Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton will see the best case and worst case scenarios of large mining operations as he visits two mine sites while considering how to proceed on the proposed Iron Range copper-nickel mine.
His first stop was to the Gilt Edge Mine in South Dakota, a Superfund site that he called a “a textbook example of how not to do it,” where he witnessed a mine that left behind a multimillion-dollar environmental cleanup project on the back of a bankrupt company.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that the trip left Dayton with a “strengthened resolve to guarantee environmental and financial safeguards for a mine proposed by PolyMet Mining Corp.”
Dayton said all contingencies must be prepared for and be backed by company money in case something goes awry.
“If it does proceed, this emphasized the importance of doing it right with safeguards to make sure something like this doesn’t happen,” Dayton said upon returning. He added that the visit has made him no closer to a decision on the proposed Iron Range copper-nickel mine.
Later in the week Dayton will see an example of how to do things right when he visits Michigan’s Eagle Mine near Lake Superior to view what supporters of the Minnesota project say is a far more successful mine.
The PolyMet decision is shaping up to be one of the most important of Dayton’s term, a decision that is almost guaranteed to end in lawsuits by whichever group loses, in what has been the company’s yearslong, multimillion-dollar effort to win project approval.
Dayton has explicitly said politics will play no part in his administration’s decision, but he has also not denied the deep divisions the PolyMet issue is causing in the DFL coalition that elected him governor twice.
“There’s no middle ground,” Dayton said when asked about pressure from both sides.
PolyMet’s project has drawn intense scrutiny as the company seeks state approval. It would be the first copper-nickel mine in the state, promising a $650 million investment and up to 350 jobs on the site of the now-closed LTV steel mine outside Hoyt Lakes. But critics say the project threatens to bring unacceptable environmental risks that would linger in the state for generations after the mine closes.
PolyMet is the first of what is expected to be several companies lining up to tap one of the world’s largest untouched deposits of copper, nickel and other precious metals used for everything from smartphones to hybrid cars.
Dayton is likely to make a final decision on a state permit for the project, in consultation with Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr, by late 2016, though permitting involves several other state and federal agencies.