Minnesota will conduct own environmental review of Twin Metals mine proposal

Twin Metals headquarters in Ely.
Twin Metals headquarters in Ely. (Photo by Greg Seitz, Wilderness News)


The mining company seeking to open a new copper-nickel mine on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is expected to submit a proposal next month. When it does, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will review it independently of federal agencies, the DNR announced Friday.

Twin Metals, owned by Chilean mining corporation Antofagasta PLC, has proposed an underground mine near the South Kawishiwi River and Birch Lake, a few miles from the edge of the wilderness. The industry’s legacy of causing toxic pollution has caused opposition from Boundary Waters advocates. The company has been in the exploration and development phase for nearly 10 years, and the submission of a formal proposal will be a major move.

Unlike how the DNR handled the review for another copper-nickel mine in the region, the PolyMet proposal, this time the agency will not partner with the federal government to analyze Twin Metals. The move has been seen as driven by distrust in the Trump administration.

The Twin Metals project is in the critical watershed where lakes and rivers flow toward the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

“The credibility and transparency of the EIS process for the proposed Twin Metals project is critical to Minnesotans,” the agency said in its announcement. “DNR is committed to ensuring a thorough, scientific, and neutral review of the proposal, based on state law. We believe this will be best accomplished through separate EIS processes at the state and federal levels.”

The DNR also seemed to say it would request the federal government provide documents from its aborted study of copper-nickel mining in the wilderness watershed. The Trump administration has refused to release data from the study, which it cancelled abruptly in 2018.

Mining proponents say the state’s commitment to review the proposal is a win.

“The bottom line is another company is coming forward with a proposed project, and in the case of both the state and federal government, every indication is [that] those regulators are going to move forward with environmental review,” Frank Ongaro, executive director of the industry group Mining Minnesota, told MPR News. “And that’s a positive thing and a positive message.”

Twin Metals has been fighting to stay alive since the Obama administration rejected the renewal of its leases in late 2016, and sought to enact a 20-year moratorium on mining in the wilderness watershed. But the Trump administration reversed course, renewed the leases, and cancelled the moratorium and study, allowing the proposal to move forward to the point an application is now imminent.

Organizations opposed to mining near the Boundary Waters saw the flip side of the company’s sentiment about the state simply stating it would accept a proposal for Twin Metals.

“We support all science-based review of this project, but the science is clear: Sulfide-ore copper mining in the watershed of the Boundary Waters is not worth the risk,” Sportsmen for the Boundary Waters Executive Director Lukas Leaf said in a statement. “This type of mining poses an unacceptable risk to fish, wildlife, and the water quality downstream of the proposed project in America’s most-visited wilderness area.”

The question of whether the renewal of Twin Metals’ leases, which were first issued to other companies in the 1960s, is still up in the air. The Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness pointed out it still has a court case awaiting a decision about the legality of the Trump administration’s move.

Previous Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton also issued an order in 2016 prohibiting leasing of state lands and minerals in the wilderness watershed. It is not known if Twin Metals will attempt to include state resources in its proposal.

More information

Twin Metals proposes using “dry stacking” mine waste storage technique


Get Quetico Superior Wilderness News straight to your inbox

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap