Company preparing environmental review for copper mine near Minnesota's Boundary Waters

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ELY, Minn. — The chief executive of Chilean mining giant Antofagasta said his company is preparing an environmental impact assessment for its proposed Twin Metals copper mine near Ely despite federal roadblocks still in place.

Ivan Arriagada told Reuters in London earlier this week that he's hopeful the Trump administration will reverse the Obama administration's decision to rescind the company's mining exploration permits for the project proposed for Superior National Forest land.

In the interview at the start of the London Metal Exchange Week, an annual event for the mining and metals industry, Arriagada said President Donald Trump's election a year ago has created a "more favorable climate for the development of the" Twin Metals project.

Arriagada said the Twin Metals dispute likely will be settled in court but pledged that "we'll keep defending our right to develop the mine."

Twin Metals has not yet submitted any formal proposal for state or federal regulatory agency review. But Bob McFarlin, Twin Metals Minnesota spokesman,said Friday, Nov. 3, that the company continues "to gather baseline environmental data and develop the engineering that will be part of the company's formal mine project proposal expected to be put forth to state and federal agencies in late 2018 or early 2019."

That proposal should better define the size, scope and cost of the massive underground mine proposed along the Kawishiwi River. The company also will outline how it plans to protect nearby waterways from any potential mine runoff.

"The environmental and engineering work will be critical components of the Environmental Impact Statement that state and federal agencies will develop following submittal of the project proposal," McFarlin said. "Twin Metals is very confident in our legal position related to the rights to renewal of our federal leases and we have stated previously that we are continuing with the project development process."

Federal agencies also have imposed a two-year timeout for any new mining in the area of the national forest around the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The Forest Service said the potential of damaging mine runoff from the project affecting the wilderness was too great.

Lawsuits and legislation have been instigated to reverse the Forest Service decision, and both Antofagasta officials and Minnesota lawmakers have lobbied the Trump administration to drop the Forest Service opposition.

The company says it already has spent $400 million on the Twin Metals project and will spend another $1.2 billion developing the mine that, if built, will process 20,000 tons of ore daily and employ 650 people.