— The next step for thousands of Minnesotans who were told they had to leave the state because of the drought and other threats to their mineral resources has been delayed.
The state Department of Natural Resources has decided to hold off on releasing the final permits that will allow for the development of the Pebble Mine, which has been the subject of several lawsuits and lawsuits to stop its construction.
The department is considering a number of alternatives including delaying the permitting process, said spokeswoman Kim Brown.
The decision to delay permitting until after the drought has subsided and the state has recovered, Brown said, was made by DNR Director Brian Jones.
The company that owns the Pebble mine, Blackrock, sued the DNR over the decision in February, and the case is expected to be heard in mid-July.
The DNR has not publicly released a final decision.
The Department of Conservation and Forestry (DCCF) said in a statement that it will be conducting a full environmental review before issuing a permit for the Pebble.
The agency also said it is reviewing the lawsuit filed by Blackrock and is considering alternative options, including issuing permits for the mine to be built and the Pebble to be excavated.
A spokeswoman for the DCCF declined to comment on the decision.
In June, DNR Commissioner Brad Kuchel said the state was not going to approve the Pebble permit until the DFCF finished an environmental review.
The final decision will be made after the DFFA and DNR have completed their review, Kucher said.
The mine has been on hold for the past six months after Blackrock sued the state over its decision to approve a permit.
The DNR said in August that it was reviewing the Pebble mining permit and would make a decision by the end of the year.
The mine has a potential to produce 2.4 million tons of iron ore a year, and is estimated to have an annual capacity of 10 million tons.
The company is also working on a $3.5 billion project to mine copper and copper-nickel from the Pebble site.
Blackrock’s attorney, Paul Wiebe, said in February that the company was considering filing a federal lawsuit.
Blackrock’s suit alleged that the DFS violated its rights under the Mineral Property Rights Act by failing to issue permits for drilling on the Pebble and failing to allow the DDF to conduct a complete environmental assessment.
In an interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune in June, Blackjack CEO Mike Williams denied any wrongdoing and said he was concerned about the impact the project would have on local residents.
The attorney for the state and the DFW declined to discuss Williams’ comments.
Blackjack has spent millions of dollars trying to get the mine approved, but in June the DFL and Minnesota Sen. Al Franken said they would not allow a vote on the mine until the state finished a comprehensive environmental review of the project.
The two lawmakers asked DNR officials to postpone the decision for as long as possible while the review was being completed.
The Minnesota Senate in April approved legislation to extend the review and halt the permit until it is completed.
But the legislation failed in the Republican-controlled House.
BlackJack has sued the federal government to try to block the Pebble project.
In May, the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis ruled that Blackjack’s lawsuit is barred by the federal Mineral Property Right Act.
The case was first filed in 2015.