Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 27, 2017

Contact:  Aaron Klemz, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, (763) 788-0282, aklemz@mncenter.org
Marc Fink, Center for Biological Diversity, (218) 464-0539, mfink@biologicaldiversity.org

PolyMet Land Exchange Illegally Undervalues Public Land

Federal Lawsuit Filed to Protect Taxpayers, Public-land Owners

ST. PAUL, Minn.— Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, the Center for Biological Diversity and the W.J. McCabe Chapter of the Izaak Walton League filed suit in federal court today to overturn the U.S. Forest Service decision to approve the largest land exchange in its history, planned with PolyMet Mining. The land exchange would give PolyMet thousands of acres of critically important wetlands in Superior National Forest, where mining operations would forever destroy the wetlands that form the headwaters of the St. Louis River.

The suit argues that the Forest Service instructed its appraiser to ignore the proposed use of 6,650 acres of Superior National Forest land for PolyMet’s proposed copper-nickel mine when calculating its value. Failing to account for the fact that this public land is being acquired for PolyMet’s mining proposal resulted in a bargain basement valuation of just $550 per acre. An independent analysis of real estate transactions found that PolyMet recently paid a private landowner a 70 percent higher price per acre for similar nearby land. The $550 price is also well below what other Minnesota mining companies have recently paid for surface land.

“The PolyMet land exchange is a bad deal for taxpayers,” said Kathryn Hoffman, executive director of MCEA. “$550 per acre is a fraction of the value this land has for PolyMet’s mine proposal. Taxpayers deserve fair treatment, not this sweetheart deal for PolyMet.”

Federal law requires appraisals to reflect the “highest and best use” of public land when determining fair market value. The failure to do so has caused the public to receive less land in exchange and will result in taxpayers being forced to pay PolyMet $425,000 in cash unless the decision is overturned.

The land that PolyMet seeks to acquire from the public contains thousands of acres of high biodiversity wetlands in the headwaters of the St. Louis River, the largest U.S. tributary of Lake Superior.

“Protecting clean water is the top conservation priority for the Izaak Walton League,” said Rich Staffon, president of the W.J. McCabe Chapter. “Since the lands in the Superior National Forest were purchased in large part for the express purpose of protecting our headwaters, the public should receive just compensation for their loss. This is needed because the PolyMet mine will damage a large area of high value wetlands and streams located right in the midst of the headwaters of the St. Louis River.” 

“These public lands contain critically important wetlands and wildlife habitat that should be protected by the Superior National Forest, not sold off at a bargain price to a foreign corporation for an open-pit copper mine,” said Marc Fink, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. 

The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA) is a nonprofit organization using law, science, and research to protect Minnesota's natural resources, wildlife and the health of its people. (www.mncenter.org)

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.2 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. (www.biologicaldiversity.org)

The W.J McCabe Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America is the Duluth chapter of one of America's oldest conservation organizations. Founded in 1922, the Izaak Walton League of America protects America's outdoors through education, community-based conservation, and promoting outdoor recreation. (www.duluthikes.org)

www.biologicaldiversity.org

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