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Feds propose renewing Twin Metals leases

Twin Metals headquarters in Ely. (2018 file / News Tribune)

The Bureau of Land Management proposed renewing hardrock mineral leases in the Rainy River Watershed near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on Thursday, initiating a 30-day comment period.

The federal leases belong to Twin Metals, a wholly owned subsidiary of Chilean mining conglomerate Antofagasta, which is planning a copper mine along the Kawishiwi River near Ely that critics say could send tainted runoff into the BWCAW.

The BLM's proposal includes new stipulations on the leases in its "proposed action" while the "no-action alternative" would renew the leases under the same conditions as the leases' last renewal in 2004.

Proposed changes were outlined in an updated environmental assessment released Thursday. Comments on the assessment will be accepted through Jan. 22.

The federal mineral leases were first issued in 1966 and renewed in both 1989 and 2004. Twin Metals filed for the third renewal of the leases in 2012.

Twin Metals' mineral leases were rescinded by the Obama administration in 2016 as the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it was too close to the BWCAW. The leases were returned by the Trump administration in May.

The Department of Agriculture opened the door for mineral lease renewals in September when it ended a mineral withdrawal proposal in the Rainy River Watershed and Superior National Forest initiated by the Obama administration.

In a statement, Gov. Mark Dayton said the decision to renew leases would endanger the BWCAW.

"Driven by greed and willful ignorance, the Trump Administration has consistently demonstrated an insatiable appetite for selling out to large corporate interests, at the expense of our environment. Yet again, they have pulled out all the stops to kowtow to the financial interests of a large Chilean corporation with a terrible environmental record," Dayton said.

In a statement, Twin Metals said the public comment period would allow for greater public input and transparency.

"Twin Metals looks forward to the timely and proper completion of the lease renewal process. We continue to look forward to the opportunity to present a formal Mine Plan of Operations for review by the federal government," Twin Metals said.

According to the BLM, written comments should be addressed to MN Hardrock Lease Renewal EA Project Manager, Northeastern States District Office, 626 E. Wisconsin Ave., Ste. 200, Milwaukee, WI 53202.

Jimmy Lovrien

Jimmy Lovrien is a reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. He spent the summer of 2015 as an intern for the Duluth News Tribune and was hired full time in October 2017 as a reporter for the Weekly Observer. He also reported for the Lake County News-Chronicle in 2017-18. Lovrien grew up in Alexandria, Minn., but moved to Duluth in 2013 to attend The College of St. Scholastica. Lovrien graduated from St. Scholastica in 2017 with a bachelor's degree in English and history. He also spent a summer studying journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

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