Dayton vows no state land for Twin Metals

Newton Lake, BWCAW, Minnesota

Newton Lake, BWCAW, Minnesota

On Monday, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton took a stand against allowing Twin Metals to access public land for its proposed copper nickel mine near Ely and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

From Gov. Dayton’s letter:

I have grave concerns about the use of state surface lands for mining related activities in close proximity to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). I am not questioning the qualifications of either Twin Metals or its parent company Antofagasta PLC. Rather my concern is for the inherent risks associated with any mining operation in close proximity to the BWCAW and my concern about the State of Minnesota’s actively promoting advancement of such operations by permitting access to state lands.

As you know the BWCAW is a crown jewel in Minnesota and a national treasure. It is the most visited wilderness in the eastern US, and a magnificently unique assemblage of forest and waterbodies, an extraordinary legacy of wilderness adventure, and the home to iconic species like moose and wolves. I have an obligation to ensure it is not diminished in any way. Its uniqueness and fragility require that we exercise special care when we evaluate significant land use changes in the area, and I am unwilling to take risks with that Minnesota environmental icon.

In light of my concern about using state lands to advance mining operations in close proximity to the BWCAW and given the uncertainty surrounding Twin Metals’ federal mineral leases, I wish to inform you that I have directed the DNR not to authorize or enter into any new state access agreements or lease agreements for mining operations on those state lands.

The move comes on the heels of Dayton’s administration accepting the final environmental impact statement for PolyMet, a project that proposes to be the state’s first copper nickel mine. That decision allows PolyMet to seek permits to mine near Babbitt and process ore at the former LTV plant in Hoyt Lakes.

That project, however, takes place in the Lake Superior watershed, the same one in which current taconite mines operate. PolyMet opponents and skeptics still suggest the risk remains just as perilous in that watershed, but the proposals have nonetheless been treated differently.

The real intrigue here is in seeing Dayton’s approach to the balance between the promise of jobs and risks of this more invasive form of mining. Ultimately, he and his advisors will make the decision about permits. It’s clear that he’s been inclined to support PolyMet at different times. But unlike the more ardent mining supporters on the Iron Range Dayton has now staked out a bold position against mining projects near the BWCA.

It’s not clear what this means for PolyMet, but it’s certainly not good news for Twin Metals.



  1. I don’t understand the timing of this announcement. It doesn’t seem like Dayton HAD to make this decision, so why announce it any earlier than needed? Especially when it’s the day before the legislative session when he is going to be arguing for a clean bill to extended unemployed steelworkers UI benefits.

    If the PolyMet process has proven anything, it’s that firm stances can always be “kicked down the road.” The Twin Metals project was always going to be under greater scruitiny than the PolyMet project due to the watershed into the BWCAW. It seems like Dayton could’ve turned a blind eye and let the project fizzle out on its own down the road.

    I fear that the Governor is leading the DFL down a slippery slope of handing the Iron Range to the GOP for generations to come. Especially if he ultimately vetoes the PolyMet permitting, which he could very well do.

  2. Gerald S says

    My take on the timing is that Dayton is sending a message that the approval of PolyMet does not signal the automatic approval of subsequent non-ferrous mining. People on both side of PolyMet have argued that it is the key to opening the door to as many as 20 more mining projects. Dayton is saying that that is not so, and that each will be assessed independently, without PolyMet acting as a precedent to allow “me too” permitting.

    I would also guess that this is a signal that Dayton will approve PolyMet, offering something to each side.

    The Twin Metals project is years away from any forward movement, since Antofagasta has stated publicly that they will not even begin work on the project and its approval until metal prices recover, so that makes the case a symbol that, for people on either side who are paying any attention, that has very little real impact at this time.

  3. Gray Camp says

    I’m guessing Twin Metals was pushing Dayton on getting access to those areas while the ground was still frozen. Dayton knows that he may not be the governor in a couple years during the EIS and decided he wanted to try and kill it before he no longer has a say in it.

    The Twin Metals public relations for their project have been arguing for years that when the BWCAW was formed, the compromise was the politicians who supported forming the BWCAW said they would support mining and logging (even in the Superior National Forest) immediately outside the BWCA border as long as they would protect the region inside the wildlife area. It may even be written into the law protecting the BWCAW. Does anyone know if this is true?


      Pages 7-9 talks about mining. I’m definitely not a lawyer so it’s difficult for me to completely understand it. It mostly talks about mining and mineral rights within the actual BWCAW/Mining Protection Area.

      A major sticking point I see would be the part:

      “the use of property owned by the United States in relation to any mining of or exploration for minerals in such areas which may materially impair the wilderness qualities of the wilderness area or which may materially impair the natural values and environmental quality of the mining protection area.”

      I would think it would be pretty easy to argue that the watershed of a new mining endeavor could “materially impair the wilderness qualities.” Like I said, I’m definitely not a lawyer, so I’m just trying to interpret the law as it was written almost 40 years ago.

  4. Gray Camp says

    Thanks for posting the link to the BWCAW act.
    Everyone has a different opinion on what “materially impair” means. That’s the big debate with these new mines (and other development).

  5. Gray Camp says

    Mr. Nolan provides some back-up information related to the topic.

  6. Observing the political officials crawling over each other to hand public property over shows their co-option and ignorance. This is directly out of Mussolini’s Italy and reflects the state of world affairs, a top down, essentially centralized form of control: rule by the wealthy through corporations. These officials claiming to be DFL is ridiculous, as they merely cooperate to hand over public resources for scraps from the table. Their methods have brought nothing but ghost towns, an economy so chaotic entire generations have left, and their best known representative responds to this by advocating the banning of beer in local taverns in a symbolic gesture of stupidity demanding the rest of us accept the downstream pollution. There is a reason no one is fighting with the steelworkers, and that is the constant, arrogant demands to “get what we want or else,” including having your representatives change laws,threaten, dispense taxpayer dollars to friends and keep it all secret. Here is an alert…you are now so small and insignificant you no longer matter. It matters only to those few officials who will benefit and profit and they represent only themselves. People are tired of public officials handing out resources to polluters. Permitting is not protection; it is license to pollute and nothing more. Nolan might just bury himself with this sort of garbage.

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