Campaign Files Suit Against PolyMet Land Exchange

Federal Lawsuit Filed to Protect Taxpayers, Public Land Owners

The Campaign to Defend Lake Superior, represented by Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA), joined the Center for Biological Diversity and the W.J. McCabe Chapter of the Izaak Walton League in a lawsuit filed in federal court today. The suit asks the court to overturn the U.S. Forest Service decision to approve the largest land exchange in its history, planned with PolyMet Mining. The land exchange would give PolyMet thousands of acres of critically important wetlands in Superior National Forest, where mining operations would forever destroy the wetlands that form the headwaters of the St. Louis River.

The suit argues that the Forest Service instructed its appraiser to ignore the proposed use of 6,650 acres of Superior National Forest land for PolyMet’s proposed copper-nickel mine when calculating its value. Failing to account for the fact that this public land is being acquired for PolyMet’s mining proposal resulted in a bargain basement valuation of just $550 per acre. PolyMet and other mining companies have paid significantly higher prices for similar nearby land owned by private landowners.

“The PolyMet land exchange is a bad deal for taxpayers,” said Kathryn Hoffman, executive director of MCEA. “$550 per acre is a fraction of the value this land has for PolyMet’s mine proposal. Taxpayers deserve fair treatment, not this sweetheart deal for PolyMet.”

Federal law requires appraisals to reflect the “highest and best use” of public land when determining fair market value. The failure to do so has caused the public to receive less land in exchange and will result in taxpayers being forced to pay PolyMet $425,000 in cash unless the decision is overturned.

The land that PolyMet seeks to acquire from the public contains thousands of acres of high biodiversity wetlands in the headwaters of the St. Louis River, the largest U.S. tributary of Lake Superior. "Protecting clean water is the top conservation priority for the Izaak Walton League, said Rich Staffon, president of the W.J. McCabe Chapter. “Since the lands in the Superior National Forest were purchased in large part for the express purpose of protecting our headwaters, the public should receive just compensation for their loss. This is needed because the PolyMet mine will damage a large area of high value wetlands and streams located right in the midst of the headwaters of the St. Louis River."

“These public lands contain critically important wetlands and wildlife habitat that should be protected by the Superior National Forest, not sold off at a bargain price to a foreign corporation for an open-pit copper mine,” said Marc Fink, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. 

The Campaign to Defend Lake Superior is a project of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness.