Erie Plant formerly owned by LTV Steel Mining Company.
ST. PAUL, Minn. - The Minnesota DNR's final environmental review for Minnesota's proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine says the company's
proposal meets the state's environmental and health standards. The 3,500 page report, known as a final environmental impact statement, or EIS, is a 10 year study that found PolyMet's plan is sound enough to protect the state's natural resources.
The document says mine runoff would not reach the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness or Voyageurs National Park
, which has been a concern raised by critics. It also said PolyMet would employ state of the art technology to maintain air quality and reduce harmful emissions.
"It's been thoughtful, objective and thorough. We've really turned this upside down, inside out, backward and forward to take a look at it," said Tom Landwehr, MN DNR Commissioner.
Landwehr compared the process to an inspection when someone buys a house, pointing out strengths and weaknesses. He emphasized the environmental review is not a recommendation for the project, neither for nor against the construction of the open pit mine.
"We are truly neutral, either support or are opposed to the project," said Landwehr.
Landwehr said PolyMet would have to make sure that all cleanup costs are covered
after the mine closes, which would be determined during the permitting process. The report also said wastewater treatment plans must be kept in place indefinitely.
That's the boiling point for environmental groups opposed to the project.
"We are talking about a water treatment model that is based on data the company
built and the DNR has never independently verified – there is a lot to be concerned about here," said Kathryn Hoffman, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy attorney.
As the DNR claims it has acted independently, Hoffman says Minnesotans shouldn't believe it's safe.
"That's right, because that claim is based on faulty data, because it's PolyMet's data," said Hoffman.
PolyMet faces an extensive process, more than 20 permits, according to Landwehr, who said it's still too premature to determine whether the project will move forward.
PolyMet President and CEO
Jon Cherry called the final environmental review a huge milestone and in a press release, said "The Final EIS demonstrates that PolyMet can mine and process copper, nickel and platinum group metals in a manner that complies with the law, protects the environment and creates hundreds of high-paying jobs in northern Minnesota while creating value for shareholders
Governor Mark Dayton visited mines in South Dakota and Michigan ahead of his decision whether to advance copper and nickel mining on the Iron Range and has described the decision as one of the most difficult he'll make in his career. He said he also require an exhaustive financial
review of the company.
The $650 million dollar project would be located in the St. Louis River watershed on the eastern edge of the Mesabi Iron Range, about 6 miles south of Babbitt and about 1 mile south of the existing iron-ore Northshore Mine. Processing of the ore would take place at a former industrial site, the LTV steel plant
in Hoyt Lakes.
Concerns can be addressed in a 30-day public comment period. The agency will determine early next year, likely in February, whether the review is adequate. Then the company can start applying for permits.