Forest Service allows testingSuperior National Forest officials have backed a plan to allow 29 new mining exploration permits on national forestland.
By: Forum Communications, Lake County News-Chronicle
Superior National Forest officials have backed a plan to allow 29 new mining exploration permits on national forestland.
The decision released May 29 by Tim Dabney, acting supervisor of the forest, allows the Bureau of Land Management to issue the permits to mining companies that allows them to prospect on certain federal lands southeast of Ely.
The permits do not allow any actual mining at this time – that would require an additional environmental review.
The decision comes after a lengthy environmental review of how mining exploration would affect the forest environment, recreation and local economies.
Like the state of Minnesota, the federal government on occasion auctions off the right for companies to look for valuable minerals on federal land. In this case, the Forest Service conducted an unusually extensive review before deciding which of several options to take.
Dabney said the option picked “best addresses the balance between resource use and resource protection and responds to the noise issue analyzed in the (federal environmental review) and other concerns raised in public comments.”
The decision is open to public comments through June 18. It was picked over four other options, including an option to allow no exploration and other options that restricted drilling to winter months only or that placed additional noise limits on drilling.
The land in question is north of the traditional Iron Range along the so-called Duluth Complex of rock now known to hold vast deposits of copper, nickel, gold, platinum and other valuable metals. The area already is a hotbed of mineral exploration on state and private lands and is the proposed site for several of Minnesota’s first-ever wave of copper mines.
The federal permits, which still must be issued by the bureau, allow prospectors to build temporary roads and set up drilling rigs to extract core samples of rock from deep below the surface of the forest. Geologists will analyze those samples to see whether the area holds enough metals to be worth mining.
According to the decision released last week, the exploration area covers 38,704 acres but only 1,131 acres could actually be disturbed at mine drilling sites. Up to 278 new roads, 20 helicopter landing pads and up to 40 barge landings on lakes could be developed by the companies for prospecting, but all would have to be reclaimed when exploration concluded.
While successful exploration is of course the first step toward actual mining, the announcement made it clear no mining can take place without additional review and permits.
“I understand that there is widespread concern and interest about the possibility of hardrock mineral development in northeastern Minnesota,” Dabney wrote in the decision, adding that he has included provisions to mitigate noise impacts of drill rigs on the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
No exploratory drilling will be allowed in the BWCAW but exploration is and will be conducted nearly up to the edge of the wilderness.
Frank Ongaro, executive director of Mining Minnesota, a mining industry group, said the federal decision was years in the making and should help speed up the process of pinpointing where the richest deposits of minerals are. Companies considering exploration on the federal land include Twin Metals, which has a proposed mine nearby, as well as Encampment Minerals and Lehmann Exploration.