Twin Metals Minnesota sues feds over minerals lease renewals

Published 10:00 am Tuesday, September 13, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS — A mining company that hopes to build an underground copper-nickel mine near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness sued the federal government Monday to try to keep the mineral rights leases it needs for the $2.8 billion project to go forward.

Twin Metals Minnesota’s lawsuit seeks to invalidate a recent opinion by the solicitor of the U.S. Department of the Interior that the company doesn’t have an automatic right to renew its two leases, which were first issued in 1966 and last renewed in 2004. The lawsuit said earlier renewals were routinely granted.

The solicitor’s opinion, sent to the federal Bureau of Land Management, has “cast a cloud of uncertainty” over the project, blocking the company from engaging in long-term planning, investment, development and operational decisions, Twin Metals’ Chief Operating Officer Ian Duckworth said in a statement.

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The lawsuit decried the solicitor’s opinion as an “unlawful evisceration” of the company’s property rights, because nobody would incur the risks of making the necessary investments in a mine without the right to renew. The complaint alleged the government changed the rules amid “increased political pressure and intense opposition from environmental groups.”

The mine near Ely would lie within a watershed that flows into the pristine Boundary Waters. While there are vast untapped reserves of copper, nickel and precious metals under northeastern Minnesota, the metals are tied up in sulfide-bearing minerals, which can leach sulfuric acid and heavy metals when exposed to air and water.