Press Release: Minnesota Court of Appeals delivers significant victory to Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe in case opposing Huber Engineered Woods factory

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ST PAUL, MN – In an important win for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Monday that a massive and controversial engineered wood factory proposed to be built near the Band’s Reservation must undergo additional environmental study.

The decision sends Huber Engineered Woods’ proposal back to the City of Cohasset for further review, reversing the City’s earlier decision to ignore the Band’s request for a more detailed environmental study in this matter – called an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The Court ordered Cohasset to further study the proposal’s effects on wetlands and issue a new decision on whether an EIS is needed. The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy represented the Leech Lake Band in this case.

In a first for Minnesota, the Court of Appeals also recognized that Tribal governments have expertise that must be considered when project proposals threaten Treaty rights: “Based on the Leech Lake Band’s sovereign status and environmental expertise, we accord significant weight to its comments [in environmental review] and arguments in this appeal,” the opinion stated.

“The court decision issued today is a major victory for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of respecting the sovereignty and treaty rights of indigenous nations,” said Band’s Chairman Faron Jackson, Sr. “The proposed OSB Mill project posed a clear threat to our sacred resources, including wild rice and wildlife, while bypassing an important step in the environmental review process. We are grateful for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy’s unwavering support in this matter. We will continue to work towards protecting our resources, our environment and preserving our way of life for future generations.”

Huber is seeking to build a 750,000 square foot facility – roughly twice the size of the Minnesota State Capitol – just one mile from Leech Lake’s Reservation boundary. The site is home to a highly sensitive wetland near Blackwater Lake, which contains more than 300 acres of wild rice, a sacred and critical resource for the Band. Also, the process heat needed for the plant would be produced by burning bark and scrap wood, which would emit enormous amounts of harmful air pollution.

Despite the clear and substantial risks posed by a development of this scale on Leech Lake’s way of life and natural resources, neither the State of Minnesota nor the City of Cohasset consulted with the Band about the proposal. In fact, the Band only learned of it when a press release announcing the project was issued by the State. Even worse, the press release announced that the State intended to try to excuse the proposal from laws that typically require projects of this magnitude to undergo an EIS due to their significant potential to disrupt the environment.

Instead, the press release indicated Huber only needed to conduct a cursory environmental review, called an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW), and that the study would be reviewed and approved by Cohasset.

The Band filed extensive comments during the EAW process, alerting the City that the project would have significant impacts on its treaty resources and should be subjected to an EIS to learn more about how. When the City denied that request, the Band appealed, leading to today’s decision.

In the opinion, the Court specifically found that the City failed to consider the impacts of the project on wetlands at the site and nearby. The project site has two public waters wetlands that could be eliminated by the project. Public waters wetlands receive special protections under the law due to their environmental significance. The Court also recognized that wetlands downstream from the site, including the Blackwater wild rice bed, could be significantly affected by the project. 

“We look forward to working with Cohasset as they reconsider the environmental review on these important issues,” said Ben Benoit, Leech Lake Band’s Interim Executive Director. “The Leech Lake Tribal Council is excited to discuss regional economic policy, creation of jobs, and bringing projects to our region, but not at the expense of our homeland.”

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MEDIA CONTACT: 
Mike Chosa, Communications Director
Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe
[email protected]
(218) 513-9215  (cell)
(218) 335-4483 (office)

About the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe
The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe is a federally recognized, sovereign Native American tribe located in north central Minnesota. The LLBO is committed to the responsible operation of government, preservation of our heritage, promotion of our sovereignty, and the protection of natural resources for our elders and future generations, while enhancing the health, economic well-being, education, and our inherent right to live as Ojibwe People.

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