I just wrote that I’d gotten so distracted that I’d forgotten how I started my book three weeks ago. At the time, I was hell bent for leather to crank the whole first chapter out but life got in the way. Yesterday I finally had a chance to resume but I was suffering from fear of getting started again because the thread had broken off after I set the book aside. Well, late in the day I read what I’d left off with and was very pleased.
As a last post until I’ve got at least 75 more pages done I’ll show you what I cranked out three weeks ago. It will get better. Here’s the usual caveat.
Chapter 1 October, 19, 1977
“I never had so much as a freaking speeding ticket.” Don Boyd
On Thursday Don Boyd would be one million dollars richer. He would ink the deal with his old employer Reserve Mining to sell them the rock and gravel they would require to put an end to a long running environmental controversy.
Since 1954 the company had helped save Minnesota’s iron mining industry by investing hundreds of millions in the experimental new process of turning low grade taconite ore into high grade artificial iron ore pellets. The process of pelletizing the ore required prodigious quantities of electricity. Reserve would build its own generator at Silver Bay but other new taconite plants would negotiate with the local electric utility company, Minnesota Power and Light, to handle their power needs. The massive power generation requirements for the Tac plants would allow Minnesota Power to offer its residential customers the cheapest electric rates in the nation for the next fifty years.
The process also generated tens of millions of tons of “tailings” waste which a desperate State government had given Reserve permission to dump directly into the sky-blue waters of Lake Superior. Out of sight out of mind except that over the years except for when angry winds roiled the Great Lake. On those days bright red sludge from years of dumping was stirred up all along the coast. Introduced smelt would hide in it from hungry lake trout and salmon who preferred to skirt the aquatic dust storm. As the environmental movement of the post-Vietnam Era gained steam this pollution was no longer acceptable jobs be damned.
Even as Don Boyd waited to sign the contract Federal Judge Miles Lord, formerly a State Attorney General and wily DFL operative, was deliberating over a long running lawsuit to stop the dumping. The suit was so hot that the current Governor Wendell Anderson was tripping all over himself in the press first criticizing Judge Lord and then walking it back with praise for the judicial intervention.
One thing was clear and had been clear for several years, Reserve Mining’s dumping would have to be transferred to an on-land site. Part of the dispute had to do with just where this would be permitted. The environmentalists wanted it done as far inland from the lake as possible. Reserve wanted it closer to the North Shore where the environmentalists thought it more likely to reach the lake in the event of a catastrophe.
It would cost Reserve Mining dear no matter what. The first taconite plant built at Babbitt in a wilderness of trees and moose required a raft of Steel companies to come up with a third of a billion dollars to finance. That would be 3 billion in today’s dollars. They only undertook the venture after the state of Minnesota altered its laws to tax them on the actual annual production of iron pellets rather than the estimated billions of tons of ore underground. With this law in place the Mining companies began a land rush buying up as much potentially profitable low grade ore bearing land as they could. For Reserve it was one thing to sit on valuable land. It was quite another to transport millions of tons of waste rock miles away from the convenient sluice that poured the waste into the lake. A dump site engineered to prevent the seepage of asbestos fibers back into the lake or air would be expensive. Asbestos was a carcinogen when inhaled and had brought some companies to their knees with lawsuits from sick employees.
The resourceful Don Boyd was in a position to profit handsomely from his unsurpassed knowledge of the area, his jack of all trades experience, close contacts in the Steel industry and some very wise investments. Some years earlier he had purchased the same land that Reserve had already drawn millions of tons of sand and gravel from to build the now controversial Silver Bay plant. They would be needing a lot more of it for the tailings pond they were being ordered to build.
Don had learned surveying while siting natural gas pipelines for Panhandle Eastern Pipeline Company in the post war years. He helped lay the criss crossing pipe lines in 1950 the year of his marriage. This was the same year that two of the colossal Steel Companies Armco and Republic Steel took 50/50 ownership of a “Reserve Mining Company” which was to help both companies prepare for coming exhaustion of the Iron Range’s richest iron ore deposits. There had been experiments as early as 1915 in Duluth laboratories which confirmed that it was possible to enrich the low-grade taconite which was the mother bed in which the richer veins of iron lay.
When Reserve Mining began surveying its new 47-mile railroad from its Peter Mitchell Mine to the lakes shore where it would build its taconite processing facility in the built from scratch community of Silver Bay Don came back to Minnesota and became Chief Engineer for Republic Steel and supervised the building the nation’s newest railroad through a wilderness. His boss during the construction was Clinton Maxwell who would eventually become the company’s Vice President and the man who would buy his sand and gravel.
In 1954 as Silver Bay was nearing completion Don moved his family to the company town. In 1957 after the rail road was completed he was sent to Cleveland, Ohio where he was the construction manager overseeing the building of Republic’s new open hearth furnace that was designed to handle the new taconite pellets. He remained with the company as its Chief Engineer until he struck out on his own in 1959 to start an engineering company in Duluth Seaway Engineering.
While Seaway engineering worked with local governments on water and sewage projects Don got a real estate license. He became a consultant and volunteered for a number of quasi-governmental agencies related to job development and made more business contacts. Now an entrepreneur he was always on the lookout for business opportunities and investment opportunities for others.
In 1969 the area’s Congressman John Blatnik, who had personally invited Boyd to help with an anti-poverty program in his District, was taking a lot of heat over Reserve Mining. As the chairman of the Public Works Committee Blatnik had developed the reputation as “Mr. Clean Water” for the passage of the Clean Water Act. Yet Mr. Clean Water was also “Mr. Taconite” and a supporter of the region’s Iron mining industry. He was not about to abandon the 3000 constituents employed at Silver Bay where 2 dump truck loads of iron ore tailings were dumped into Lake Superior every minute.