Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Duluth Chapter of the Izaak Walton League filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Minnesota.
It’s the second lawsuit that names unfair appraisal of the land. A third lawsuit, which focuses on the Endangered Species Act, was promised in January and could be filed as early as this week.
Under the land exchange, approved by the Forest Service in early January, PolyMet would get access to the surface property at the mine site — the company already has mineral rights there — in exchange for a nearly equal amount of undeveloped forest land that had been privately owned within the boundaries of the Superior National Forest. PolyMet has purchase agreements for the land which would be transferred to the federal government if the deal survives legal challenge.
The Forest Service also would throw in $425,000 in cash as part of the deal.
The 23-page suit argues that U.S. taxpayers were shortchanged because the 6,650 acres of federal land at the mine site was drastically undervalued. That happened, the suit claims, because the Forest Service instructed its appraiser to ignore the proposed use of the land — highly profitable copper-nickel mining — when calculating its value.
Instead, the land was appraised as forest and was valued at $550 per acre.
The suit claims PolyMet and other mining companies have paid significantly higher prices for similar nearby land owned by private landowners. If the company had paid the fair value of the land, the suit notes, the government would be getting substantially more forest land in return.
“The PolyMet land exchange is a bad deal for taxpayers,” said Kathryn Hoffman, executive director of MCEA. The “$550 per acre is a fraction of the value this land has for PolyMet’s mine proposal. Taxpayers deserve fair treatment, not this sweetheart deal for PolyMet.”
The groups said the land PolyMet wants “contains thousands of acres of high biodiversity…