Mines would be safe for environment
Mines would be safe for environment, PolyMet says
The company listed safeguards in hopes of winning regulatory approval for its operations on the Range. Critics aren't convinced.
By Dee DePass, Star Tribune
Determined to quell environmental concerns about its plans, PolyMet Mining Corp. said Friday that it has given regulators a list of safeguards it intends to take to prevent groundwater contamination at its proposed $380 million copper-and-nickel mine and plant on the Iron Range.
The massive "NorthMet" project is slated to breathe new life into the defunct LTV taconite plant in Hoyt Lakes. Opponents argue that when rain and snow soak piles of waste rock tailings, it could create sulfuric acid runoff and potentially hurt the waters that feed Lake Superior.
Company officials hope to obtain operating permits this year and begin production in late 2008.
The list of proposed safeguards will go to a group of independent contractors who will evaluate the mine's potential impact on the environment. Once that report is finished, the state Department of Natural Resources must approve a permit to mine. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency will coordinate air and water permits. The Army Corp of Engineers is handling wetlands mitigation.
The project would disturb "less than 900 acres" of wetlands, 25 percent less than previously estimated, company officials said.
The PolyMet project would bring 400 jobs to the Range and create the first copper plant in Minnesota and the first nickel plant in the country.
"PolyMet remains committed to meeting or exceeding Minnesota's stringent environmental standards," William Murray, president of the Vancouver-based mining conglomerate, said in a prepared statement. "The NorthMet ore body is low in sulfur compared with most sulfidic deposits. Our intent is to use the best mining and reclamation practices coupled with the world's cleanest and most energy-efficient process technology."
In its list, PolyMet said it will eliminate water discharge problems by reusing all processing water at the mine site. Discarded waste rock not containing copper, nickel or other precious metals will be placed on liners, monitored and treated if necessary to prevent runoff into groundwater. Waste rock will be capped to minimize oxidation and sulfuric acid generation, officials said.
The company is also setting up a financial assurance guaranty of an undisclosed amount that would cover the cost of closing operations.
Inside the plant, PolyMet would use a nonpolluting water-and-high-pressure system to separate metals from rock. That process is far more energy-efficient than traditional smelters commonly found in copper and nickel plants, said spokesman Warren Hudelson.
Environmental groups worry about the new methods PolyMet would employ in its mining, the waste rock impact on groundwater and how much insurance PolyMet buys to handle possible problems decades from now.
"We are obviously going to be watching this very closely," said Chuck Laszewski, a spokesman for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.
"In the hundreds of years of history of this kind of mining, not one of these has ever been environmentally safe," he said. "They have all had problems with contamination of water in one form or another. Because its always been a disaster every place else where mining has gone on, we want to make sure that Minnesota and its citizens are not left holding the bag if something goes wrong down the road."
PolyMet believes "we can develop this project using modern techniques and technology without leaving a legacy of environmental damage or harm," Hudelson said.