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Northern Minnesota businesses sue Dept. of Interior over mineral leases

DULUTH—A group of businesses is suing the U.S. Department of the Interior over its decision to reinstate Twin Metals' mineral leases.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday morning, June 21, nine northern Minnesota businesses — mostly canoe outfitters — claim Twin Metals' proposed copper-nickel mine would hurt their business by polluting the nearby Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Twin Metals won back critical federal mineral leases in early May previously withheld by the Obama administration. The leases cover areas at and around the proposed mine site along the Kawishiwi River and Birch Lake just outside the BWCAW.

"The drop-in visitors would definitely harm my major retailers and wholesale buyers. There are other places to mine and other copper deposits in the world, but there is only one Boundary Waters," Michael Cichanowski, Founder and President of Wenonah Canoe, said in a statement.

Twin Metals pushed back Thursday against the lawsuit.

"Twin Metals is reviewing the complaint filed earlier today challenging the federal government's reinstatement of Twin Metals' leases in the Superior National Forest," Twin Metals spokesman Bob McFarlin said in a statement. "Twin Metals firmly believes there is no basis for a court to disturb the reinstatement of the leases, and will take appropriate steps to defend the government's actions."

Frank Ongaro, executive director of MiningMinnesota, a copper-nickel mining advocacy group, disregarded the lawsuit in a telephone interview on Thursday.

"I don't see any basis for the action and I don't see anything but a whole bunch of misinformation and false information in their release," Ongaro said.

Voyageur Outward Bound School, Piragis Northwoods Company, Ely Outfitting Company and Boundary Waters Guide Service, Wenonah Canoe, Sawbill Canoe Outfitters, Hungry Jack Outfitters, Women's Wilderness Discovery, River Point Resort and Outfitting Company and Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness were listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The lawsuit comes just weeks after more than 170 businesses and outdoor groups signed letters opposing the reinstatement of the expired mineral leases and the mining company's updated plans to build their concentrator and processing plant closer to their mine site.

"The Boundary Waters is one of the only places in the entire United States that a person can escape civilization. Without the appeal of the pure Wilderness, travel into the Boundary Waters would most certainly wane. The decrease in visitors would greatly affect many outfitters, which in turn would result in a potentially large loss of business for Northstar Canoes," Ted Bell of Northstar Canoes said in a statement.

Jimmy Lovrien

Jimmy Lovrien is a reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. He spent the summer of 2015 as an intern for the Duluth News Tribune and was hired full time in October 2017 as a reporter for the Weekly Observer. He also reported for the Lake County News-Chronicle in 2017-18. Lovrien grew up in Alexandria, Minn., but moved to Duluth in 2013 to attend The College of St. Scholastica. Lovrien graduated from St. Scholastica in 2017 with a bachelor's degree in English and history. He also spent a summer studying journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

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