Iron Range residents sue Dayton over mining near Boundary Waters

Seven Iron Range residents and an Ely nonprofit have sued the state of Minnesota and Gov. Mark Dayton over his actions to prevent mining activity near the Boundary Waters.

The lawsuit alleges Dayton, "bowing to political pressure, has colluded with the federal government and anti-mining activists to ban mining in the Rainy River watershed of the Superior National Forest."

The suit also claims Dayton's actions have denied the state potential mineral lease revenue from state school trust lands, and denied the potential creation of hundreds of high-paying mining jobs.

"We think the schools and the children and the residents up here deserve better than they've gotten," said Gerald Tyler, founder of the Ely group Up North Jobs, which spearheaded the lawsuit. "When you deprive a family breadwinner of the opportunity to hold a well-paying job, you take away his self-esteem, and his self-respect, and that is something we're not going to sit back and just let it happen."

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Tyler was joined in the suit by former state legislator and current St. Louis County Commissioner Tom Rukavina, former St. Louis County Commissioner Michael Forsman, Jay Mackie, Dan Waters, David Johnson and Nancy McReady.

"I strongly believe that I am acting within the scope of my authority as the Chief Executive of the State of Minnesota," Dayton said in a statement.

Dayton has taken a strong stance against potential new copper-nickel mines in close proximity to the Boundary Waters, including the proposed Twin Metals mine near Ely.

Last March, Dayton directed the Department of Natural Resources not to authorize or enter into any new access or lease agreements for mining operations within the watershed of the wilderness area, saying he was "unwilling to take risks with that Minnesota environmental icon."

Subsequently, the federal government denied the renewal of two Twin Metals leases, and proposed a 20-year "mineral withdrawal" over about 230,000 acres in the watershed of the Boundary Waters — what would essentially amount to a moratorium on new mining activity in the area.

Twin Metals Minnesota has since sued the federal government, arguing it has a right to automatically renew its leases, which were first issued more than 50 years ago.

The U.S. Forest Service is holding a public meeting in Duluth on March 16 to gather comments on the proposed mineral withdrawal.

The state of Minnesota has until March 19 to reply to the lawsuit.