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PolyMet land-swap lawsuits put on hold

A federal judge on Tuesday stayed four lawsuits filed by environmental groups seeking to overturn the U.S. Forest Service's decision to trade land to PolyMet Mining Inc. for the land where the company wants to dig Minnesota's first copper mine.

U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen issued an order staying the four lawsuits while Congress considers legislation to force the land swap to go forward. The House passed the bill in November, while it remains in committee in the Senate. Ericksen's order also denied four motions to dismiss made by PolyMet.

Under the land exchange, approved by the Forest Service in early 2017, PolyMet would get access to the surface property at the mine site near Hoyt Lakes — the company already has mineral rights there — in exchange for a nearly equal amount of undeveloped forest land that had been privately owned within the boundaries of the Superior National Forest. PolyMet has purchase agreements for the land which would be transferred to the federal government if the deal survives legal challenge.

The lawsuits claim that taxpayers were shortchanged because the federal land at the mine site was drastically undervalued.