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Twin Metals releases updated plans for copper-nickel mine near Ely

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Twin Metals public listening session
Signs supporting mining and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness reside next to each other before a Twin Metals lease renewal public listening session.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

Twin Metals, the company planning to build an underground copper-nickel mine near Ely, Minn., said Thursday it will open an office in Babbitt and wants to locate its processing facility east of Birch Lake. 

But supporters, who see the project as a needed economic boost for the struggling Iron Range, have been hopeful after the Trump administration reinstated Twin Metals' mineral rights leases, renewals of which had been denied in the final weeks of the Obama administration.

Twin Metals, a subsidiary of Santiago, Chile-based Antofagasta, said it has been conducting environmental studies for more than seven years in the area, though a formal Environmental Impact Statement process for the mine has not yet begun. The project is not as far along as the nearby PolyMet copper-nickel mine, which has been through the environmental review process and is now seeking permits from the state. 

Twin Metals officials said plans to locate the processing site east of Birch Lake differs from previous proposals. Before, the company had planned to build it south of the Ely airport and west of Birch Lake. Company officials said mine employees will access the underground mine from the processing site. The facility would be built on about 100 acres of land owned by Twin Metals.

In addition, officials said opening an office in Babbitt will allow the company to reduce traffic to the mine site, because employees can be shuttled there. They expect the project will create 650 direct jobs.

Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness continues to oppose the project, along with other environmental groups. Executive director Chris Knopf said Thursday the group plans to soon file a lawsuit over the Trump administration's decision to reinstate Twin Metals' mineral leases.

"(The leases) were originally granted over 50 years ago, before modern environmental laws were enacted. We're very concerned that pollution will be a certainty if the Twin Metals mine is operational," Knopf said.

The Associated Press and MPR News reporter Dan Kraker contributed to this report.