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Minnesota Landowners Worried that Mining Companies Will Use Eminent Domain to Take Their Property

At the request of a constituent who owns land in northern Minnesota, Rep. Nora Slawik sponsored a bill that would eliminate mining companies' ability to take land through eminent domain.

Rep. Nora Slawik is working with a group of northern Minnesota landowners who are worried that a mining company might seize access to their property through eminent domain to explore or drill for minerals.

"We do have a lot of homeowners in our area who do have cabins in the north area that are very worried that a mining company can seize a person's land by eminent domain," she said.

A bill she sponsored that would strip mining companies of their ability condemn land if they can’t reach an agreement with the landowner didn’t get a hearing this session, but the issue isn’t dead yet, Slawik said.

Now, she’s drafting a letter to Attorney General Lori Swanson requesting an opinion on whether the state's current eminent domain statutes could be interpreted to favor the property owners.

South Maplewood resident Gus Axelson, a constituent of Slawik’s who owns a cabin about 45 minutes east of Ely, is spearheading the citizen effort. He thinks a 2006 state law that prohibits taking land by eminent domain for economic development purposes should protect his property from being sold or damaged against his will, he said.

Axelson and his brother bought their 10-acre property near Isabella about 10 years ago. At that time, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources owned the rights to any minerals under the surface of the land, and Axelson’s family owned the surface rights. He and his neighbors became concerned, he said, when the DNR put the mineral rights up for sale with no notice to the landowners.

“These mineral leases are very scary,” he said. “We didn’t know the extent to which the mining companies dominate and control the landowners.".

According to a DNR factsheet, the mineral rights owner can explore for minerals and mine, but they must pay for damages to the surface.

When Axelson and his neighbors heard their leases were going up for sale, he said, they appealed to the state’s Executive Council, which must approve mineral leases.

They got the council to delay the sale of the leases to give them time to push for a change in state law, he said.

Slawik said the bill, HF 2477, didn’t get a hearing because there wasn’t a companion bill in the Senate.

She said the issue will likely either be handled by the Executive Council or come back to the Legislature.

“Most people, they have great pride for the land and the home that they own,” she said, “and the fact that the government can come in and take that is very disturbing to many people.”

For Axelson, the idea is even more distressing now that his family has built a log cabin, he said. They cut down the trees and built it themselves, he said.

“Cabin owners have rights, too,” he said. “The cabin is a cultural icon in Minnesota and this totally tarnishes the whole idea or destroys the whole idea of what it means to own a cabin if at any time it can be taken away from you if somebody else wants it.”

Jim March 19, 2012 at 04:59 PM
Gus should have bought the mineral rights to his land.
Patty Busse March 19, 2012 at 05:33 PM
Hi Jim ... I was wondering about that, too. According to this MPR article, state law prohibits property owners from buying their own mineral rights: http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2011/10/05/officials-delay-decision-on-mineral-rights-leases/
Jim March 19, 2012 at 05:42 PM
Interesting, maybe one reason Ron Paul has so much support on the range. Ron is an avid supporter of property rights. I have a 40 up there and it was my understanding I owned the mineral rights under the surface. Guess Government takes stuff again without notice/compensation. Oh I suppose when the Government took the mineral rights they reduced the taxes on the property as well, it is worth much less without rights to mine the gold under the surface. Once again Government just takes stuff with no compensation.
Jim March 19, 2012 at 05:46 PM
Afterthought, so if a property owner starts digging for gold in the middle of his/her property the Government can stop it? Can Government enter private property and physically stop a mineing operation in the middle of private property? Gestapo is reborn...
up_north March 19, 2012 at 06:53 PM
State law doesn't prevent property owners from buying "their" mineral rights - state law doesn't allow the state to sell the public's mineral rights to private owners. These private owners are basically asserting squatter's rights to public property. If you pitch a tent in a public park it doesn't make it "your" land. Axelson et al are attempting to squeeze a concession from the public. They ought to talk to some of their neighbors, who have privately owned mineral rights under their surface and no opportunity to lobby the legislature for a private bill, and ask them their thoughts on the matter. Axelson et al had all this clearly disclosed to them when they purchased their land.
up_north March 19, 2012 at 06:57 PM
If a property owner starts digging for gold in the middle of his/her property, and they have applied for and received all necessary permits, the government can't stop them. If they do not own the underlying mineral rights, and are digging for gold in the middle of someone else's private property (e.g, mineral rights they do not own), they are engaging in trespass and theft. The government will at that time enforce the law. Private property rights upheld and maintained.
C March 20, 2012 at 03:57 AM
Jim, I think Ron Paul would be more likely to support the property rights of the mining company that bought the mineral rights for Axelson's land from the DNR. The government is NOT taking anything from the owners of the surface rights. It just comes down to determining what the fair value of the surface rights are once the mineral rights are exercised.
Jim March 20, 2012 at 07:00 PM
In the MPR articles posted above: "The issue arises because most property owners in Minnesota don't own the minerals below their land. The mineral rights were "severed" years ago, and in many cases the current owner is the state. Minnesota's constitution says the state government should manage the minerals to benefit all citizens." It sure sounds to me like the Legislators and Governor just took mineral rights from property owners with NO compensation and NO property tax reductions. Even thou a property owner losing their rights to minerals on their land clearly lose value when losing the mineral rights. Another Governent scam they perform all the time with no knowledge of the public.
up_north March 21, 2012 at 12:03 AM
Jim, In every case this law applies to, the surface and minerals were owned by a private party who forfeited the land for not paying property taxes. The state later re-sold the surface to another private party, but kept the mineral rights. The new owners pay property tax based on the value of the surface rights. They also knew that they weren`t receiving the mineral rights when the bought the land. So in absolutely no case has the state ever ``just taken mineral rights from property owners with NO compensation and NO property tax reductions.``

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