Many of the challenges in the ongoing struggle to redevelop the Iron Range economy relate to reconciling memories of good times gone, depicted in this model railroad scene by Alan Stone of Nashwauk, with the realities of the modern economy. (Alan Stone)

Many of the challenges in the ongoing struggle to redevelop the Iron Range economy relate to reconciling memories of good times gone, depicted in this model railroad scene by Alan Stone of Nashwauk, with the realities of the modern economy. (Alan Stone)

The Star Tribune reports that the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board agency will face a review by Minnesota's Legislative Auditor after months of scrutiny by the state's largest newspaper.

The April 18 story seems to indicate that Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles would focus on a widely reported deal to help relocate a Democratic-leaning call center in Eveleth. From the report:

As for the IRRRB, [Legislative Auditor Jim] Nobles said that his office is gathering information on the loans the agency made and details about the political and commercial work Meyer Associates did and that he would use the information to decide any further action. “That action could include a full audit of the IRRRB or a special review focused just on the call center issues,” Nobles said.

The Jennifer Bjorhus investigative series about the IRRRB has been relentless, highlighting some of the agency's enduring challenges and failures for a statewide audience. That said, I don't think the stories have drawn blood yet, so to speak. The fact that Giants Ridge hasn't been a moneymaker, or that the agency has a history of backing projects even through initial failures to keep people working, isn't news and isn't illegal or inherently nefarious. Politics at the IRRRB? Color me unsurprised.

What could really affect change, however, is a thorough report from the Legislative Auditor investigating the agency's entire process of risk assessment and comprehensive planning. Commissioner Mark Phillips and others at the agency are quoted saying they welcome the review. That's good to hear. I happen to agree. This agency needs a thorough audit and self-analysis as we enter a new period in the Iron Range's economic history. The IRRRB's unique ability to marshal Iron Range taconite revenue for the purpose of economic diversification will be crucial to the next decade.

We know that Minnesota's iron mines must modernize to survive, for instance, and even that won't fundamentally change the economic and demographic reality of our situation. Even a healthy mining industry on the Iron Range won't recover the glory of the 1970s or the high water mark of the early 1950s.

When the history of this time on the Iron Range is written, it will either be said that the IRRRB ultimately stood as a means of diversifying our economy, or that it steadfastly protected self-serving agents of the status quo. These are harsh extremes, to be sure, but we need such clarity when we make policy for the future of the Iron Range. There is simply no time left to be passive.

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