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Dayton opposes Twin Metals mine, citing risks to the Boundary Waters

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Gov. Mark Dayton has opposed a copper-nickel mine near the Boundary Waters.

This is the first time the governor has "definitively and publicly" stated his opposition to mining near the protected wilderness area, the Star Tribune reports.

Dayton, in a letter to Ian Duckworth, the CEO of Twin Metals Minnesota, said he has "grave concerns" about using land so close to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) for mining activities, and has directed the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to "not authorize or enter into any new state access agreements or lease agreements for mining operations on those state lands," the letter says.

Twin Metals asked for access to state land for exploration work last fall and the DNR approved it, but Dayton continues to block it, the Duluth News Tribune says.

The company wants explore the land as part of its process to develop plans to build an underground copper, nickel and platinum group metals mine near Birch Lake and the South Kawishiwi River, about 15 miles southeast of Ely.

It is one of two companies exploring a copper-nickel mine in the region. The other is the controversial NorthMet mine by PolyMet; state officials approved an environmental review on the project last week.

Dayton's letter doesn't directly affect the PolyMet mine, the Business Journal says, noting the key difference between the two projects is where runoff from the mines goes. The PolyMet mine is located in a watershed that drains toward Lake Superior, while Twin Metals is in the Rainy River watershed, which drains to the Boundary Waters.

Dayton, citing his "obligation to ensure [the Boundary Waters] is not diminished in any way", wrote he is concerned for the "inherent risks associated with any mining operation in close proximity to the BWCAW and my concern about the State of Minnesota's actively promoting advancement of such operations by permitting access to state lands."

The proposed Twin Metals mine would be on state, private and federal land in the Superior National Forest, the Duluth News Tribune says. Dayton's letter only affects state land, but he wrote that he's also spoken with Bureau of Land Management, which controls mining on federal lands, about his opposition to mining in the region.

Swift reaction from activists, mine supporters

Environmentalists, who fear mining near the Boundary Waters could threaten the pristine wilderness area, thanked Dayton for his letter.

But those who support the mine say it could have a big impact on not just Twin Metals, but the entire industry and needed jobs in the region.

"At a minimum, from an industry-wide point of view, the governor's comments are of grave concern. It not only has an acute impact on one specific company, but it will impact the entire industry operating in Minnesota," Frank Ongaro, executive director with Mining Minnesota, told the Duluth News Tribune. "It's a terrible precedent. It sends a very negative message to investors looking at developing minerals in the state of Minnesota."

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan released a statement Tuesday, criticizing Dayton for refusing to allow Twin Metals to explore mining in the area, saying: "We should never be afraid of exploration and discovery, or using science and facts to dictate important decisions. That is what these initial stages of the proposed Twin Metals project are all about.”

Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, Chair of the House Mining and Outdoor Recreation Policy Committee, also issued a statement, saying the governor prevented the state from conducting its "thorough and stringent environmental review and permitting processes" to determine the impact of the project.

"The governor is once again putting the interests of extreme environmentalists ahead of job creation in northern Minnesota," he said.

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