by his boat alone. He can stop the transfer of one or more Parcels of land that are necessary for the milepost 7, so I know this of course might be political suicide. But it is possible for Matteson again acting alone to stop it and tire. Like I can say this to attorneys for the states. He must sincerely just made and seemed to sincerely believe that the health issue is crucial and I know that they are actively considering and whether or not to appeal and I have seen that they are being given advice by individuals close to the case urging them. Dayton was one urging them to go ahead and peel the queso that remains a very real possibility. What's your rating of the situation? Call Gary? I've been covering. The story for too many years and I've seen it take too many twists and turns over those years to to say that this is the end clearly at the it isn't necessarily but at the same time when does feel that the possibilities are getting narrow down all the time that we are getting somewhat closer to resolution of this long and very agonizing case particularly in this part of Minnesota. Thank you very much dick daily and Duluth Greg Barron in St. Paul. And again, for those of you who may have just tuned in the Minnesota supreme court today issued an order allowing the reserve Mining Company to proceed with plans to build a non-land tailings disposal side at milepost 7 where we go from here is anybody's guess I guess Minnesota Public Radio news.