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After tabled vote, IRRRB Commissioner approves $250K Fond du Lac Band funding request for new water tower

EVELETH, MN -- After being tabled by the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board earlier this month, Commisioner Mark Phillips Thursday approved a quarter million dollar grant that will help pay for a new water tower on the Fond du Lac Reservation.

The $250,000 grant will help pay for the first phase of the project, which totals $1.3 million and includes the construction of the water tower. The total project cost for all phases of the water treatment system is $11.93 million.

The project would serve surrounding communities such as those on Brookston Road and Mahnomen Road within the reservation boundaries.

A funding request for the project was originally presented at the June 10 IRRRB meeting but was tabled pending a request for further information.

During that meeting, IRRRB member and State Senator Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) said, "I can't remember ever having a situation where a local government came to us that was anti-mining and asked for mining tax dollars."

The Fond du Lac band has been very public about their stance on mining, including filing a complaint about the proposed PolyMet Copper-Nickel Mine for environmental concerns in the past.

Chris Ismil, IRRRB Development Official, said during the June 10 meeting the band's funding application out-scored other submissions and legal trouble could happen if they were to take that funding away and give it to one of the surrounding communities.

"It met all the requirements and it scored high based on the fact that it's negatively impacting their communities in a big way," said Ismil.

State Rep. Rob Ecklund (DFL – International Falls), chair of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, said Thursday he agreed with Commissioner Phillip's decision.

“I’m proud that we are able to move forward with this important infrastructure request for the residents of Brookston. It meets the agency guidelines and aligns with our mission and vision to foster vibrant growth and economic prosperity in Northeastern Minnesota,” he said. “Clean drinking water is important to both the health of individuals and the community. I am glad we were able to address this in a timely fashion.”

In a statement Thursday night, the Fond du Lac Band said "although we remain concerned about the Board's behavior, we are pleased that the Department fulfilled its legal obligation to approve the grant."

Kevin Jacobsen

News Director

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