The debate over federal mineral leases at the proposed Twin Metals mine near Ely isn’t just a philosophical discussion over copper mining in Northeastern Minnesota. Twin Metals officials say the leases mean life or death for their project and any other future mining in the Rainy River watershed.
The federal leases in question “are really the foundation of our project,” said Bob McFarlin, spokesman for Twin Metals, a Minnesota company wholly owned by Chilean mining conglomerate Antofagasta.
Twin Metals and its predecessor companies already have spent more than $350 million toward the project, McFarlin told the News Tribune, and all of that could be for naught if the U.S. Forest Service withholds the leases.
Officials of the Superior National Forest are taking public advice Wednesday in Duluth and July 19 in Ely on whether the Bureau of Land Management should renew 50-year-old exploration and mining leases. Twin Metals needs those leases to continue moving forward with its proposed underground copper-nickel mine along the Kawishiwi River.
The leases allow Twin Metals to explore for valuable metals on land under which the federal government owns the mineral rights. But they also give Twin Metals the exclusive rights to mine in those areas if they find the mother lode and if the mine plan passes future environmental review. The company would then pay the government a royalty on any ore actually mined.
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