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MN Precious Metals Mine Advances to Draft Permit Stage

PolyMet Mining says its NorthMet mine would be dug 700 feet below ground, which critics say also poses potential threats to water quality. (PolyMet)
PolyMet Mining says its NorthMet mine would be dug 700 feet below ground, which critics say also poses potential threats to water quality. (PolyMet)
January 8, 2018

ST. PAUL, Minn. – What could be the final public comment period is open on a proposal for PolyMet to mine copper, nickel and other precious metals in Hoyt Lakes.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources issued a draft permit on Friday that details conditions under which the mine would operate.

PolyMet says its design meets all the conditions, but others, including Aaron Klemz, communications director for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, say serious problems remain.

"They still plan to reuse an old dam on the LTV Steel plant site, which we feel is an undue risk because it could break and release billions of gallons of mine waste downstream," Klemz states.

Klemz maintains the permit could be improved if the state would add more checks along the way to make sure PolyMet is keeping its promises.

The DNR takes written public comments through March 6. There also are public meetings scheduled in Aurora on Feb. 7, and Duluth on Feb. 8.

PolyMet initially applied to dig its first-of-a-kind mine in 2005. The project has been controversial because the rocks that contain the precious metals also contain sulfur, which produces sulfuric acid when it contacts air.

Sulfuric acid poisons water, so it must be contained. That's expensive, estimated at more than $1 billion over the life of the project.

The draft permit requires $75 million just to begin construction, and Klemz says he's pleased to see some of it will be cash.

"They're going to require one-third of the financial assurance or damage deposit to be in the form of cash, which we think is a really wise decision, because any damage deposit that is not cash can easily not be available if it is called upon," he states.

The draft permit assumes the mine will be active for 20 years

But Klemz says the damage to the environment could last for hundreds.

"The very nature of digging up thousands of acres of land to try to unearth minerals is a permanent change to the landscape and does environmental damage,” he stresses. “Then again, we are all dependent on these metals for modern life. So, we have to find a way to extract them in a way that is the least environmentally damaging."

Klemz cites a new poll by environmental groups that shows a majority of Minnesotans opposes the project.

But no matter what their viewpoint, he urges all people concerned to submit comments, show up at the public meetings, and contact their legislators.


Laurie Stern, Public News Service - MN