Non-Ferrous Mining Leases Approved Despite Land Owner Concerns
ST. PAUL - A vote on 77 non-ferrous mining leases that was pushed aside six months ago was approved by a unanimous vote at the State Capitol Thursday.
Companies now have the ability to explore more than 20,000 acres of public and private land to check for deposits of copper, nickel and other metals.
The discoveries could set the stage for future mines.
The vote took place after about an hour and a half of testimony from passionate speakers on both sides of the issue.
"I think you should simply exclude the private property owners from this lease sale," Steve Broadagin, an Isabella Cabin owner, said.
Brodagin and others with properties in St. Louis, Koochiching, Itasca and Lake counties pleaded their case to the Executive Council Thursday.
Private owners said they were not happy with the fact that the Department of Natural Resources has rights to minerals in their ground, and cannot necessarily control their property in the future.
The now-approved leases mean companies can start testing it.
"I just want you to know if you approve these mineral leases, you'll be giving mining companies the option to seize our family cabin," Gus Axelson, an Isabella cabin owner, said.
But mining supporters said the odds of sampled land actually turning into a mine are small; one investor cited the statistic as about one in 4,000.
They asked the council not to exclude private properties that make up about 25 percent of the leases; that it would send a positive signal to companies that would investment in Minnesota.
"We have to provide them at least with a fair playing field otherwise they're going to make investments elsewhere around the world," Steve Vincent from Northland Securities said.
Mining supporters also cited the large economic impact that the new operations could bring to the region.
Even though home owners and environmentalists said there were several unknowns about non–ferrous mining, the council moved forward with the DNR's request to approve the leases.
"We're not a policy body," Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon said.
"Mining is important to our way of life and it's always difficult to balance the competing interests," State Auditor Rebecca Otto said. "It is my job to take facts from these leases and make a decision."
Gov. Mark Dayton explained the decision was reflective of how process was designed and offered an opinion to those who disagreed.
"Property owners raised some very valid concerns," Dayton said. "If people want to change that policy or change the direction of the state, or put in additional safeguards or procedures, you have to get involved in the legislative process."
Gov. Dayton also suggested the DNR should work to improve communications in the future, so that land owners know what to expect with potential mining leases.