IRRRB provides land option to race track, power plant

Rukavina

A race track in the works for 18 years and company that wants to build an electric power plant have four years to buy land in Hibbing, assuming they convince the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board their ideas are workable.

The board voted Wednesday night to give the two projects an option on 840 acres, mostly reclaimed mining land, in Hibbing.

Both projects are far from sure bets.

The race track project, known as the Iron Range Racing Complex, would develop a motorsport and horseracing track on 615 acres of the land. Supporters say the only way it would be successful is if it gains state legislative approval to include a casino, known as a racino.

“It’s a long shot,” Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, said after the meeting.

Consultant John Fedo, a former Duluth mayor and Hibbing city administrator, said a bill should be introduced in the Legislature soon to allow the racino.

Fedo said the state could reap up to $60 million a year from the Hibbing track.

Rukavina said that with a large state budget deficit, this may be the time lawmakers approve a gambling option to bring in more money.

“We’re not sure, but we think the timing may be right,” Fedo said.

The concept is to build a track that hosts snowmobile races in the winter and horse and car and other motorized races in the summer. It would cost up to $45 million to build and produce up to 700 jobs, backers say.

Besides legislative approval for a racino, which the state’s other two horse tracks have tried and failed to get for years, the state Racing Commission would need to approve the horse track.

The track would replace the Hibbing Raceway at the old fairgrounds site.

Next to the race track could be a power plant built by Excelsior Energy.

Tom Micheletti of Excelsior said the plant would be in addition to one the company plans for the western Iron Range. Excelsior has sought government permits to build that original plant for a decade. The new one initially would be set up to burn natural gas, with the option of using gasified coal later of it proves cheaper.

The Hibbing plant would consist of a pair of 600-megawatt generators, each with up to 60 full-time employees. About 600 construction workers would be needed for the up to $900 million worth of work, Micheletti said.

IRRRB member and Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township, tried and failed to get fellow board members to agree to give the power plant and race track just two years to build their projects. But supporters of the projects, especially Micheletti, said more time is needed.

“Nobody ever gets a job,” Anzelc complained about IRRRB projects.

Also Wednesday night, the board elected Rukavina its chairman and Tony Sertich attended his first meeting as IRRRB commissioner. He resigned as a legislator to take the job, and his legislative replacement, Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, took her seat on the board Wednesday, her first full day as a representative.

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