Exchanging lands to benefit the public and the project
PolyMet Mining has proposed a land exchange with the federal government to obtain surface ownership of U.S. Forest Service land that overlies the NorthMet deposit. PolyMet controls the mineral leases to the ore body beneath the surface.
In a draft Record of Decision published Nov. 13, 2015, the Forest Service recommended approving the land exchange, with slight modifications to the original proposal, citing these benefits:
- Results in 505-acre net increase of wetlands to the federal estate
- Results in net gain of 94 acres of public water lake with public water frontage available for public and tribal use
- Results in a 40-acre net gain in National Forest Service lands
- Improves the special arrangement of NFS lands by reducing the amount of ownership boundaries to be managed by 33 miles
- Improves management effectiveness by exchanging federal lands that have no public overland access with lands that do have access
- Results in federal cost savings by eliminating two easements and their associated administrative costs
- Conveys federal lands already adjacent to intensively developed private lands including ferrous mining areas
Land exchange terms
Under the modified administrative exchange, the company would obtain approximately 6,650 acres of land in the Superior National Forest. This is a contiguous tract of land that has limited public access and is currently surrounded by existing mining operations, tailings basins, waste rock stockpiles and processing facilities. The federal land also encompasses 4,164 acres of wetlands.
In exchange, the company would give the U.S. Forest Service (U.S. Department of Agriculture) four tracts of private land held by PolyMet totaling 6,690 acres. The private lands have the same or more wetland habitat than PolyMet would be receiving in compliance with federal guidance, have excellent recreational access, and provide timber management opportunities. The U.S. Forest Service helped identify these parcels based on needs of the Superior National Forest and more specifically the goals of the Superior National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan.
The lands involved in the exchange are located within the 1854 Ceded Territory (Treaty) Area of northeastern Minnesota.
The private lands offered by PolyMet include:
- A 4,650-acre tract at Hay Lake located northwest of the town of Biwabik in St. Louis County, which is identified by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources as wild rice water.
- 1,560 acres in four parcels of land west and southwest of Isabella in Lake County. The tract includes a high percentage of wetland and supplements National Forest ownership by reducing federal exterior boundaries and eliminating several private in-holdings.
- 320 acres in various tracts southeast of Seven Beaver Lake, which also offer a high percentage of wetland habitat.
- 160 acres of hunting club lands located five miles southwest of Crane Lake in northwestern St. Louis County. This tract partially includes two small, unnamed lakes and a high percentage of wetland habitat.
Land exchange values
By regulation, the private lands offered by the company must be equal to or of greater value than the lands received from the federal government. Prior to any exchange, lands are appraised using well-established federal guidelines. In the event the private lands are appraised at a lower value, the company can make up the difference through a cash payment or additional land purchases. A 32-acre tract of lakefront property at McFarland Lake was removed from the original proposal, as noted in the draft Record of Decision, in order to better equalize the dollar value of the federal and non-federal lands.