U.S. Forest Service signs decision for proposed land exchange with PolyMet Mining, Inc. on the Superior National Forest

DULUTH, MN. Jan. 9, 2017 – Today, the U.S. Forest Service signed the Final Record of Decision (ROD) authorizing a land exchange with PolyMet Mining, Inc. The exchange calls for the Forest Service to convey 6,650 acres of federal land in exchange for acquisition of 6,690 acres of non-federal lands. This decision will transfer the surface property owned by the Forest Service to PolyMet, who controls the sub-surface (mineral rights), thereby enabling the development of the proposed NorthMet copper-nickel mine pending other Federal and state required approvals.

“When making this decision I considered many factors – the complex mix of environmental concerns, extensive public input, potential economic benefit to local communities, existing rights, and tribal trust responsibilities,” Forest Supervisor Connie Cummins said. “This decision best serves the public’s interest.”

This decision follows a thorough environmental analysis and public engagement process. The Final ROD presents a detailed description of the modified Proposed Action that will be implemented and includes the rationale for this decision. In making the decision, the Forest Supervisor considered whether the non-federal lands to be acquired were equal to, or exceeded the resource values and public objectives of the federal lands to be conveyed.

The NorthMet Mining Project and Land Exchange were analyzed in an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) developed by three co-lead agencies: the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and the Forest Service. The EIS disclosed the environmental effects of the mining proposal and proposed land exchange. The decision-making and implementation processes within each co-lead agency are independent; the Forest Service decision is solely on the proposed land exchange. The permitting process administered by the DNR, USACE and other governmental entities will carry out mandatory requirements of relevant policy, regulation and law for the mine. The DNR will make decisions related to permitting the proposed mine and the USACE will make a decision on a Clean Water Act permit.

Throughout the entire process, the Forest Service consulted with the Fond du Lac, Grand Portage, and Bois Forte Bands of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe resulting in identifying project mitigations to protect cultural resources. The mining project and the lands proposed for exchange are within the 1854 Ceded Territory where these Bands have hunting and gathering rights.

Extensive public involvement was part of the EIS process, including multiple public open houses. The public submitted approximately 58,000 comments during the comment period on the Supplemental Draft EIS for the proposed NorthMet Mine and Land Exchange which was released in late 2013. Shortly following the release of the Final EIS on November 6, 2015, the Forest Service published a Draft ROD authorizing a land exchange. In response, the Forest Service received approximately 22,500 objections.

The Forest Service and PolyMet will now begin the realty transfer process.

A copy of the Final ROD is posted on the Superior National Forest website at: www.fs.usda.gov/superior.