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Federal judge lifts hold on lawsuits against PolyMet mine; other challenges continue

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The LTV Steel processing plant taken over by PolyMet Mining Corp.
This undated file photo shows the LTV Steel processing plant near Hoyt Lakes, Minn., which was taken over by PolyMet Mining Corp. to use as a copper-nickel processing plant.
Mesabi Daily News via AP

Several lawsuits filed in an effort to block an exchange of land for the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine can now move forward, after a federal judge lifted a hold on them this week.   Last March, U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen put a stay on four lawsuits that several environmental groups filed in early 2017. Those suits seek to overturn a land exchange between PolyMet and the U.S. Forest Service. 

The company needs the exchange to be able to dig its proposed open pit copper-nickel mine near Babbitt in northeastern Minnesota. The exchange has already been approved by the Forest Service, but opponents hope the suits will reverse that decision.

Opponents added to some of those challenges this week: 

• Several environmental groups, along with the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, have asked the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to reconsider its approval of PolyMet's dam safety permit, in light of a massive waste dam collapse at an iron ore mine in Brazil that has killed dozens and left hundreds more missing. 

The groups argue that PolyMet's massive proposed dam doesn't use the best available technology to protect the environment. They've already challenged the permit in the Minnesota Court of Appeals. 

PolyMet says it has added additional safety measures to strengthen the dam, and says the tailings basin was one of the most studied aspects of the project.

• The Minnesota Court of Appeals this week approved requests from several groups and individuals that would like to file briefs of support — known as amicus briefs — in the legal challenges to PolyMet's permit to mine and dam safety permit. 

Among those who have requested to file briefs are former Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson, the League of Women Voters and three northern Minnesota businesses.