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Nolan meets constituents at Northwoods Café

The Northwoods Café in Silver Bay was the site of an informal meeting between area residents and Congressman Rick Nolan. On the menu were local, regional and national issues.

On March 1, U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan held a coffee- and -questions session at Northwoods Café in Silver Bay.  With approximately 30 people in attendance, Nolan discussed some of Congress’ accomplishments, partisan posturing and grid-lock notwithstanding.  

He cited U.S. House approval of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Non-Intercourse Act of 2013, a bill he sponsored which would permit the exchange of land between the band and Carlton County.  Currently, the county holds 3,200 acres of tax-forfeit land that would be swapped for 1,451 acres of off-reservation land owned by the band. The arrangement would resolve an issue created when the county permitted non-Native homesteaders to settle on tribal lands in violation of an earlier treaty.  Nolan’s bill was unanimously approved by the House in December.  A companion bill sponsored by Sen. Al Franken has been sent to the Committee on Indian Affairs but has not yet emerged. Nolan also touted other legislative accomplishments including the passage of a farm bill and a federal budget.

“By my nature I see problems and I try to fix them,” he told the crowd, although he admitted that congressional progress toward solutions has been slow.  “Fixing problems is more difficult today than in the 1970s. There has been a change in Washington since I last served as a congressman; many of my colleagues spend more time fund raising than they do governing.”

Concerns raised by North Shore residents focused on the Keystone pipeline, this year’s liquid propane crisis and the issue of non-ferrous mining in the region.  Nolan recently faced intense criticism from environmental groups and the Lake County DFL for supporting H.R. 761, a bill that critics say would virtually eliminate environmental review and public participation in the mine permitting process. Proponents say the bill would streamline the cumbersome permitting process, allowing projects like the proposed PolyMet mine to move forward more quickly. Saturday Nolan assured the assembled crowd that he will not support any legislation that would degrade the environment.  Of his previous vote in favor of passing the HR 761, Nolan said that he was trying to make a point.

 “I felt we needed to send a message that we needed to reform the permitting process.  But I will insist, if and when the legislation comes before us again, that it contains required compliance with all the EPA standards and financial assurances,” he vowed. “You must have good environmental law and standards along with good strong enforcement.  You have to see to it that it happens.”

A number of constituents asked what could be done to preventing another crippling shortage of LP gas.  Low supply recently resulted in an abrupt spike in the cost of the fuel and concern for those whose budgets would not stretch to cover the increase. With temperatures hovered in the teens and twenties below zero, the inability to afford fuel for heating posed a threat to residents’ well-being.  Nolan said the solution is for the U.S. to maintain an emergency supply of liquid propane.  

“We need to establish some sort of a strategic reserve program for LPG to help ensure shortages never reach the dangerously low levels experienced this past winter.  In addition to that we need to address industry regulatory issues,” he said. 

Last week President Barack Obama was in St. Paul to promote economic development through improvements to infrastructure and transit. Nolan said the need for these projects is great in parts of the Arrowhead.

“The eighth district has over 300 bridges that have been certified as being in need of repair and Minnesotans are well aware of the devastating consequences of bridges falling down,” he said.  “This area is very economically dependent on transportation.” Recent meetings have further impressed on Nolan the importance of supporting infrastructure projects.

“Last week we had a diverse group of people testify from chambers of commerce, the National Retail Association, and a consortium of transportation interests such as railroads and mass transit.  We all agreed that our infrastructure is deteriorating and it’s harmful to jobs,” Nolan said, and as a member of the House Transportation Committee, he has also developed a vision for improving the approach to getting people from place to place in the state and throughout the nation.

“My goal is to have every major city in America connected with rapid rail transit.  It’s being done in Europe, China and Japan.  It is a very energy efficient, safe mode of transportation,” he said. Closer to home, these rail networks would extend to outstate areas as well.

“ We have the Northern lights express which would come up to the Duluth, the North Star which would go ultimately to International Falls, and other spokes going to Rochester, the southwest and to the western part of our state,” he said.

At the end of his visit, Nolan said he was honored to spend time with his Northern Minnesota constituents.

 “It was a great afternoon of wide ranging and productive discussions, particularly with respect to how we  create the jobs we need, while preserving and protecting the  water, air and timber resources so essential to our way of life – as well as the tourism so important  to our economy here in the Arrowhead,” he said.  “We also talked about the need for effective, common sense rules and regulations that take into account local, as well as state and federal needs. People clearly want government at every level to put aside partisan politics, solve problems and get things done on their behalf. That’s the message I hear everywhere I go. And it’s exactly what I try to do every day as Congressman from Minnesota’s Eighth District. “