Mineral Leases and Private Property Rights

Mineral Leases and Private Property Rights

Northeastern Minnesota Citizens Petition for Environmental Review before October 2012 Mineral Lease Auction

In the summer of 2012, the Minnesota DNR announced its 33rd sale of mineral leases in portions of Aitkin, Lake and St. Louis Counties. For the first time in Minnesota history, more than 170 citizens petitioned the DNR to prepare a simple Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) to analyze impacts of mineral leases on trout streams, wetlands, sensitive natural areas, and residential drinking wells before putting mineral leases up for sale. The DNR went ahead with the auction of leases on October 24, 2012 and then decided on November 8, 2012 that no EAW would be provided. See MDNR Denial of Citizen Petition.

The citizens, led by named plaintiff Matt Tyler, appealed the DNR’s denial of the EAW to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. They then successfully petitioned the Executive Council to delay approval of the mineral leases until the Court of Appeals has a chance to rule on whether the citizen petition for environmental review should have been granted. For more information, see Citizens Petition for Environmental Review Before Mineral Lease Sales.

On September 25, 2012, Finland resident Matt Tyler on his own behalf and on behalf of well over a hundred citizens (Matt’s initial count was over 140, but we believe the total final count of signatures is over 160 names) asked that an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) be prepared before the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources proceeds with its 33rd auction of mineral leases.

The Petition

This Citizen Petition to obtain EAW analysis and prevention of potential environmental impacts of mineral leases prior to auction was supported by Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness as well as WaterLegacy.
The Citizens’ Petition identified important and sensitive natural features and valuable ecological resources that could be affected by the mineral lease auctions including trout streams, wetlands, snowmobile trails and residential drinking water wells. The Petition expressed concern that, even prior to development of any mining project, exploration could result in loss of property rights and property values due to the threat of eminent domain posed by mineral leases under privately owned land.

The Petition also cited the known harms of sulfide mining, including toxic pollution of surface waters, streams and fishing lakes for centuries, impairing aquatic life and angling and increasing mercury contamination of remaining fish.

Associated Press quoted Matt Tyler as follows: “There are quite a few folks who were not happy to hear this was coming down. What it comes down to is communities should be consulted about these things. The state shouldn’t set things out by decree.” (See Star Tribune article.)

Learn more by reading:
Citizen Petition Narrative for EAW (September 25, 2012)
Notice of Auction

Maps Showing Potential for Environmental Impacts:

Executive Council approved previous lease

In June 2012, the Minnesota State Executive Council approved minerals leases for mining companies beneath both public lands and private homes and businesses. WaterLegacy agrees with landowners that the right of mining companies to condemn private lands is a serious threat to Minnesota’s economy that should be challenged. See Star Tribune Commentary (June 18, 2012).
The Minnesota DNR plans to announce another new series of mineral leases beneath public lands and private homes to place on the auction block. The sale of these mineral leases is tentatively scheduled for October of 2012. The areas under consideration for the lease sale cover portions of Aitkin, Lake and Saint Louis Counties.

        (Click to enlarge map.  Courtesy of Friends of the Boundary Waters)

Sulfide Mining in NE MN
WaterLegacy is helping to inform Minnesota residents regarding the potential impacts of mineral leases on private property.