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From the Current Skillings Mining Review
A Tribute To Congressman James Oberstar

Cong. Oberstar was Minnesota's longest-serving congressman, elected to 18 consecutive terms in Congress and serving through 2010. Following his tragic demise on Friday May 2, the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) President and CEO Kurt Nagle said that the past chair of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee was “a tireless proponent for investing in America’s transportation infrastructure." He was 79 years old. Oberstar served northeastern Minnesota's 8th Congressional District and is credited with securing millions of dollars in federal funding for the state during his long tenure, thanks to his position as head of the Transportation Committee. Jason George, the political and legislative director for the Local 49 operating engineers union said, “we never had a better champion in our entire Local history than Chairman Oberstar...He really believed in infrastructure and transportation and the jobs it creates,” The U.S. House of Representatives honored former Rep. Jim Oberstar on the evening of May 6, 2014 by observing a moment of silence after the day's business was conducted on the chamber floor. "Great Lakes shipping has lost its greatest friend and staunchest supporter," James Weakley, president of Lake Carriers' Association, said in a statement. "He was at the forefront of every effort to make waterborne commerce on the Lakes and Seaway safer and more efficient. When the U.S. Coast Guard proposed to retire its most powerful icebreaker on the Lakes, the Mackinaw, without replacement, Oberstar demanded the cutter remain in service until a replacement was built.'' The new Mackinaw was launched in 2006. Weakley also credited Oberstar for pushing hard for expansion of the lock system at Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. Weakley noted, however, that funding for the expansion hasn't yet been approved.


"In 2003, AAPA honored Cong. Oberstar with its prestigious ‘Port Person of the Year’ award for his many contributions to advancing America’s freight transportation system, including authoring or co-authoring six Water Resources Development Acts from 1986 to 2000, and various Coast Guard and Coastal Zone Management reauthorizations and amendments,” said Mr. Nagle. “He was among the most knowledgeable of all members of Congress about the value of our nation's ports and waterways for delivering economic sustainability and job growth.” In March 2010, Cong. Oberstar returned to the AAPA stage as a keynote speaker to share his views about the importance of authorizing new surface transportation legislation. “This passionate and committed 18-term legislator was one of America’s strongest advocates for investing in transportation infrastructure, and he will be missed.” This is not the first time that Great Lakes shipping interests have honored Oberstar. In May 2011, Interlake Steamship Co. renamed one of its lakers the Hon. James L. Oberstar. The 710-foot freighter is a frequent visitor to the ports at Duluth and Superior, Wis. "Interlake and all U.S.-flag operators on the Lakes owed Congressman Oberstar a tremendous debt of gratitude, and it was our pleasure to place his name on the bow and stern of a Great Lakes freighter," said James R. Barker, Interlake chairman. "It is so fitting that his name graces the hull, for just as he fought for American workers for decades, this ship will for decades to come deliver Minnesota iron ore to steel mills throughout the Great Lakes basin and keep America strong." On Thursday (May 8), at almost the same time as the funeral services for Congressman James L. Oberstar in Washington D.C., the U.S.-flag laker that bears his name arrived in the Port of Duluth-Superior to load iron ore pellets – a Great Lakes transit reflective of both the mining and maritime industries he so tirelessly advocated for  during his 36 years in Congress. When the ship’s bow neared the Aerial Lift Bridge, the ship’s master blew a full, formal Interlake Fleet Salute in honor of Mr. Oberstar.  The Interlake Fleet Salute is 2 long blasts, followed by 3 short. The Captain drew out the salute for full effect and, as per maritime tradition, the Bridge returned the same.


Born on September 10, 1934 in Chisholm, Minn. - the son of an Iron Range miner - Oberstar was proud of his Iron Range heritage. His father Louie was the first card-carrying Minnesotan of the United Steelworkers. He earned political science and French degrees at the University of St. Thomas, and he studied in Belgium, Quebec and Washington, D.C. before joining the staff of U.S. Rep. John Blatnik. He worked as administrator of the Committee on Public Works for three years until he was elected to Congress in 1974, succeeding Blatnik. Over his tenure, Oberstar had a generally liberal voting record but also championed causes close to his district, especially mining and labor. In the 1980s, Oberstar attached an amendment to a transportation funding bill mandating projects use only American-mined steel, a requirement Richard said endeared Oberstar to the mining industry he represented. Bill Richard - Oberstar’s long-time friend and chief of staff  - said that the latter "...was the complete package in terms of being a congressman...He put people first, the district first, and never tired of working for them.”



Aaron Brown, an Iron Range writer and former DFL operative, credited Oberstar’s work on transportation projects with building the range up over his tenure. He was a “steadfast voice” on labor issues during his time in office, Brown said, and that secured support from the range’s union workers. But Oberstar contributed more than just infrastructure improvements and new public works projects, Brown added. He was also able to hold together a political coalition of social conservatives and economic liberals who were focused on improving the range first and foremost. “He was obviously a Democrat and carried a lot of water on Democratic issues for the region, but I think what he really did was connect many different generations and many different groups that lived here, and despite the dramatic partisan changes between the two parties, he kept a coalition together that made a lot of sense for the Iron Range,” Brown said.

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