A proposed northern Minnesota mining project that is politically and environmentally controversial has cleared a big hurdle, but still has a long way to go before construction can begin. On Thursday, Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources deemed the PolyMet mine’s Final Environmental Impact Statement “adequate”. The study and approval took six years. Leaders from Minnesota environmental organizations, and even Governor Mark Dayton, argue there is more work to be done.
At a press conference, Dayton noted that with the approval of the PolyMet final environmental impact statement, government officials, PolyMet, and others can begin the real work of making sure the proposed Northmet copper mining project helps bolster Minnesota’s economy, while also preserving and sustaining the environment.
PolyMet’s next steps are the completion of 23 permits at the local, state, and federal level.
“That’s where the real environmental review, as far as I am concerned, is going to take place to determine that this is going to be a project that will be entirely as safe as humanly possible for the environment now and in the years to follow and furthermore, that the company will commit to the hard currency necessary to guarantee Minnesotans that if something were to go untoward during the life of the project, which is estimated to be about 20 years thereafter, that burden will not fall on Minnesota taxpayers. This rigor begins now and we’ll proceed from there,” Governor Dayton said..
Dayton says the state is also preparing for a lawsuit. He expects the losing side will sue. His administration will have final say on approving the project and he says he remains “genuinely undecided” on approving it. So environmental groups are urging concerned citizens to contact the governor to express their opinion.
Environmentalists Call DNR Action “Premature”
Minnesota environmentalists remain concerned that the proposed mine will have a longstanding effect of Minnesota’s waterways.
“The DNR announced that they found the Environmental Impact Statement to be adequate. We are not surprised by that decision, but we are disappointed, because there is still a whole host of unresolved issues that Minnesotans have been bringing up over and over again,” said Aaron Klemz Advocacy Director for Friends of the Boundary Waters.
Klemz called the DNR’s OK “premature” and said the permitting phase of the project is not as transparent and the bulk of the work will be done in “back room” discussions between regulators and PolyMet that the public will not be able to see.
Klemz believes there are two main problems with the proposed mining project: the unknown direction of the waterflow and its potential impact on the Boundary waters, as well as the lack of protection for the 8,000 acres of wetlands found at the proposed mine site.
According to the environmental impact statement, the proposed mine would cause 41,000 tons day waste rock, disturb 2,177 acres vegetation, and impact both lynx & wolves. It would also bring a total of 800 jobs to the area, of which 360 would be full-time, and the remaining would be temporary construction jobs.
PolyMet is planning on mining for copper, nickel, and other precious metals for upwards of twenty years.
The Sierra Club Northstar Chapter also released a statement today,
“This determination is disappointing, given the enormous risks of PolyMet’s deeply flawed sulfide mine proposal and the many questions left unanswered by the Final Environmental Impact Statement. The FEIS failed to fully evaluate pollution risks and health impacts and shows that the project would pose an unacceptable threat to Lake Superior – degradation of surface water, groundwater, and wetlands, and harm to endangered and threatened wildlife,” says Margaret Levin, the Sierra Club State Director.
The final environmental impact statement was a 3,500 page document. It received 58,000 comments from Minnesotans and was discussed by 4,000 Minnesotans in three public hearings held in 2014. The proposed mine site is in the struggling Iron Range, where unemployment has been a major problem. The Iron Range would have been one focus in a special session proposed in November of 2015, but no agreement on the session could be found between legislators and Governor Dayton.