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Fourth lawsuit filed against PolyMet land exchange

Yet another lawsuit has been filed against the U.S. Forest Service decision to approve the land exchange that enables PolyMet Mining Inc. to acquire the property where it wants to build Minnesota's first copper mine. The groups Save Our Sky Blue ...

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A PolyMet Mining official explains in December 2013 how the company will use rod mills, one of which is at right, to crush metal-bearing rock from 1/2-sized pieces to small pieces of gravel as part of the process of extracting copper, nickel and other metals from the planned mine. The mills are part of the old LTV processing plant now owned by PolyMet. (News Tribune file photo)
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Yet another lawsuit has been filed against the U.S. Forest Service decision to approve the land exchange that enables PolyMet Mining Inc. to acquire the property where it wants to build Minnesota's first copper mine.

The groups Save Our Sky Blue Waters, Save Lake Superior Association and the Sierra Club North Star Chapter filed the suit late Monday in federal court in Minnesota, claiming the Forest Service violated the federal Weeks Act that dictates how some national forest land must be used.

It's the fourth suit filed against the land exchange but the first suit to target the Weeks Act.

"The USFS is ignoring its own mandate to protect land acquired under the Weeks Act for watershed protection. Approving the land exchange for PolyMet's destructive mine is especially egregious, since the PolyMet mine would be located on the headwaters of Lake Superior, an internationally important watershed," the groups said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. "By agreeing to a land exchange, the USFS is going against its own mission statement: To sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations."

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In January, the Forest Service approved a deal that would give PolyMet 6,650 acres of land at the proposed mine site near Babbitt in exchange for a equal value of undeveloped forest land within the boundary of the Superior National Forest. That land had been privately owned but was purchased by PolyMet to include in the trade.

Also Tuesday, another lawsuit - promised in January by the Center for Biological Diversity - was officially filed in federal court claiming the Forest Service decision violated the Endangered Species Act because the mine site land is potential habitat for threatened wolves and lynx.

On Monday, the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Duluth Chapter of the Izaak Walton League filed a suit in U.S. District Court in Minnesota claiming the Forest Service valued the land traded to Polymet far below market value. A nearly identical suit based on low land appraisal was filed in January by WaterLegacy.

PolyMet counters that the land was appraised and valued properly and that biological findings by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service showed no major issues with the land exchange involving threatened species.

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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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