A proposed land exchange between the U.S. Forest Service and PolyMet Mining Corporation is currently under consideration and could include a 32-acre parcel of privately owned land bordering McFarland Lake in Cook County. PolyMet is in the process of acquiring private land within the Superior National Forest to trade for about 6,650 acres of federally owned land at their proposed mine site in St. Louis County. Mary Black is Cook County Land Commissioner:
“This parcel is on the western side of McFarland Lake. It is currently owned by the trustees of Wheaton College. This parcel is being considered now for this proposed exchange. Whether or not it's utilized will be determined in the future. So, they're just in the infancy stages of they're doing a draft environmental impact statement. And as things play out, if you will, this parcel may or may not be included in that exchange.”
Vancouver-based PolyMet is the first of several companies hoping to mine copper, nickel, and other precious metals in northeastern Minnesota. Known as non-ferrous, hardrock, or sulfide mining, it's highly controversial because it produces toxic waste rock and polluted runoff that can contaminate watersheds for hundreds, even thousands of years. The state of Wisconsin enacted a moratorium on sulfide mining in 1998 until it could be proven that similar mines in the U.S. or Canada have been operated safely, for at least ten years, “without polluting groundwater or surface water." The Wisconsin moratorium remains in effect today and no new sulfide mines have been proposed since the law was passed.
Two public open houses will be held this week to solicit comments on the proposed land exchange; Tuesday, October 26 at Mesabi East High School in Aurora, and Wednesday, October 27 at New Brighton Family Services Center in New Brighton. Both meetings are from 5-8 p.m. Written comments may also be submitted to the Superior National Forest office in Duluth. More information on the project or the open houses is available from Mark Hummel at 218-626-4303.
Critics of sulfide mining say the long term health of Minnesota’s water resources, including Lake Superior and the BWCAW, are at risk. Supporters point to the economic benefits of opening up northeastern Minnesota to sulfide mining, chiefly job creation.