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Lawsuit filed against Dayton, state over copper-nickel leases

VIRGINIA -- Seven Iron Range residents and a nonprofit group have filed a lawsuit against Gov. Mark Dayton and the state of Minnesota, alleging that the governor's executive order to deny access and leases to a potential underground copper-nickel...

VIRGINIA - Seven Iron Range residents and a nonprofit group have filed a lawsuit against Gov. Mark Dayton and the state of Minnesota, alleging that the governor's executive order to deny access and leases to a potential underground copper-nickel mining operation financially harmed Minnesota residents.

Gerald Tyler, Tom Rukavina, Mike Forsman, Nancy McReady, Jay Mackie, Dan Waters and David Johnson are named as plaintiffs in the suit, along with Up North Jobs, a nonprofit group that promotes economic development and job growth in the region. Tyler, the chairman and executive director of Up North Jobs, spearheaded the lawsuit filed Feb. 21 in St. Louis County.

They're claiming Dayton's executive order directing the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to deny Twin Metals access to state lands was an overreach of power that will cost state residents millions of dollars through the school trust fund, 800 jobs connected to the project and another 1,440 jobs in related industries.

The lawsuit also claims that the governor violated the Minnesota constitution, state statute and the U.S. Constitution by taking away property, which they say is owned by the citizens, without a due process hearing.

"We think the time for talking is long past," Tyler said in an interview Wednesday.

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In March 2016, Dayton issued an order to the DNR effectively ending Twin Metals' exploratory efforts for the potential underground copper-nickel mine near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Ely. The project has since become the lightning rod of discussion between pro-mining and environmental groups, culminating in the federal government denying the company its renewal of mineral leases in December.

The lawsuit claims Dayton "colluded with anti-mining activists and federal officials" to halt mining projects in the Rainy River watershed near the Boundary Waters. It further says the order to the DNR was executed outside the purview of the state Executive Council, consisting of the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, auditor and attorney general, which must approve state leases for nonferrous metals.

"I strongly believe that I am acting within the scope of my authority as the chief executive of the state of Minnesota," Dayton said in a statement.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are asking a judge to declare that Dayton's actions violated state statute and intentionally interfered with the project, and ultimately reverse the executive order denying access to state lands.

The governor's office was served with suit Monday and has until March 19 to file a response with the court.

If a state judge allows the case to move forward, Tyler said it will be "joined at the hip" with the lawsuit Twin Metals filed against the federal Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service in September.

Rukavina, who joined the suit outside of his role as a St. Louis County Commissioner, is among the most outspoken on the federal government's decision to block Twin Metals and propose closing off hundreds of thousands more acres to future mining leases.

He launched a controversial resolution opposing the action at a Jan. 24 St. Louis County Board meeting, which was defeated on a 3-3 deadlock, but passed at the following meeting in February. A former state representative for 26 years, the lawsuit was a sensitive topic for Rukavina.

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"It was not an easy decision," he said. "I'm suing the governor of a party I've belonged to my entire life."

He echoed a familiar sentiment among Twin Metals supporters that the project, only in exploration phases when leases were denied, never went through the long-standing environmental review process. His county commission district contains the proposed Twin Metals project, and stands to benefit the most from any jobs and revenue that come with the mine.

"I have to stand up for our culture, our way of life," he said.

Related Topics: IRON RANGEMINING
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