Senator says environmentalists are behind mining delays

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, blames environmentalists for a delay in the state allowing mining companies to explore under some northeastern Minnesota lands.

“The environmentalists, I think, are behind this because they want to slow down any type of mining up there,” said Ingebrigtsen, Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee chairman.

Gov. Mark Dayton led the all-Democratic Executive Council recently voting to delay for six months considering a proposal to allow mining companies to explore land with state mineral rights in northeastern Minnesota, including under private property.

It was the second delay by the Dayton-led council this year.

Dayton and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie led the effort to delay the vote earlier this month, saying too many people are unaware of state laws and regulations that allowed the state to own the mineral rights under people’s homes and cabins. Dayton said the state’s entire mining lease procedures may need updating.

Ingebrigtsen said he thinks that protesting landowners knew they do not own mineral rights under their land. “Here you have property owners who want this changed … knowing very well when they purchased that land that the state of Minnesota holds the mineral rights.”

Property owners told the Executive Council they will ask legislators to pass laws next year to give them more rights to refuse mining company access to their land, as well as laws that could allow them to purchase mineral rights.

The proposal the council delayed only would give mining companies the right to see if nonferrous minerals are present. It would not be a mining permit.

The dispute comes at a time when mining companies want to see if copper and other valuable minerals are in plentiful supply in the Ely and Isabella areas.

Ingebrigtsen said he was surprised that Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon, from Duluth, did not fight the rest of the council to support mining as economic development for her northeastern Minnesota neighbors. “I would think Prettner Solon would be a little more aggressive.”

The so-called nonferrous mining could be a boon for the area, the senator added, comparing it to the current North Dakota oil boom.

Ingebrigtsen complained that the “governor’s office didn’t contact me,” even though he is a key legislative player on the subject.

“I don’t know that I can do anything about it,” he said about the delay, but promised to look into the issue. “I really have to take some time to evaluate it.”

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