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31 ENVIRONMENTALISM AND THE RESERVE MINING CONTROVERSY What Is Being Dumped in Lake Superior? During the summer of 1955, after graduating from college, I worked for a contractor in Silver Bay, Minnesota, on the north shore of Lake Superior, digging trenches in the clay and helping polish the floors at the high school before it opened that fall. I would stay during the week with my uncle Milton and his wife, Jean, at one of their cabins along the East Beaver Bay shoreline below the Mattson Store run by Milton. Milton’s brother Kermit was working for one of the contractors when he wasn’t fishing commercially.1 At that time, the dumping of waste slag directly into the lake, which would begin in the spring of 1956, didn’t capture my interest. It wasn’t for another twelve years that I would recognize the threat to Lake Superior from the Reserve Mining pollution. My involvement began when Milton and Jean arrived at our home on November 5, 1967, for a visit. It was not an ordinary family get-­ together. Milton clearly had a purpose in mind. He was getting information from a number of sources that in addition to taconite tailings, chemicals, oils, and other pollutants were being dumped into the lake as well. Milton began telling me about the “hoodwinking” of the public by Reserve Mining. He made the following points, which I recorded in my journal that evening: Environmentalism 32 • “Tailings” or slag were being dumped every day directly into the lake. • Waste oil was being pumped through the two chutes into the lake—­ thousands of gallons per month. • Waste chemicals and acids were also being dumped in the lake. • Two carloads per day of fly ash were also going down the chutes to the lake.2 The slag and waste dump was growing. For example, Milton said, fly ash had formerly been disposed of in the woods behind the plant. Now it went into the lake. My journal went on: “The slag and pollution can be seen in the water as far west as Two Harbors. It collects on the bottom and kills fish eggs in spawning grounds. Milton says it goes across to the south shore as well. Reserve Mining has been hoodwinking the public recently, since the newspaper publicity, Milton said. For instance , it has called the picture of the slag in the Sunday Minneapolis Tribune an ‘illusion.’ Second, when Reserve heard that Secretary of the Interior Udall was going to fly over the delta and plant buildings , they ‘seeded’ the slag with grass seed—­ thus temporarily turning the area green—­ now, of course, it is back to the dirty brown.3 I was now hooked on doing something to stop Reserve’s egregious pollution of Lake Superior. My journal entry concludes: “The only way to force Reserve is to apply political pressure. Milton tells me Reserve is doing nothing to solve it, when obviously something could be done.” Early November 1967 marked the beginning of a new chapter in my life—­ as a citizen environmental activist. I made a decision that profoundly affected my life, my career, and my family. Of course, I did not foresee all the changes that would result, but I was absolutely committed to stopping the dumping of tailings by Reserve Mining. I devised a plan. I would organize opposition from the New Hope Democratic-­ Farmer-­ Labor Club, which I chaired. We would seek publicity, write key party officeholders, and ask the state environmental agency to take action. DFL State Party Chairman Warren Spannaus appointed me cochair of the state DFL preplatform Environmentalism 33 committee, and we held hearings around the state to draft the proposed state platform for the 1968 state convention. One of the planks we developed was the one later adopted by the state DFL and quoted in chapter 1, calling for an end to the Reserve dumping.4 I had been fascinated by politics from my earliest days. So it was quite natural that, after hearing the details from my uncle Milton Mattson regarding Reserve’s massive insult to Lake Superior, I would think the solution must involve political action. The political overtones of my decision would soon draw me deeper into politics for better or worse. I couldn’t have foreseen the tangle of controversies , intrigue, setbacks, the many victories and defeats that would grow from my new course. Opposition to the dumping of taconite tailings in Lake Superior can be traced to the...


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