Carlton County investigates decision to deny drilling permit
Carlton County officials are investigating whether they have authority to block minerals exploration on private land in Mahtowa Township. A decision this month by the Carlton County Board to deny a conditional use permit to allow exploration has ...
Carlton County officials are investigating whether they have authority to block minerals exploration on private land in Mahtowa Township.
A decision this month by the Carlton County Board to deny a conditional use permit to allow exploration has been called into question by attorneys for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Minerals Processing Corporation of Duluth.
In an unprecedented move earlier in the month, the board voted 4-1 to deny an application that would have allowed exploratory drilling on land owned by Matthew DeCaigny. The board's decision came on the heels of a petition from area residents who claimed a mining operation would compromise their privacy and rural lifestyle as well as pose a threat to the ground water.
But the DNR's attorneys told the Carlton County Board last week that Minnesota statute says "no land owned or leased by the federal or state government shall be subject to official controls of the county." The Mahtowa Township property in question is "not subject to local zoning laws, and the county board has no authority to authorize or deny a conditional use permit in this case," attorney Vicki Sellner said.
Carlton County Zoning Director Bruce Benson said mineral exploration on privately owned land has always required a conditional use permit from the county.
"Before the county agrees not to regulate this matter, I suggest we look into it further," Benson said. "Because I disagree with [the DNR's] interpretation."
Reinforcing Sellner's statement, however, was attorney Charles Andresen of Duluth, representing Minerals Processing Corporation.
"Under Minnesota statute, the county doesn't have jurisdiction in this case," he said.
Paul Gassert, Carlton County auditor/treasurer, said the property in question was forfeited to the county for nonpayment of taxes in 1939, and at that time the mineral rights on that land were signed over to the state. When the property was later sold, only the surface rights were transferred to the owner, with the underground mineral rights retained by the state.
Commissioners argued that because the land itself is now privately owned, it shouldn't fall under the statute that gives the state pre-eminence over the county when it comes to permitting.
The board will address the question further at its next meeting, 8:30 a.m. March 9 at the Carlton County Courthouse.