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At high-school hockey, our stop-PolyMet message was a no go while the company’s ads were omnipresent

photo of protesters wearing t shirts that collectively spell stop polymet
Courtesy of the authors
Shortly after revealing the shirts, our group was approached by a woman identifying herself as the facility manager, and two members of the St. Paul Police. We were told we must cover up our T-shirts, or we’d be escorted out.

Is there an event more quintessentially Minnesota than the annual State High School Hockey Tournament? It is sport at its purest, and it is part of who we are.

It’s also part of who PolyMet wants us to think they are.

PolyMet ads were as ubiquitous as ever during this year’s fine tournament, with soothing images of Minnesota lakes and families, and scholarship announcements. As has been the case for several years running, PolyMet was everywhere, including alongside the athletes who weren’t consulted on the endorsement.

It’s become an annual party for a foreign company

In other words, our proud 75-year tournament has become an annual party for a foreign company. Ad revenue aside, the heavy PolyMet presence should raise some serious questions.

PolyMet is not the neighborhood roofing service, or hockey supply store.

PolyMet is the Canadian shell of a Swiss extraction giant. As its major investor, Glencore XStrata exercises substantial control over PolyMet. The $50B conglomerate is embroiled in continual controversy about labor rights, human rights, and alleged corruption.

photo of hockey game
Courtesy of the authors
PolyMet ads were as ubiquitous as ever during this year’s tournament.

As you probably know by now, PolyMet is responsible for one of the most controversial proposals ever to be put to our DNR. Tens of thousands of citizen comments on the proposal — the vast majority of which were in opposition — were a record in Minnesota. And evidence continues to mount about its risks even still. Just a few weeks ago, a dam in Brazil — with the same “upstream” design as PolyMet — failed, with catastrophic consequences. Incredibly, the same engineer who designed the PolyMet dam advised the owner of the failed Brazil dam.

Brazil has now banned upstream dams

For its part, Brazil has now banned all such upstream dams. But here in Minnesota, the PolyMet permit continues to reflect the discredited technology.

These are the stakes involved in allowing PolyMet to festoon our tournament.

Last year, a few of us brought a sign to the tournament that said #BenchPolyMet, displaying it near the company’s advertisements, presentations, and TV cameras. We felt that if Glencore and PolyMet are to be welcomed at our tournament, the voice of the opposition is needed as well. Many fans expressed appreciation of the small gesture, but company and event staff were not among them. After a disappointing exchange with highly agitated event staff, the sign was taken.

This year, a larger group wore yellow T-shirts that together spell “#StopPolyMet.”

Briefly, that is. Shortly after revealing the shirts, our group was approached by a woman identifying herself as the facility manager, and two members of the St. Paul Police. We were told we must cover up our T-shirts, or we’d be escorted out.

We explained that we had consulted the rules, paid for our tickets, and believed we had a right to be there. The Xcel Energy Center is a publicly owned building, hosting a state tournament, and we are huge fans.

The manager responded that the event is run by a private company and they “can remove anyone they want.” The police commander advised us that, in this situation, they were working for the facility manager and that “she is in charge.”

The message we got

In other words, the message from the entities who are together charged with maintaining the integrity of our tournament is this:

You can attend the tournament with shirts that say “Go PolyMet.”

You cannot attend the tournament with shirts that say “Stop PolyMet.”

This is our tournament and we deserve better.

We Minnesotans came to support the players, the schools, and our water. We were met with the priorities of a foreign company.

Glencore and PolyMet should not be allowed to use our proud tournament as a propaganda campaign as they seek to extract our resources.

To us, the evidence is clear: Glencore and PolyMet are catastrophically dangerous. We must #StopPolyMet to protect a future for the players of this tournament and for all Minnesotans.

Jaci Christenson, of White Bear Lake, and John Doberstein, of Duluth, are both active with the group Duluth for Clean Water. The following are also supportive of this commentary and along with the authors are pictured in the protest photo: Jill Doberstein (Duluth), Brian Muhs (Rochester/Duluth), Charlie Bancroft-Howard (Scandia), Alex Flash (Bloomington), JT Haines (Duluth), Sarah Bancroft-Howard (Scandia), Patty Grimmer (Minneapolis) and Cole Christenson (North Oaks).

Comments (19)

  1. Submitted by Dave Eischens on 03/14/2019 - 06:20 pm.

    Thank you for this article. And an extra thank you for getting out there to protect our home waters and land from a foreign corporation that only cares what it can take from our state.

  2. Submitted by C.A. Arneson on 03/14/2019 - 06:25 pm.

    Barr Engineering, the DNR, and PolyMet have minimized the danger of reusing the LTV Steel Mining Company (LTV) tailing basin for its toxic sulfide mining waste.

    Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) says that it is too early to know what caused the latest collapse in Brazil. Brazil is not waiting around to find out. Banning upstream dams, Brazil set a deadline; all are to be decommissioned by August 15, 2021. Brazil now joins Peru and Chile as the three countries in the world that ban upstream tailings dams. Chile banned upstream dams in 1970.

    Minnesota is doing just the opposite. PolyMet is planning to build the cheapest, least stable type of tailings dam on top of an already unstable foundation. Barr Engineering and PolyMet claim the LTV tailings basin is adequate. The DNR issued PolyMet two dam safety permits.

    PolyMet has falsely stated: “The basin has proven to be stable over its 60-year existence; even so, before we put the existing basin back into use, we will incorporate additional engineering controls to ensure it remains stable.”

    Not having collapsed does not make it “stable.”

    A 1995 Executive Summary of a Sitka Corporation report, one of four phases assessing the stability of the LTV tailings basin, stated that “Weak slimes and peat occur along most of the dam’s face, along four of the geotechnical sections, A, B, E, and F. … the slimes in the dam section are predominantly loose to very loose, indicating low strength under undrained shearing conditions.”

    The summary went on to state, “Our undrained strength analysis showed factors of safety at three sections barely above unity. Slimes close to the dam face and clay beneath the peat in the foundation are the primary reasons for the relatively low levels of safety … an extensive flow failure could occur if some mechanism were to trigger liquefaction.”

    Further, “Cell 2E raises special concerns. This is where LTV will deposit the bulk of the tailings in the future, it has the thickest and most extensive peat in the foundation, and has slimes close to the dam face.”

    A 1997 Executive Summary of the Sitka Corporation assessment additionally stated, “there are continuous zones of slimes under the dam slopes and relatively close to the dam face. This fraction of tailings has the lowest shear strength and the poorest drainage. Where the slimes are close to the dam face, they provide a weak potential failure plane through the otherwise strong coarse tailings shell.“

    The 1997 summary further stated that “a flow failure could develop almost anywhere along the impoundment perimeter if some event or stress condition triggered liquefaction in the saturated tailings.”

    PolyMet spokespeople claim they can reuse the LTV tailings basin by making changes (after permitting), including addition of a rock buttress and additional monitoring stations. PolyMet’s Bruce Richardson told The Timberjay, after the Corrego do Feijao dam collapse, “The NorthMet facility was found to meet every factor of safety for stability.”

    The Corrego do Feijao dam at Brumadinho was allegedly certified stable too.

    PolyMet’s “rock buttress” would only be added to the toe of the LTV dam. And monitoring would not stop a structurally unsound dam from sudden catastrophic failure; the Corrego do Feijo dam had 94 piezometers and 41 water level indicators. Ironically, a monitoring well was reportedly being drilled when the Corrego do Feijao tailings dam collapsed in Brazil; there was some speculation that vibrations from the drilling may have triggered the collapse.

    Richardson also reportedly said, “There are many more active and much-larger iron-ore tailings basins (of similar design) in Northern Minnesota that have existed for decades as well.”

    In PolyMet’s case, Minnesotans are not talking about “decades;” we are talking about tailings basins existing for centuries. I would also remind Richardson that Hibbing Taconite has already had a 1,000-foot crack in its dam. Its tailing basin was built in 1976. Brazil’s Corrego do Feijao basin was built in 1967. DNR Land and Minerals would be wise to expend its limited resources on Minnesota’s aging taconite tailings basins and dams. Not take on PolyMet’s time bomb.

    PolyMet is not a house on a rotten foundation that can be jacked up and the foundation replaced. Fundamentally, the unsound LTV tailings basin and dam can only be braced, shored up with a prayer.

  3. Submitted by charles thompson on 03/14/2019 - 06:27 pm.

    Maybe the tourney would be better staged somewhere else.

  4. Submitted by Joe Musich on 03/14/2019 - 07:42 pm.

    It is the old Mall of America defense…if public money is used as it is for this facility properly even more directly than the Mall I wish you guys would have come with a lawyer. This entire Polymet give away is well I can no longer find the word…thanks for your efforts.

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/15/2019 - 09:08 am.

    Reason #492 why public subsidies for stadiums and arenas are a travesty. We subsidize the building, supposedly OWN the building, and we rent the building for a public event… but somehow a private company ends up in control of free speech? Suddenly the building manager, who is presumably get her paycheck from the city that owns the arena… works for a private company. And somehow city police officers end up being private security guards, who can violate Constitutional free speech guarantees?

    What private company was “running” this event? Who pays this private company to do so? And is any public money used to pay this company?

  6. Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/15/2019 - 10:14 am.

    The good news is that some guys in t-shirts at a hockey game wouldn’t get much attention, but censoring a political message at a public event will.

    • Submitted by Jeremy Lane on 03/15/2019 - 12:55 pm.

      I hope a lot of us who think Polymet’s hijacking of the hockey tournament, with the active
      support of the High School League, the Xcel and the Police Department(!), contact our state legislators and push them to have an accountability discussion with the High School League and Xcel regarding the Constitution. And maybe a St. Paul-level discussion about the limits on the power of the police to function as political censors.

  7. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 03/15/2019 - 06:36 pm.

    I’m not unsympathetic to any of the comments above, but would like to clarify a few things.

    The arena, along with the adjacent Roy Williams and River Center, are owned by the City of Saint Paul. They are operated by the Saint Paul Arena Company, a creature of Minnesota Sports Entertainment, which also owns the Minnesota Wild. This arrangement includes the adjacent River Center parking ramp, which may be replaced by tax payers at an un-Godly rate of $54K per parking space. (So if you want to attack business socialism and hidden subsidies for private auto, you can start there.) That’s just direct construction costs and doesn’t include maintenance or operating costs; there is no way the parking fees will cover those costs.

    When any party rents the arena, they set the rules. Christian music acts may stipulate that no alcohol is sold. For the Michelle Obama event, those buying plastic bottles of water or soda were not allowed to keep the cap (despite paying $5/bottle.) I believe the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) also will not allow attendees to keep the caps, and do not allow sales of alcohol. When Disney on Ice is there, they sell their own over priced pop corn and do not permit Levy (the building caterer) to sell their not quite as over priced pop corn.

    We do have the right to free speech in public spaces, but there are limits to that. I can rent the a pavilion at Como or Harriet Island parks. And I can have the police remove you (as long as my permit is valid) if you are not invited. The offices of the mayor and governor are certainly public spaces, but I can’t expect to exercise my free speech rights there at 11PM on Saturday night.

    If a Jewish organization rented the Xcel for a public event (ticketed or otherwise), I doubt many lefties would object to the removal of neo-Nazis wearing T-shirts with images of concentration camp ovens. When the RNC was held there, there was understandably no outcry about free speech in the building. (Outside was a different story.)

    MSHSL is an odd and often opaque organization. They have their own way of doing things, and can move at a Vatican like pace.

    It appears that this demonstration took place at the Class A tournament; I’d suggest it be done at the far more well attended AA tournament. Because if you’re going to make seen, BE SEEN.

    • Submitted by kris driessen on 03/16/2019 - 07:50 am.

      I can tell you’re not from St Paul where Roy Wilkins auditorium exists. The point is, we should not allow the state of Minnesota to be pimped out to a foreign country that cares nothing more than to make a profit. Some people have ethics as the students that wore the #STOP POLYMET Tshirts. These students realize risking the beauty of MN, its environment, wilderness and human health of the surrounding area is not worth the money donated by PolyMet to an arena. A form of bribery.

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 03/19/2019 - 09:01 am.

        Did you even read what I wrote? Please read my words again. Where did I advocate for Polymet?

        Should different rules apply to different parties, depending on how we feel about them? If two men want to rent a public park space to get married, is it OK for someone to show up wearing a shirt that declares gay marriage to be sinful? Should that couple not be able to have the police remove that person? Same deal for an inter-racial couple. Does this make sense to you now?

        A life long resident of the old river town, I know the entire complex like the back of my hand. I’m old enough to remember when hockey was played in what was known as the Saint Paul Auditorium, before it was known as The Roy.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/19/2019 - 10:21 am.

      Frank, some of what you say here is factually correct, and thanks for that. However, you’re making a few unwarranted assumptions. First, renters are NOT in complete control of the arena when they rent it, landlords can and do have their own requirements and legal responsibilities. Any renter that doesn’t doesn’t like the landlord’s policies can always rent somewhere else.

      The comparison of these t-shirts at a hockey game with Nazi’s at a Jewish event is a stretch. A publicly owned arena CAN and should accommodate some degree of free speech. A landlord CAN set those rules, especially if and when the event is a public event, that is televised. Who’s High Schools are these? Who does this tournament belong to? One can argue that this isn’t comparable to rock concert or a religious event that select people buy tickets for. It’s not even comparable to a Party convention.

      This entire event is essentially tied to public (and some private) educational institutions. The vast majority of the audience are students and parents of student. Walling off free speech at such a venue runs counter the not of public education and American education.

      Finally, all renters and private companies are not equal. When Bruce Springsteen rents the arena, he’s renting the arena and he’s using his own money. Who is the private company that rents the arena for the State Hockey tournament? Who pays this private company, and where does that money come from? Is the renter not accountable to their client? Is there no difference between a public entity hiring a private company with public dollars, and private company or entity renting on it’s own behalf with it’s own money?

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 03/19/2019 - 12:58 pm.

        Good points Paul. there really are no perfect parallels to the MSHSL.

        For the less popular Class tournament, I’d hazard a guess that a majority of the ticket buying people have a direct connection to the teams involved, students, alumni, and family.

        For Class AA, I’d guess it’s the opposite, the majority of ticket buyers do not have a direct connection.

        A few years back, there was a lot of controversy among lefties about some guy at the MPLS Gay Pride events at a public park. I don’t recall what the end result of that was, but I do recall a lot of lefties thinking he should not have been allowed to be there.

        The AA boys hockey tournament is a huge source of revenue to MSHSL. I think a few others are revenue positive, but not nearly to the same degree.

        MSHSL is an odd creature, and I’d prefer for more openness to its operations to be sure.

  8. Submitted by Terry Carlson on 03/15/2019 - 07:06 pm.

    Bravo to the High School Hockey Tournament for refusing to allow low-information anti-mining Democrats to inject politics into this great Minnesota event! One sad note, though: while it is obvious they still study mythology in high school, apparently they do not teach science or economics anymore.

    GO POLYMET!

    • Submitted by Brian Nelson on 03/15/2019 - 11:29 pm.

      Hi Terry,
      Since you are are high information voter, I would love to see you refute the assertions made by Ms. Arneson above. I eagerly await you thoroughly educating all of us.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 03/16/2019 - 01:16 pm.

      It is Polymet, a foreign agent, that injected politics into the tournament.

      Local citizens merely tried to join the debate.

    • Submitted by james herzog on 03/18/2019 - 07:51 am.

      Interesting – this is your only comment since joining Minnpost only 3 days ago, this sounds like a plant, a corporate PR campaign for Polymet.

    • Submitted by Barbara Lofquist on 03/19/2019 - 08:15 am.

      Agree 100%! Remember anti- mining folks in the metro: ‘If it’s not grown, it’s mined!’

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/19/2019 - 09:02 am.

        The issue here is not mining. The issue here is free speech in a public place.

        Let’s look at this in a different way: Suppose the tournament sponsors banned MAGA hats as too controversial.

      • Submitted by Brian Gandt on 03/19/2019 - 11:55 am.

        Barb, I am well aware of where the materials that build and nourish our society originate.

        I also am aware of what happens when those processes are carried out in an irresponsible fashion.

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