Mining is core of lifetime partnership


Mesabi Daily News

October 29, 2013

By Bill Hanna

VIRGINIA, Minn. — Dick and Pam Backstrom are a lifetime mining couple.


How important is mining to their lives, their marriage, their family, their community? Well, when they talk mining, they often finish each other's sentences. Literally.


The founders of IDEA Drilling—who still continue as part-owners of the company—celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last June.


The Backstroms' partnership in mining since the 1970s has taken them on many adventures, from Minnesota to Brazil to Montana and back again to the Gopher State.


"In 1997, we founded IDEA Drilling in Montana," said Dick Backstrom during a recent interview at the company's offices. "And moved to Minnesota in 1999," said Pam Backstrom, finishing her husband's thought.


"We had one rig at first," said Dick Backstrom. "We now have 19 or 20," said Pam Backstrom, completing yet another tandem verbal comment.


While the company's workforce and payroll were slim at the time for the fledgling firm, but have since grown significantly. IDEA Drilling's employment now ranges from 85 to 150, depending on demand for mineral exploration.


Their vision is for a lot more jobs and a bigger payroll that would be realized in part by continued exploration for copper, nickel, platinum and palladium.


IDEA is currently doing exploratory work for Twin Metals Minnesota, which has offices in the Twin Cities, Ely and Babbitt, and plans a long-term nonferrous mining project that would create more than 1,300 permanent jobs, thousands more spin-off positions for other businesses and vendors and about 5,000 construction jobs.


The eastern Iron Range is home to one of the largest copper/nickel/strategic metals deposits in the world. That means a lot more jobs and families and local and state taxes and more financially strong communities in the area, the Backstroms say, their words once again layering together for a combined thought.


And that also means the same frustrations for both of them regarding some of the arguments of opponents to a new era of mining in the region and state.


They say those arguments fall under the weight of modern-day mining technology and very low-sulfide content of minerals in Minnesota's Duluth Complex compared to metals in the ground in other states.


Opponents fear mining rock with any sulfide holds the potential for severe environmental damage, especially through leeching into groundwater.


But mining and good environmental practices are not mutually-exclusive; they can be compatible, the Backstroms say.


"The sulfur of the rock here is I-1/2 percent," said Pam Backstrom. "Out west, it's 30 percent in some areas," said Dick Backstrom.


But frustration is nothing new for mining people—it comes with the territory. And the Backstroms are no exception.


"We're optimistic," said Dick Backstrom. "Absolutely," adds Pam Backstrom.

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