AURORA — Headlines seen in the Mesabi Daily News over the years, dating back about two decades, document the sometimes-turbulent progress of PolyMet. As early up and downs of the NorthMet project mirrored the cyclical mining industry, few thought it would take this long to get to this point.
What has never been turbulent is the support PolyMet has received from Iron Rangers who depend on mining jobs to support their families. Now, as the reality of the PolyMet project draws even closer, opinions and fortunes on the East Range are proving to be ever optimistic.
“We are being rewarded for extreme patience,” commented Aurora City Councilor Douglas Gregor. “I would not have been as enthusiastic if the agencies hadn’t done what they have … We have a highly environmentally regulated state which has encouraged the mining companies to become environmentally conscious. With both environmental consciousness and the economic stimulation, this project is incredible.”
Just a few years ago Aurora found itself on the wrong side of economic development. The city lost its grocery store, Zup’s, and the Aurora Drug & Variety store, both downtown mainstays. Visitors to the city’s food shelf were up after the stores shuddered, gaining 3-5 families and serving about 400 people a week in aftermath.
Doom and gloom wasn’t always the Aurora story though. When LTV Mining called the East Range home, it was abuzz. At its peak in the 1970s, the mine employed more than 3,000 workers and produced more than 312 million tons of taconite pellets since it began operations in 1957. The East Range boomed so much that LTV helped give birth to the city of Hoyt Lakes, six miles south of the plant.