A bitterly contested copper-nickel mine proposed for northeast Minnesota cleared another major hurdle Monday, when the U.S. Forest Service approved a deal to trade 6,650 acres of federally owned forests and wetlands to PolyMet Mining Corp. in exchange for 6,690 acres scattered elsewhere across that part of the state.
The exchange, while expected, is a critical part of PolyMet’s plan because it provides the company access to mineral ore it owns beneath the publicly held land.
“This is an incredibly important milestone for PolyMet,” said Jon Cherry, president and chief executive of the company. It means PolyMet has the rights to 30 square miles of land for its planned $650 million project near Hoyt Lakes, which the company says could create up to 350 jobs.
The Forest Service acknowledged that it agreed to the exchange despite resistance from several Minnesota Indian tribes, environmental groups and 22,500 individual objections from the public. But it decided that the swap is in the best interest of the public.
The Forest Service is giving up a large parcel that is surrounded by private land and is therefore inaccessible to the public; in exchange, it will get forests, lakeshore and wetlands accessible to the public. The new acres are also largely inside the 3-million acre Superior National Forest, which consolidates its ownership, the Forest Service said.
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