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Mining exploration spreading across northern Minnesota

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DULUTH, Minn.—Mining companies are expanding their search for copper, gold and other minerals across northern Minnesota, with a state Department of Natural Resources auction earlier in June attracting bidders for mining exploration in Beltrami, Lake of the Woods, Koochiching and Itasca counties.

Some of the sites are distant from the state's traditional mining region, although bids were submitted for St. Louis County, too.

Five companies bid for the exploration rights for 284 parcels under 112,585 of the 195,324 acres offered by the DNR.

Much of the interest continues to be near where Koochiching, Itasca and St. Louis Counties meet, just west of Cook, where two companies bid against each other for parcels as they home in on gold deposits.

AngloGold Ashanti, which has been prospecting heavily for gold in that area for several years, was the biggest bidder in Friday's auction, securing rights to 238 parcels under 94,714 acres, most of it in northeast Itasca County and some in southeastern Koochiching County but also across the line in St. Louis County as well.

Minneapolis-based Vermilion Gold, also is looking for gold in the area west of Cook, bid on three parcels but were outbid by AngloGold, DNR officials said.

AngloGold Ashanti also secured some mineral leases in northern Koochiching County near Birchdale. The corporation is based in Johannesburg, South Africa and has a North American office in Centennial, Colo. It is the third-largest gold mining company in the world with 17 operating mines in nine countries. The company also has several exploration programs in both established gold-producing areas and new areas, such as northern MInnesota, where gold has not yet been successfully mined.

A newcomer to the Minnesota mining scene, Afton Minerals, LLC — based in Sanibel, Fla. with an office in McGregor — secured 34 parcels under 14,870 acres in central Lake of the Woods County, while Solway Resources LLC of Superior grabbed three parcels under 560 acres in far northern Beltrami County.

DNR officials said it was the first time Afton Minerals has ever bid on Minnesota mineral leases while Solway had held a few leases in Lake of the Woods County between 2006 and 2012.

It appears both are also looking for gold.

"Based on historical exploration of the greenstone belt, companies are likely looking for gold or copper and zinc in Beltrami and LOTW counties," Jess Richards, director of the DNR's division of Lands and Minerals, said..

Atlanta-based Encampment Minerals secured rights under nine parcels in St. Louis County where the company has prospected for copper-nickel deposits for years.

There were no new parcels offered in either Carlton or Aitkin counties where Kennecott is confirming a major copper-nickel deposit near the hamlet of Tamarack.

Most of the land on top of parcels where mineral rights were auctioned off is state owned, the DNR said, although some is likely privately owned. The owners will be notified that the mineral rights under their land have been leased for exploration.

"Based on a preliminary analysis, the state is the largest surface owner," Richards said. "The largest private surface owners are likely commercial timber companies."

The DNR auctions off the exclusive rights to explore for minerals exploration in specific parcels in exchange for a small lease fee and, if any mining ever occurs, a royalty on every ton of mineral produced.

The state's Executive Council — comprised of the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state auditor and attorney general — must approve the leases, likely at a Sept. 8 meeting.

The DNR is accepting written comments from the public specific to the bidders and properties bid on through July 10. Comments may be submitted by email to MMLeaseSale.dnr@state.mn.us.

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