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Iron and Water

My Life Protecting Minnesota’s Environment

2018
Author:

Grant J. Merritt

Iron and Water

A memoir of family, mining pioneers and unscrupulous magnates, and the fight for Minnesota’s natural resources

Iron and Water is Grant J. Merritt’s memoir of his life’s work on behalf of Minnesota’s people and environment and also the story of a family significant in state history. Chronicling the discovery of vast iron deposits on the Mesabi Range and the fight to save Lake Superior and Minnesota’s natural riches, Merritt reveals how individuals can change the world.

Iron and Water provides important information about Minnesota’s early environmental movement from someone who not only ‘talked the talk’ but ‘walked the walk.’ Grant Merritt’s involvement as a citizen activist, an environmental attorney, and the head of a state environmental agency offers significant insights on the efforts to protect the natural resources that have shaped Minnesota today.

Kevin Proescholdt, author of Glimpses of Wilderness

In 1855 the Merritt family arrived in Minnesota, where a descendant, Alfred, would one day become one of the “Seven Iron Men”—builders of the first mines to tap the state’s great mineral wealth in the Mesabi Range. Another Merritt, more than half a century later, would lead the efforts to protect Lake Superior from damage caused by mining. Iron and Water is Grant J. Merritt’s memoir of his life’s work on behalf of Minnesota’s people and environment and also the story of a significant family in state history.

Merritt’s family played a key role in the struggle over natural resources in Minnesota—for the enrichment of mining pioneers, the prosperity of the state and its people, and the prospect of a secure and healthy future. This complex tale begins with the adventure of discovering iron ore and building the mines, railroads, and docks to move it, then devolves into the intrigues of business partnerships gone bad and attempts by John D. Rockefeller to defraud the Merritts. What follows is an engrossing account of Grant Merritt’s years in the halls of state politics and the trenches of environmental activism in defense of Minnesota’s North Shore and Lake Superior’s waters. The author’s tenure as head of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency under Governor Wendell Anderson and his service on the first board of the Minnesota Environmental Quality Council take us behind the scenes of landmark legal cases and crucial moments in Minnesota history—particularly the notable Reserve Mining case, in which the company was found liable for serious environmental and health threats on the shores of Lake Superior and ordered to be shut down.

In these pages we encounter the people who were critical to this history, from robber baron Rockefeller to judges, activists, and politicians, including Walter Mondale and Jim Oberstar. In chronicling both the discovery of vast iron deposits on the Mesabi Range and the fight to save Lake Superior and Minnesota’s natural riches, Iron and Water reveals how, whether alone or together, individuals wield the power to change the world.

Iron and Water

Grant J. Merritt has served as executive director of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, was a member of the first board of the Minnesota Environmental Quality Council, and was Minnesota’s representative on the Great Lakes Water Quality Board. He was an attorney in the areas of environmental law, transportation, and governmental relations for more than fifty years.

Iron and Water

Iron and Water provides important information about Minnesota’s early environmental movement from someone who not only ‘talked the talk’ but ‘walked the walk.’ Grant Merritt’s involvement as a citizen activist, an environmental attorney, and the head of a state environmental agency offers significant insights on the efforts to protect the natural resources that have shaped Minnesota today.

Kevin Proescholdt, author of Glimpses of Wilderness

Iron and Water

Contents
Prologue
The Merritt Family and the Mesabi Iron Range
The Mesabi Iron Range
The Merritts Build into Duluth
“What Rockefeller Did to Us”
My Early Years in Duluth
Entering Politics in the Sixties
Environmentalism and the Reserve Mining Controversy
What Is Being Dumped in Lake Superior?
The Stoddard Report
An Old Fashioned with Robert Traver
The First Earth Day
Minnesota DFL Politics
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
Taconite Tailings
Establishing Environmental Policies
I’m in Trouble with the Law
Reserve Mining and Asbestos
The Minnesota Experimental City
We Defeat Reserve Mining and Save Lake Superior
Citizen Activist
From Public Servant to Private Practice
Battling for the Environment in the Suburbs
Fighting a Virus in Lake Superior
Parks and Trails
Recognizing Progress—and Staying Alert
A Lifetime of Change on Isle Royale
Epilogue
Acknowledgments
Notes
Index