Toronto Company Completes Land Exchange to Build Minnesota Mine
Posted on: January 16, 2017
Hoyt Lakes, Minnesota
PolyMet proposes a new mine to be located at Hoyt Lakes, Minnesota, 87 km./54 mi. due north of Duluth.

A copper, nickel and precious metals mine proposed for Minnesota and well within the Lake Superior watershed is one step closer to reality.  A land exchange with the U.S. Forest Service to facilitate development of the mine was recently approved. Development of the proposed mine has been extremely contentious.

The mine is being proposed by PolyMet Inc. of Toronto, Canada for a location in the Hoyt Lakes area, approximately 87 km./54 miles due north of Duluth. Although the land exchange is in place, the proposed mine must still meet federal and state regulations, including those of Minnesota Pollution Control.
The land exchange was carried out in response to contention about the legality of constructing an open pit mine on federal land, namely the Superior National Forest. Rather than going to court, the U.S. Forest service decided it was in the best interests of all concerned, as well as in the interest of economic development and responsibilities to area tribes, to proceed with a land exchange. Lands acquired in the exchange include extensive wetlands, some of which will be used for research.

The Forest Service will exchange 6,650 acres of federal land for 6690 acres of non-federal land scattered throughout the region. The Forest Service believed an open pit mine was not permissible on its federal land. PolyMet argued its subsurface mineral rights gave it the ability to mine.

The mine will benefit from what Polymet says is the largest known undeveloped deposit of copper, nickel and precious metals in the world.  The company says the mine will have a substantial positive economic impact, including employment for 360 people and annual generation of $515 million in wages, benefits and spending in St. Louis County, where the community of Hoyt Lakes is located. Polymet cites a figure of $20 billion in economic benefits over the 20 year permit period for the mine. The company says it controls 100% of the “NorthMet” ore body, which is located in the 1.1 billion year old Mid-Continent Rift.  PolyMet will utilize an open pit method for mining.

A statement on the PolyMet website notes the company’s environmental commitment:

The mine and processing facilities will comply with all applicable state and federal standards designed to protect Minnesota’s water, air, and other natural resources at the project site, which is 175 river miles upstream from Lake Superior. The plant and mine site are not in the Rainy River Watershed that includes the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW).

Friends of the Boundary Waters does not support the exchange and says the company should meet all federal and state requirements before a land exchange takes place. The organization says serious environmental factors come into play, including perpetual wastewater treatment, even after the mine has closed. Friends of the Boundary Waters says the taxpayers of Minnesota should not be made to pay for such ongoing costs, as the mine may close at any time, due to market conditions or other factors beyond control of the company. Others argue that Minnesota taxpayers are paying for the environmental liabilities associated with a number of mines across the state, even though the mines closed long ago. They argue that while environmental liabilities persist, profits from these mines accrued to shareholders outside the Minnesota region and have vanished, just like the mines which produced these profits.

Friends of the Boundary Waters provide the following rationale for their contention that the mine should not go ahead:
The transfer of thousands of acres of Superior National Forest land to PolyMet is a bad deal for taxpayers, premature, and not in the public interest. No exchange of land can undo the damage that PolyMet would do to this area. The land that PolyMet seeks to mine contains thousands of acres of high-value wetlands that are irreplaceable. The standard for federal land exchanges is that the exchange must be in the public interest. PolyMet would create polluted water that would require expensive treatment for hundreds of years. PolyMet would be the largest permitted destruction of wetlands in Minnesota history. The risk to the St. Louis River, Lake Superior, and downstream communities from this mine proposal demonstrates why it is not in the public interest. The land exchange is a bad deal for taxpayers and the public. The land PolyMet would receive has been valued at just $550 per acre, well below its actual value as land essential to a mining proposal. The federal government will even have to pay $425,000 in cash to PolyMet. If a land exchange is to occur, it should at least fairly value the land and protect taxpayers.

LINKS:

Land Exchange Overview

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