This week I was pleased to be traveling in our area of the state as a member of the Minnesota’s Legislative Permanent School Fund Commission.
I currently serve as chair of this 12-member commission, which advises the state on management of permanent school fund lands. We spent two days looking at mining operations here in Northeast Minnesota.
The school trust holds title to about 3.4 million acres of mineral rights holdings. The federal government set aside trust lands many years ago, specifically to fund our public school system. Most of the trust lands are located in northeastern portion of our state. They continue to generate revenue primarily from mining and forestry operations.
Our first stop was at American Peat Technology (APT) here in Aitkin County. APT processes peat primarily for agriculture use. Its product provides the base for seed coatings which enhance germination and maximize the use of soil nutrients. Today’s modern soybean production would not be possible without these products.
A second area APT is engaged in is developing peat based products for water treatment. Peat when properly dried can absorb a wide range of heavy metals and other undesirable elements that we do not want in our water supply.
APT staff, along with scientists from Minnesota’s Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI) at Duluth, are working toward commercial production of these products. This new technology will provide another important tool for enhancing water quality.
Why is that important to the School Trust Commission and our public schools? Because school trust lands include major deposits of peat which, like other mineral resources, generate revenue for the school trust fund. Thank you to Doug Green and his team at APT for an excellent look at modern peat mining and processing operations.
We also visited the Kennecott Facility at Tamarack, Minn. Kennecott currently holds mineral exploration leases on significant blocks of school trust land in Aitkin County. We toured U.S. Steel’s MinnTac facility, which is producing iron ore pellets from taconite – much of which is mined from school trust lands. We finished the tour in Hibbing at the DNR’s drill core library which includes millions of linear feet of mineral drill core samples from across Minnesota.
This brief-two day look provided an important educational experience for members of the school trust commission. A big thank you for the team effort by our school trust lands administrator, DNR staff, APT, Kennecott, US Steel, the Iron Mining Association (ferrous mining), Mining Minnesota (non-ferrous mining) and the IRRRB that helped make this possible.