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Nolan blazes his own campaign trail: Congressman talks Mills, oil transportation and Polymet during stop in Walker

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., talks with a fellow trail volunteer Saturday while helping to remove a wire fence as part of the North Country Trail Association's work to re-route a section of the North Country Scenic Trail where it crosses Cass County Road 12 about five miles southwest of Walker. (Zach Kayser | Bemidji Pioneer)

WALKER -- Rick Nolan did some literal trailblazing while on the campaign trail Saturday.

U.S. Congressman Nolan donned work gloves and hefted a pulaski, the combination axe/hoe tool, while helping the local chapter of the North Country Trail Association shift a portion of the trail that crosses County Road 12 about five miles southwest of Walker.

The visit was intended to highlight Nolan’s legislative work in Congress to re-route a much larger section of the trail to avoid several environmentally sensitive black spruce and tamarack wetlands in Minnesota.

About 20 volunteers from the Itasca Moraine chapter worked Saturday to do a little re-routing of their own: shifting the trail a few hundred feet south to make it more accesible from the “parking lot”, a grassy patch on the side of the road. Nolan helped the volunteers clear brush, rocks and even a old wire fence that stretched directly across the new trail.  

The entire North Country Scenic Trail -- the longest of its kind in the U.S. -- stretches thousands of miles from North Dakota to Vermont.  Another provision of Nolan’s bill would extend the trail to join the Appalachian Trail.

Nolan, 70, also talked about the 2014 election in between swings of the pulaski. The race between Democrat Nolan and his Republican opponent Stewart Mills has already garnered national attention, including a June 23 article in POLITICO that compared the long-haired, 42-year-old- Mills to actor Brad Pitt. Nolan said he read the POLITICO piece, but he’s not worried the comparison will do damage to his own political chances.

“I think the length of a person’s hair doesn’t have much to do with anything, quite frankly,” he said. “I’m not concerned about it.”

Nolan also talked with fellow trail workers about the Enbridge Energy Sandpiper oil pipeline planned to be built through northern Minnesota. He said while he supported the construction of the line, it should be re-routed to pass through heavy soil areas of the state, thus avoiding the areas that are more environmentally vulnerable to a leak.

“It can’t be going through these fragile areas,” he said.

When asked whether he thought oil transport by rail or by pipelines was safer, Nolan said that pipelines were safer but all transport methods carry some disadvantages.

“I think’s it’s pretty clear the pipelines are much safer, and I think the evidence supports that; a lot more people killed and damage done in these railroad accidents than pipelines,” he said. “But, people need to remember that they all have shortcomings.”

Pipelines leave a smaller carbon emissions footprint than transporting by trains or trucks, Nolan said.

Nolan also is in favor of allowing the construction of the PolyMet Mining’s new copper mine in northeast Minnesota, as long as the company follows all environmental regulations.

“For example, they have to treat the waters, they have to restore the earth to its natural terrain and replant it,” Nolan said.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency approved plans for the mine in March.

Zach Kayser
Zach Kayser covers local government and city issues for the Pioneer. He previously worked for the Wadena Pioneer Journal, and is an alumni of the University of Minnesota, Morris. 
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