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DNR set for mineral lease auction

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is getting ready to hold another auction of state mineral leases -- plots of northern Minnesota land mining companies can bid on to explore for copper, nickel, gold and other valuable metals.

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The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is getting ready to hold another auction of state mineral leases - plots of northern Minnesota land mining companies can bid on to explore for copper, nickel, gold and other valuable metals.

The DNR plans to offer 199 units across 103,000 acres in St. Louis, Aitkin, Carlton, Itasca, Koochiching, Cass and Kanabec Counties where the state holds the mineral rights.

The largest concentration of sites proposed for minerals exploration is about 30 miles north of Duluth, between Island and Whiteface lakes, in the Cloquet Valley State Forest.

The highest bidder gains exclusive rights to exploration, usually for five years, and can later negotiate mining rights for that parcel.

In most cases the state also owns the surface land in addition to the mineral rights below. But in some cases the state owns mineral rights under private land - and that's caused problems in recent years as landowners opposed mineral exploration on their property.

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The issue boiled over in between 2011 and 2013 when the state Executive Council at first delayed but ultimately approved mineral exploration contacts for several leases, especially in Lake County, where some landowners said they were unaware of the rights of mining companies to access their property.

Because of that public outcry, Gov.Mark Dayton ordered the DNR to make its mineral lease process easier for the public to understand and access.

DNR officials said Monday that they have incorporated a new process "designed to increase transparency, provide better access to information and afford an opportunity for public input."

This is the first mineral lease auction under the new system.

The DNR has posted maps showing all 199 sites on its website at www.dnr.state.mn.us

The website includes screening criteria used by the DNR in its review of potential areas for lease as well as an interactive web map showing the minerals exploration sites in relation to outdoor recreation areas and natural features.

Monday's announcement triggers a 60-day comment period for the public after which the DNR will revise its plan and submit a final list to the state Executive Council for final approval.

"We worked with the governor's office after 2012 ... and with the industry and environmental groups and came up with some criteria we think will help everyone find out early on exactly what we're talking about. The interactive map we have on the website is really good for that,'' Jess Richards, the DNR's director of Lands and Minerals, told the News Tribune.

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That's not to say there won't be some controversy. While 82 percent of the proposed sites are for mineral exploration below state or county managed land, about 6 percent are for state mineral rights under private property. Moreover, some of the sites are in new areas where there is no history of mining, and others are near popular hunting and fishing areas.

"We're expecting a robust comment period,'' Richards said.

The DNR notes that buying the right to explore for minerals is far from actual mining or even test drilling. Only about two percent of the mineral lease sites sever see any actual test drilling. So far, none have ever been mined. Before a state-owned parcel can be mined, the leaseholder must comply with all legal requirements for environmental review and permitting.

This is the DNR's 34th nonferrous mineral lease since the program began in 1966.

Following the receipt of bids, the state's Executive Council - the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state and state auditor - will make final decision about whether to approve new state mineral leases.

The upcoming auction is for nonferrous minerals such as copper, nickel, platinum, palladium, gold, silver, cobalt, chromium, zinc, lead, bismuth, tin, tungsten, tantalum and niobium.

Areas offered in fall mineral lease auction

Some 199 units encompassing about 103,000 state-owned mineral acres are being considered for lease:

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• Aitkin: 22,400 acres

• Carlton: 900 acres

• Cass: 6,600 acres

• Itasca: 12,700 acres

• Kanabec: 800 acres

• Koochiching: 11,800 acres

• St. Louis: 47,800 acres

Of those 46 percent have been leased before, 79 percent have been offered in past public lease sales since 1966. About 21 percent on are state school trust land and 61 percent on state tax forfeited land while 6 percent are on private land.

Related Topics: MINING
John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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