On January 9, 2017, the U.S. Forest Service approved the transfer of 6,650 acres of Superior National Forest to PolyMet Mining Inc. for its proposed open pit copper-nickel mine.

WaterLegacy Suit Filed in Minnesota Federal Court to Block PolyMet Land Exchange Sweetheart Deal

Just three weeks after the PolyMet land exchange was approved, on January 30, 2017, WaterLegacy filed suit in Minnesota federal court challenging the PolyMet land exchange as a violation of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and a sweetheart deal for PolyMet at the expense of users of public lands and taxpayers. WaterLegacy submitted an expert appraisal review explaining that the federal lands to be transferred to PolyMet were undervalued at only $550 by considering only their use for timber, while lands sold by private northeast Minnesota landowners to mining companies commanded much higher prices. 

Jason L. Messner, MAI, a valuation expert who reviewed the appraisal used by the Forest Service, concluded that valuation of federal lands for the proposed PolyMet mine site “based solely on its value for forestry and timber production, is not reasonable and results in an opinion of value that is not credible.”

PolyMet made a motion to dismiss all of WaterLegacy’s claims. Several other environmental groups then filed three additional lawsuits challenging the PolyMet land exchange under federal environmental and public lands laws. PolyMet made additional motions to dismiss all of their claims challenging the PolyMet land exchange. 

All four cases are still pending in federal court.

READ Duluth News Tribune:

"The 20-page lawsuit filed in Minnesota claims “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. . .”

READ Lawsuit against PolyMet land exchange raises potent issue of taxpayers rights in MinnPost: 

"WaterLegacy’s claim strikes me for multiple reasons as highly problematic for PolyMet and also for the Forest Service... WaterLegacy is stating a problem that can be measured in dollars. Better yet, taxpayer dollars."

READ Lawsuit: PolyMet got a ‘sweetheart deal’ on USFS land exchange in The Timberjay.

READ Suit claims swap with PolyMet grossly undervalued public land in the Star Tribune

READ Selected Court Filings:

The complete court file can be reviewed in the U.S. District Court electronic filing system. The case file number is 17-cv-276 and the Court has a process for public access to court electronic records.

Bill to Compel PolyMet Land Exchange Criticized for Undercutting Due Process, Environmental Law, Federal Obligations to Tribes, Fair Compensation and a Sustainable Climate

Over the July 4th weekend, Cong. Rick Nolan introduced a federal bill (HR 3115) that would force the PolyMet land exchange and prevent the federal court from analyzing whether the land exchange ripped off the public in violation of federal law. That bill was passed in the House of Representatives on November 28, 2017. No action has been taken in the Senate.

The PolyMet land exchange bill would sets a precedent circumventing federal law and due process:

"This kind of circumventing the courts, circumventing due process, sets a very bad precedent for PolyMet, and also leaves the potential that Minnesota taxpayers and users of public land will be ripped off by this project," said Paula Maccabee, advocacy director and attorney for WaterLegacy, one of the groups that filed a lawsuit.

READ Minnesota Public Radio coverage here

More than 60 Minnesota, regional and national environmental groups oppose a federal bill to compel the PolyMet land exchange. 

“HR 3115 would set a terrible precedent across the United States. HR 3115 undercuts due process, undermines bedrock environmental laws, and undervalues public land.”

The National Congress of American Indians enacted a resolution in October 2017 opposing the PolyMet land exchange and a federal bill to compel the transfer of public lands. 

“[S]uch congressional action sets a dangerous precedent by bypassing important and long-standing laws that ensure tribal lands, resources, and reserved rights are protected, consistent with the federal government’s Treaty and trust obligations to Indian tribes, and subject to the right to seek judicial review of federal agency decision.”

North Shore businessman Bill Hansen explained in a Duluth News Tribune Commentary that a federal bill to force the PolyMet cheats the public.

“I think we all can agree our national forests shouldn't be given to wealthy foreign investors without, at the very least, fair compensation in return. As state Sen. Erik Simonson of Duluth asked in a tweet, "Since when does our government work for foreign corporations?"

READ Bill Hansen’s complete Duluth News Tribune Commentary here

The PolyMet land exchange bill would benefit a small group of foreign investors and create massive climate change impacts.

“U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan and others seeking to prevent independent court review of the PolyMet land exchange...are feeding us a line — to benefit a small group of multibillion-dollar foreign corporate investors at the expense of climate change, as well as at the expense of our Minnesota water quality and public lands.

The PolyMet mine project proposed for Minnesota would be a climate-change disaster. Over its 20-year mine plan, PolyMet admits that it would produce as much as 15.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent pollution — more than 10 million tons from its burning of fossil fuels alone.”

READ the complete Star Tribune Commentary by WaterLegacy Advocacy Director/Counsel Paula Maccabee here.

BACKGROUND: 

Why is a Federal Land Exchange Proposed for the PolyMet Sulfide Mine Project?

The PolyMet Company owns the mineral rights to the site on which its proposed sulfide mine would be located. But, the surface rights are part of the Superior National Forest owned by the United States Forest Service (“Forest Service”) for the benefit of the public.

The Forest Service has determined, based on the legal deeds for the public forest land, that an open pit NorthMet sulfide mine cannot proceed unless PolyMet identifies and the Forest Service accepts a land exchange, where the public would lose surface rights to the NorthMet site and receive rights to other land in exchange.

The Forest Service has proposed that several different parcels would be exchanged for approximately 6,650 acres that PolyMet would like to own.

WaterLegacy's Formal Objections (January 2016) to the PolyMet Land Exchange 

In November, 2015, the Forest Service published a draft decision supporting the PolyMet land exchange, even through. the Forest Service stated that the No Action Alternative was the environmentally preferable alternative.

In January, 2016, WaterLegacy filed our legal objections to the federal land exchange, six expert reports, and exhibits, including the record of WaterLegacy’s efforts to secure information on the land exchange under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

WaterLegacy first received a copy of the PolyMet land exchange appraisal in October 2016.

READ WaterLegacy January 2016 Objections to USDA Forest Service Federal Land Exchange for the PolyMet NorthMet Sulfide Mine Project

WaterLegacy Analysis of Federal Land Exchange for PolyMet NorthMet proposed Sulfide Mine

READ WaterLegacy’s March 13, 2014 Comments on the PolyMet NorthMet supplementl draft EIS and proposed PolyMet Land Exchange.

READ WaterLegacy's November 2010 COMMENTS on SCOPING, opposing the proposed transfer of Superior National Forest land to PolyMet for its open pit sulfide mine.

 

 

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