- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 23, 2015

DULUTH, Minn. (AP) - The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced plans to sell mineral leases in northeast Minnesota, opening a pathway to valuable deposits of copper, nickel and precious metals.

The leases lie under 103,000 acres of land in northeast Minnesota largely away from traditional mining areas, Minnesota Public Radio reported Tuesday (https://bit.ly/1Hd3cyF ). It’s the first such sale since 2012.

The biggest potential area is some 47,000 acres around the Cloquet Valley State Forest, about 30 miles north of Duluth, where large concentrations of platinum have been identified. Some environmentalists said they’re worried that exploration could foul drainage into the Cloquet River, which eventually reaches Lake Superior.

“You can go 20 miles north and be in a very, very wild place, so this is something that I think the people of Duluth should be aware of,” said Kristin Larsen, founder of Friends of the Cloquet Valley State Forest, who lives about two miles from one of the proposed leasing sites. “This would be a major change to our region if this were mined.”

Several landowners reacted to the 2012 sale by arguing that it should be subject to environmental review, but the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled a year later that such review was only necessary after a company proposes a specific exploration project.

Jess Richards, the DNR director of lands and minerals, said the agency is actively seeking public input.

“Following the 2012 mineral lease sale, we went through a series of steps where we redesigned the process to ensure that it’s more transparent and that there’s opportunities for public input into the process,” Richards said.

The DNR’s mandate includes managing state-owned minerals for exploration and development. The agency said nonferrous mineral lease rentals brought the state about $1.1 million in income last year.

Richards said lease awards don’t necessarily mean drilling will happen. The state Executive Council, which includes the governor and other state constitutional officers, has to sign off.

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Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, https://www.mprnews.org

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