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Minn. OKs sale of copper-nickel exploration leases

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Precious metals
In this file photo, a core sample drilled from underground rock near Ely, Minn., shows a band of shiny minerals containing copper, nickel and precious metals (center) that stands out against the darker rock. The rock is flecked with minerals bearing copper, nickel and precious metals.
AP Photo/Steve Karnowski, file

Residents and cabin owners in northeastern Minnesota were disappointed Thursday when a panel of top officials approved the sale of copper-nickel exploration leases on their land.  

The leases to explore for copper and nickel are in the Ely and Isabella area — some distance from long-time taconite mines. A portion of the leases are controversial because the state owns mineral rights including below privately owned land.

Some of the landowners asked the Executive Council to drop the leases on private land; they said there's a lot of state-owned land available.  

Trenk Ebbighausen, who owns 40 acres near Isabella, said it's different from taconite mining on the Iron Range.

  "This is the headwaters and ecosystems that are upstream of the Boundary Waters and flow down for a thousand miles through lakes and rivers into Hudson Bay and out into the Atlantic Ocean," Ebbighausen said. "There has never been a clean sulfide mine yet and I think we should not sulfide mine anywhere near that area at all." 

Gov. Mark Dayton and other top officials — all Democrats — said the law doesn't allow that. But Dayton says he understands the landowners' concerns.

"The concerns about sulfide mining are understandably far greater than they are about the kind of mining we've had in Minnesota so far," he said.

Landowners said they would keep working to get legislation to change the law.