Minnesota governor denies access to state lands for Twin Metals mine

March 8, 2016

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said he will not grant access to state land to Twin Metals for the development of a copper and nickel mine. Dayton said he was concerned about the impact the mine could have on the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA).

In a letter to Twin Metals, the governor stated for the first time publically he opposition to the mine. The letter came a week after the state approval of a 10-year environmental review for PolyMet Mining’s NorthMet project. The difference in the projects is location. PolyMet’s project lies in a watershed that drains southeast into Lake Superior, while the Twin Metals watershed drains north toward the BWCA.

“As I told you, I have grave concerns about the use of state surface lands for mining related activities in close proximity to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness,” Dayton said in the letter. “I am not questioning the qualifications of either Twin Metals or its parent company Antofagasta PLC. Rather, my concern is for the inherent risks associated with any mining operation in close proximity to the BWCAW and my concern about the state of Minnesota's actively promoting advancement of such operations by permitting access to state lands.”

Dayton also said he had made his views clear to the director of U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which oversees federal land nearby and is close to a pivotal decision in its own review of the Twin Metals project.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that Twin Metals is in the preliminary stages of a proposed underground mine near Birch Lake and the Kawishiwi River, which flows into the BWCA. It said in a recent report that it plans to start seeking regulatory approval in 2018 for a mine that would take about three years to build at a cost of $2.8 billion. It would be a massive construction project and the mine would eventually employ 850 people, a far larger operation than the proposed PolyMet openpit mine.

Twin Metals asked for access to state land for development work, which the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources had approved. But Dayton blocked it, saying he would not advance any copper-nickel mining projects until PolyMet has completed the regulatory process.
PolyMet is expected to apply for formal mining permits this year. Dayton has said he has not made up his mind on whether to move forward with that mine either.

His firm and public stance on the subject is likely to roil the politics of the upcoming legislative session, which will debate more jobless benefits to laid-off taconite mine workers.

The response from pro-mining legislators was swift.

“The governor is once again putting the interests of extreme environmentalists ahead of job creation in northern Minnesota,” said Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, who chairs the House Mining and Outdoor Recreation Policy Committee. “Today’s letter from Gov. Dayton begs the question: Does he believe mining is a part of Minnesota's future?”

It's not clear at this point how or whether the project will move forward. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is expected to soon announce its decision on whether to require an environmental review of some kind on the federal mineral leases Twin Metals owns. Those leases have been in place since the mid-1960s, long before federal laws took effect requiring environmental review of mining. The leases are critical to the project as they would provide the company access to the copper ore.

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