Now that the dust and hard feelings have settled in the scrappy DFL primary in the special election to fill the seat left vacant by by the death of Representative David Dill, the Tower Timberjay revisits the "man camps" question.
Marshall Helmberger writes in Time to talk honestly about those man camps:
As anyone who paid attention to the race knows, Bill Hansen’s suggestion that a copper-nickel boom would bring man camps to house workers, and that those camps would bring increased crime to the area, was widely derided as an attack on union construction workers and PolyMet.
That attack line was far-fetched from the beginning, and I see very little evidence in the poll returns to suggest it had much impact on voters. Hansen always had an uphill battle simply because of population and geography, and his campaign was well aware of it. . . .
Hansen’s claim that a copper-nickel boom (of the kind envisioned by Frank Ongaro of Mining Minnesota) would bring man camps is inarguably true, as was his prediction that such camps would bring social problems to the area.
Indeed, the suggestion would come as no surprise to anyone who took part in the planning efforts conducted by the East Range Readiness Committee back in the mid-2000s, since housing for workers and their impact on communities, was one of the major topics of discussion. It wasn’t Hansen raising those concerns at the time. It was then-Hoyt Lakes Mayor Marlene Pospeck, a copper-nickel mining supporter, who was calling the potential for man camps a “big concern,” according to a Minnesota Public Radio report from 2006.
The story continued: “Construction workers are often set up in makeshift trailer camps— places Pospeck says are known for rowdy behavior, frequent police calls, and an increased need for social services. It’s one thing to deal with one major construction project, but two or three or more could be a huge strain on the local communities.”
No one attacked Pospeck for disrespecting the Iron Range building trades for raising such obvious concerns. But then, it wasn’t the political season, when little things like facts and context are often tossed out the window. . .
. . .We can argue about how severe those problems might be, but anyone who suggests Hansen simply invented this concern, or was slamming local construction workers, should familiarize themselves with a little Iron Range history.
Helmberger looks back to the 1950s taconite boom and more in a column worth reading.
Photo: 1st mining camp near Mountain Iron 1893, via Mining Artifacts. Probably not what anybody meant during the primary, but it's a cool old picture.
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