Public hearing on Twin Metals mining leases to be held on Iron Range
After pressure from local, state and federal politicians, the U.S. Forest Service has decided to hold a public comment and listening session on the Iron Range regarding the renewal of mining leases for the proposed Twin Metals copper mine on the ...
After pressure from local, state and federal politicians, the U.S. Forest Service has decided to hold a public comment and listening session on the Iron Range regarding the renewal of mining leases for the proposed Twin Metals copper mine on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
The offices of Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Al Franken and Rep. Rick Nolan issued a statement Thursday night announcing the addition of an Iron Range hearing, beyond the one previously scheduled to be held in Duluth next week. The time and location of the Iron Range hearing have not yet been announced; the Duluth hearing is scheduled to take place from 5-7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.
Nolan said the congressional delegation pressed Forest Service officials on the issue over the past week, including a joint letter to Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, a rally in Virginia and a call from Nolan to Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie on Wednesday. Nolan said it was important to have a public hearing on the leases on the Iron Range "where the people are most directly affected" by the proposed project.
"I was pleased to learn today that they've decided to do that," he said Thursday. "We wanted to have a chance to make it as accessible (as possible) for everybody on the Range to have an opportunity to testify."
The Forest Service has raised environmental concerns about the proposed Twin Metals mine's proximity to the BWCAW as one reason to gather public comments as it decides whether to support or oppose renewing the mining leases, originally issued in the 1960s. The ultimate decision on the leases is up to the federal Bureau of Land Management, but the Forest Service decision is seen as critical.
In announcing the public input process last month, Forest Service officials said they had not made a decision on the leases but said they were considering withholding their support.
Steve Giorgi, executive director of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools, told the News Tribune last week - when the Duluth hearing was the only one scheduled - that Iron Range-elected officials were upset that their constituents were being excluded from the process.
"It's not really convenient for our working families to have to get down to Duluth on a weekday in July," he said.
Giorgi noted that the leases - which allow companies the right to prospect for minerals and, if they chose, to mine on land where the federal government holds the mineral rights - have for decades been renewed through an administrative process. The fact the Forest Service and BLM are opening the issue to opponents "is unprecedented," he said.
Critics of the Twin Metals project, however, say the leases have never been properly renewed since the National Environmental Policy Act was passed decades ago and should be now held to the standard of that federal law.
It's unclear if Twin Metals could continue without the federal land access.