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New six-month delay for mineral rights leases in Minnesota

Minnesota’s Executive Council voted Wednesday for a six month delay on the lease of mineral rights on privately-held land in northeast Minnesota.

A handful of non-ferrous mining companies are seeking the 77 leases, but landowners, some of whom attended Wednesday’s meeting, are unhappy with the process and the prospect of pollution by non-ferrous mining.

“I’m not anti-mining, it’s part of our lifestyle in northern Minnesota,” said Charlie Chernack, a real estate agent in Ely. “It does have an effect on value, it does have an effect on clientele. [...] I think the DNR ought to look a little closer in terms of leasing divided lands.”

Frank Ongaro, executive director of industry group Mining Minnesota, pushed the council to pass the leases: “[We] urge you to make a motion and approve those today with no further delay and send a positive message to investors looking to invest in mining in the state of Minnesota that Minnesota is open for business and wants to move forward with mineral development.”

Environmentalists have also vocally opposed the leases. There are currently no working non-ferrous mines in Minnesota, although a few companies are nearing the end of the permitting process. The mining technique, which differs from the iron mining that’s taken place in the state, results in minerals like copper and silver. It’s been controversial because its basic byproduct is sulfuric acid—a substance that has contaminated water supplies in the past—which leads opponents to refer to the process as “acid rock mining.”

Revenues from the leased lands help pay for public schools. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said mineral leases brought in $1.1 million for fiscal year 2011.

The state Executive Council is made up of Gov. Mark Dayton, Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon, Attorney General Lori Swanson, State Auditor Rebecca Otto and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie.

Dayton called the law about leasing divided lands “outdated” and “antiquated.” He proposed a motion to delay the decision for six months in order to give the legislature the opportunity to reconsider the notification process and lease rates for land. It passed unanimously.

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