Daily Digest: House passes PolyMet land swap bill

Good morning, and happy Wednesday. Here’s the Digest.

1. The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday passed legislation that orders the U.S. Forest Service to move forward with a land exchange giving PolyMet Mining access to the site where it hopes to build Minnesota’s first-ever copper-nickel mine. The bill passed 309-99 and would, if it becomes law, nullify lawsuits filed by environmental groups to stop the land exchange. The U.S. Forest Service in January approved the land swap, giving PolyMet about 6,500 acres in the Superior National Forest at the mine site near Babbitt. In exchange, the Forest Service would get an equal value of undeveloped, formerly private forest land within the boundary of the Superior National Forest. Four different lawsuits have been filed in federal court to stop the land exchange, arguing that the Forest Service drastically undervalued the land for its mining potential and that the agency didn’t fully consider implications on endangered or threatened species. (Duluth News Tribune)

2. The St. Anthony Village City Council Tuesday approved paying a $675,000 settlement with Diamond Reynolds. She was a passenger in the car driven by Philando Castile when he was fatally shot by a St. Anthony police officer in July 2016. Before the council voted, Mayor Jerry Faust said the settlement would allow parties to begin to heal. “If we don’t approve this and we go ahead with litigation it would just reopen the whole case again and bring heartache to everyone involved,” Faust said. The proposed settlement with Reynolds is not covered by insurance. The St. Anthony city manager says funds will come from the city’s general fund and capital reserve. A court still needs to approve the settlement. (MPR News)

3. The mayor of Woodbury has filed to run for Minnesota governor in 2018 and has a formal announcement later today. Mary Giuliani Stephens registered to run for the state’s top job on Monday as a Republican. She had previously hinted at a bid, telling the Pioneer Press earlier this month to “stay tuned.” Stephens has been mayor of Woodbury since 2011 after serving four years on the suburb’s city council. She’s the first woman to announce a bid for the GOP nomination in a field of a dozen Republican candidates. (AP)

4. Following the bumpy rollout of a new vehicle licensing system, the state of Minnesota is hiring a private firm for similar upgrades to its drivers licensing operations. Officials with Minnesota IT Services and the state Department of Public Safety said Tuesday that they’ve signed a $26 million contract with Fast Enterprises, a firm that has helped manage drivers licensing services in other states. In a statement, the leaders of the two departments said they expect the company will help ensure Minnesota is ready to begin issuing new licenses that comply with the federal Real ID law by October 2018. (Star Tribune)

5. After Minneapolis elections officials hand-counted about half of the ballots cast in the the Minneapolis 6th Ward council race, the man who called for the recount withdrew his challenge. Mohamud Noor asked for the recount after he lost the Nov. 7 election by 239 votes to incumbent council member Abdi Warsame.  Even though he conceded the recount, Noor’s challenge may not be over. “We have found evidence that at least one hundred people appear to have voted in our election who do not live in Ward 6,” said Noor in a statement on his Facebook page. The statement said the recount wouldn’t have detected those voters, and Noor indicated he may turn to the courts to resolve the issue. (MPR News)

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