As mayors in northern Minnesota, we represent our communities and we care about the environment. The PolyMet mining project proposed in our region has caused some confusion, so we would like to help set the record straight.
PolyMet owns the mineral rights to 6,700 acres on the edge of Superior National Forest. This property is not prime forestland. It is bordered by an open pit iron mine, the old LTV taconite plant, a set of railroad tracks and power transmission lines.
It is mining land in the heart of mining country.
PolyMet plans to use this land to open Minnesota's first copper/nickel mine, creating 400 good-paying permanent jobs and bringing long-term economic stability to nearby communities like ours.
The U.S. Forest Service would like to sell this land to PolyMet and use the proceeds to purchase higher-quality land that is better for the integrity of the Superior National Forest. Under federal law, however, the Forest Service can only do a land swap, exchanging the 6,700 acres for equivalent property owned by PolyMet.
A land swap is not the optimal solution because the Forest Service would not be able to choose the best land. Why should it be forced to exchange one piece of mediocre property for another? There's a better option.
Rep. Jim Oberstar, as well as Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Norm Coleman, are supporting bipartisan legislation that would strengthen the hand of the U.S. Forest Service in striking the best balance between protecting the natural environment and providing the opportunity for jobs and living wages for the residents of the region.
This legislation is designed to help with a specific issue: Because PolyMet already owns the mineral rights to the 6,700 acres, the Forest Service would be allowed to sell the land at fair market value, then use the money to purchase new land to serve the best interests of the National Forest. For example, there are scattered parcels of private land currently within the forest that could be bought up.
The proposed legislation does not provide any special treatment to PolyMet. Before the land sale with the Forest Service can be completed, the project must satisfy all relevant environmental protection requirements.
The proposed land sale is a win-win deal. It is not about the environment or jobs. It is about the environment and jobs. It will expand and enhance the Superior National Forest; it will ensure that PolyMet complies with all state and federal environmental requirements, and it will create hundreds of permanent jobs. It will allow us to pass along a healthy environment and a strong economy to our kids.
Marlene Pospeck is mayor of Hoyt Lakes; Mary Hess is mayor of Aurora, and Glenn Anderson is mayor of Babbitt.