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Court dismisses PolyMet land exchange lawsuits

In June 2018, PolyMet exchanged 6,900 acres of its land for 6,500 acres of U.S. Forest Service land. Opponents said the U.S Forest Service undervalued the land.

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PolyMet is reusing and reclaiming the former LTV Steel Mining site near Hoyt Lakes. Photo courtesy of PolyMet Mining
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A federal judge dismissed lawsuits challenging a land exchange between the U.S. Forest Service and PolyMet, the mining company trying to open Minnesota's first copper-nickel mine.

U.S. District Court Judge Joan Ericksen said the groups that filed the lawsuits, which argued the U.S Forest Service undervalued the land exchanged with PolyMet, lacked standing.

In June 2018, PolyMet exchanged 6,900 acres of its land for 6,500 acres of U.S. Forest Service land. The mine plans on using that land for its open-pit copper-nickel mine.

Supporters of the project say the mine would bring much needed jobs to the area while opponents argue the project could send tainted runoff into the St. Louis River watershed and Lake Superior.

In a news release, the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, which represented itself, the W.J. McCabe Chapter of the Izaak Walton League and the Center for Biological Diversity in the lawsuits, noted "the court dismissed the lawsuits without prejudice, which allows them to be refiled in the future."

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The Sierra Club and WaterLegacy also filed separate lawsuits challenging the land exchange, both of which were also dismissed late Monday.

In a statement, MCEA CEO Kathryn Hoffman called the land exchange a "sweetheart land deal" for the mining company.

"Everybody who pays taxes or uses our public lands was harmed by the PolyMet land giveaway," Hoffman said. "The people of northern Minnesota deserved their day in court to challenge this sweetheart land deal for PolyMet and they haven’t gotten it yet."

Jon Cherry, president and CEO of PolyMet, celebrated the decision in a news release Tuesday morning.

“We are grateful for the court’s thoughtful and careful consideration of this matter and pleased that a longer process in the district court now will be avoided,” Cherry said.

The project still faces numerous legal challenges in state and federal court , and it's led to the suspension of several of PolyMet's permits.

In August, the Minnesota Court of Appeals put PolyMet's water permit on hold after a leaked email showed an MPCA official requested the EPA not comment on the draft permit until public comment ended , which also spurred three separate inquires.

Last month, the court also placed PolyMet's permit to mine and tailings dam permit on hold after concerns were raised over whether Glencore, PolyMet's new majority shareholder, would be added to the permits and if the DNR properly considered the catastrophic Brunadinho dam failure in Brazil.

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The court ordered a temporary stay of the permits until an oral hearing scheduled Oct. 23 to address the questions raised by the court.

Related Topics: ENERGY AND MININGPOLYMET
Jimmy Lovrien covers energy, mining and the 8th Congressional District for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at jlovrien@duluthnews.com or 218-723-5332.
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