WASHINGTON DC,- Rick Nolan (D-MN8) has attended the first set of hearings on a bill involving land exchange in Minnesota’s boundary waters.
The bill, Superior National Land Exchange Act of 2017, hopes to sell some 6,650 acres of federal land to the copper-nickel mining company, Polymet. The exchange of land, which would give 6,690 acres of land to the federal government, was necessary in light of the lack of clarity in whether or not Polymet could minethere if the federal government still owned the land.
The bill states that in relation to Week’s Law, “the Forest Service has taken the position that the mineral rights that were reserved when the lands were acquired by the United States in 1935 do not include the right to surface mine as proposed by Poly Met.”
However, as Polymet owns the right to the underlying ore area, it is fuzzy whether or not the Forest Service can block them. The bill hopes to avoid litigation on the issue, fearing the precedent a legal battle may set.
However, environmentalist groups have filed four lawsuits against the sale of land. Both WaterLegacy and Center for Environmental Advocacy draw upon concerns that the state is selling the land at too low of a price. The appraisal done by the federal government has put the land it is exchanging at $550 dollars per acre. The lawsuit alludes that the forestry agency directed the appraisal to not take into consideration the mineral value underground.
In an interview with the Pioneer Press, Paula Maccabee, WaterLegacy’s advocacy director and attorney, said about the exchange, “The Forest Service’s failure to appraise the market value of the federal lands … as a whole property, failure to value the lands according to their most profitable, feasible, probable and intended use for mining related purposes, and failure to value the lands based on the most comparable Northeastern Minnesota transactions by mining companies in the private market reflected a willful blindness of the Forest Service to the intended use of the federal property; was neither reasonable nor credible.”
On its website, Polymet laid out the some of the advantages the exchange would have for both the company, the public, and the federal government. The company claims the mine would create more than 300 jobs in the area. The federal government will gain 505 acres of wetlands, improved management effectiveness by exchanging lands that have no public overland access with lands that do have access, and cost savings from the elimination of two easements the government is currently responsible for maintaining.
In the Congressional hearings, Nolan stated that the taxpayers would be saved from paying some $425,000 owed to Polymet under the arrangement in place now. Congressman Tom Emmer (R MN-6) is a cosponsor of the bill along with Tim Walz (D MN-1).