Review of PolyMet mine delayed again

August 27, 2013

The environmental review for the PolyMet copper and nickel mine in Minnesota has been delayed again as state environmental officials respond to new questions from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Star Tribune reported.

The long-awaited review of the mine is now scheduled for Nov. 22.

The company and other groups that have already reviewed the environmental impact statement (EIS) and no decisions has been made yet on how much time the public will get to digest the 1,800-page scientific document, or how many public hearings will be held to give them an opportunity to ask questions and voice their opinion. That process will likely occur starting in January, officials said.

“We are taking a hard and objective look at this project,” said Tom Landwehr, commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources. “Our top priority has always been to publish the best possible environmental review of a very complex project.”

For three and a half years, three state and federal agencies have been developing the legally required assessment of how Minnesota’s first proposed hard-rock mine would affect the water, air and land. Earlier they said the environmental impact statement would be completed by the end of this month. Company officials said that they are pleased that the document will be released in November. The first EIS was submitted in 2010, but was criticized by the EPA and sent PolyMet back to the drawing board. Since then the company has made significant changes to its plan, including the addition of reverse osmosis water-treatment systems that would remove contamination from runoff and water used in processing the ore, the Star Tribune reported.

“PolyMet will continue to be supportive of the process, which is in the best interest of the community and protecting Minnesota’s environment,” said Jon Cherry, president and CEO of PolyMet.

Environmental groups said the regulatory agencies should take as much time as they need because the stakes are enormous.

In Minnesota, PolyMet’s $600 million project has been the focus of intense debate over the promise of hundreds of new jobs on the Iron Range, and the potential risk to the Partridge and St. Louis Rivers. It is the first of what could be multiple proposals for mining projects from Hoyt Lakes up to the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness as companies try to tap into one of the largest copper nickel deposits left in the world.

Company officials say that new technologies and designs will allow them to mine safely and create a whole new era of mining for northern Minnesota.

But the complexity, controversy and the potential environmental risks have caused numerous delays.

“This is an extraordinary complex analysis,” said Steve Colvin, the DNR manger overseeing the state’s role in the review.

Legally, the state is required to hold only one public meeting near the project site, but the environmental groups are arguing for several around Minnesota because it is an issue of statewide importance.


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