Duluth News Tribute writer John Myers, covers the very important issue on mineral rights. This problem of the obligation to pay the owners of the "fee" or land to the center of the earth provides questions which exists in many jurisdictions.
The first issue is one of whether mining is a "public use" for which a grant of eminent domain power can be provided. The simple answer to this is that each jurisdiction will make its own decisions on the subject. State constitutions and the statutory framework of each jurisdiction must be specifically and thoroughly reviewed. On the second issue of whether there is a public use, one must ascertain the fair market value of the mineral ownership.
But several of the state-owned mineral leases under consideration are underneath land that is privately owned. Some landowners say they didn't know they didn't own their mineral rights. Others say they knew but never expected mineral exploration on their land far from the traditional Iron Range.
Opponents of the mineral leases also say Minnesota's mining laws, some of which date to the 1800s, give too much power to mining companies, including allowing the companies to use eminent domain if they can't work out an agreement with private landowners for surface access to the mineral rights below.
The issue was especially battled by several landowners in Lake County, near Isabella, where there is intense interest by mining companies in copper and other non-iron metal exploration.
The DNR and mining supporters -- as well as state law and policy -- say that the state mineral exploration leases are a critical first step in pinpointing marketable deposits of minerals and the first step toward creating hundreds of jobs and pumping millions of dollars into state school funds when mining royalties begin flowing into the state as mining begins.
Opponents say the system is stacked against landowners, with little chance to say no to mining companies. They say exploration and drilling will be disruptive to their north-woods lifestyle, while mining opponents question whether copper mining can be conducted without environmental damage.