In 2021, Huber Engineered Woods announced plans to build a massive engineered-wood factory one mile from the Leech Lake Indian Reservation. Huber selected this location after conducting a nationwide search for a site with ready access to timber—which is abundant in and around the reservation. The place Huber chose is a highly sensitive wetland site near Blackwater Lake, an important treaty resource with over 300 acres of wild rice. Building an enormous industrial facility on sensitive wetlands is a terrible idea, and Huber’s air and water emissions would threaten treaty-protected wild rice, fisheries, and wildlife.
As a sovereign indigenous nation, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe had a right to meaningful consultation on this proposal, which will likely impact the Band’s reservation and treaty rights. But the Band first learned about the proposal through a press release. Even worse, that press release announced that the State of Minnesota was trying to excuse Huber from completing an environmental impact statement that is usually mandatory for such an enormous facility. Instead, Huber would do a cursory review, called an environmental assessment worksheet (EAW). The EAW would be reviewed and approved by the City of Cohasset.
The Band filed extensive comments on the EAW, alerting the City that the project would have significant impacts on the Band’s treaty resources. When impacts are this significant, the law requires an environmental impact statement. But the City dismissed the Band’s concerns and denied further environmental review. The Band appealed this decision in court, represented by MCEA. In February 2023, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Band and ordered the City to reconsider whether the proposed project did not require an environmental impact statement. The court determined that the City had not fully considered the project’s effects on wetlands at the site and the Blackwater wild rice bed downstream. In a first for Minnesota, the court also recognized that Tribal comments in environmental review should be given “significant weight,” similar to the consideration given to comments of state agencies. Three days later, instead of ensuring the effects of the project were properly studied, Huber announced it would not build its factory near the Reservation. .
The Court of Appeals’ decision shows that bypassing environmental law and avoiding Tribal consultation doesn’t work in Minnesota. It is unacceptable for our state to rewrite rules, disregard informed consent, and disrespect the authority of Tribes on their reservation lands and treaty territory. The decision in this case will help ensure respect for Tribal authority and treaty rights in the future.
Huber announces it will not build the factory near the Band’s Reservation.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals rules that the City must reconsider its decision denying an environmental impact statement for the project.
The court found the City had not fully considered the Huber project’s impacts on wetlands. The court also recognized Tribal comments should receive significant weight in environmental review.
Case argued in Minnesota Court of Appeals
MCEA attorney Joy Anderson argues on behalf of the Band at the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
An appeal based on the factory's effects on treaty resources is filed
MCEA files an appeal on behalf of the Band, asking for the City’s decision to be overturned because it did not consider the proposed factory’s effects on treaty resources.
Environmental impact statement is denied by City
The City issues a final decision denying an environmental impact statement.
Two environmental assessment worksheets filed by the City
The City publishes two versions of an environmental assessment worksheet and the Band informs the City about problems with the analysis.
Proposed factory is almost exempted from environmental impact statement by State Legislature
The Minnesota Legislature passes a law (without a hearing) that attempts to exempt the proposed factory from a full environmental impact statement and to provide millions of dollars in subsidies. A press release announces Huber’s proposed factory and purported exemption from environmental review.
Talks begin for proposed factory without public's knowledge
Huber begins secret discussions with Minnesota state officials, attempting to short-cut the permitting process.
Huber begins to look for land for proposed engineered-wood factory
Huber conducts a nationwide search for a location with abundant timber for its massive engineered-wood factory.