DNR, mining company question county’s decision to deny minerals processing permitA decision by the Carlton County Board to deny a conditional use permit to allow mineral exploration in Mahtowa Township was called into question by attorneys for the Minnesota State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Minerals Processing Corporation of Duluth at the board’s adjourned session on Monday.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
A decision by the Carlton County Board to deny a conditional use permit to allow mineral exploration in Mahtowa Township was called into question by attorneys for the Minnesota State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Minerals Processing Corporation of Duluth at the board’s adjourned session on Monday.
In an unprecedented move earlier in the month, the board voted 4-1 to deny an application that would have allowed Mineral Resources Corporation to perform exploratory drilling procedures on land in Mahtowa Township privately owned by non-resident Matthew DeCaigny.
The board’s decision came on the heels of a petition from area residents who claimed a mining operation would compromise their privacy and rural lifestyle as well as pose a threat to the ground water. Further, adjacent private landowner Wylie Jones stated he would deny the mining company access to the easement road across his property that was proposed as an entry point to the property in question.
At Monday’s meeting, the board heard a more thorough explanation of how the exploratory mining procedure is conducted from John Engesser, assistant director of the DNR’s Division of Land and
Engesser said the state is bound by requirements to conduct proper reviews and notifications prior to exploration activities, conduct regular drill site inspections, and supervise any post drilling activities regarding restoration of the site to assure that the integrity of the rural neighborhood is optimally maintained. He added that since the last Carlton County Board meeting, an alternative access has also been identified across property owned by nearby landowner Jayme Bork.
Engesser then introduced attorney Vicki Sellner, who cited a Minnesota statute stating that “no land owned or leased by the federal or state government shall be subject to official controls of the county.” In
other words, explained Sellner, the Mahtowa Township property in question is “not subject to local zoning laws, and the county board has no authority to authorize or deny a conditional use permit in this
case,” she said.
When questioned why, under those circumstances, the matter was even brought before the county board in the first place, Sellner stated it was likely “a matter of over-diligence.”
Carlton County Zoning Director Bruce Benson objected to Sellner’s stance, however, stating that over the past 30 years, mineral exploration on privately owned land has always required a conditional
use permit from the county.
“Before the county agrees not to regulate this matter,” Benson stated, “I suggest we look into it further because I disagree with [the DNR’s] interpretation.”
Reinforcing Sellner’s statement, however, was attorney Charles Andresen of Duluth, representing Mineral Resources Corporation.
“Under Minnesota statute, the county doesn’t have jurisdiction in this case,” he stated.
Paul Gassert, Carlton County auditor/treasurer, indicated that some of the confusion may have resulted from the fact that the property in question was forfeited to the county for non-payment of taxes in 1939, and at that time the mineral rights on that land were signed over to the state. When the property was later sold, only the surface rights were transferred to the owner, with the underground mineral rights retained by the the state.
Commissioners argued, however, that because the land itself is now privately owned, it shouldn’t fall under the statute that gives the state pre-eminence over the county when it comes to permitting.
Commissioner Gordon Aanerud then offered a motion to table further action on the matter until a more definitive answer to the question of jurisdiction can be identified. The board unanimously supported the motion and agreed to address it further at the next board meeting, slated for Tuesday, March 9, at 8:30 a.m. at the Carlton County Courthouse.