‘Tremendous potential’ for non-ferrous

Mesabi Daily News
January 31, 2008

VIRGINIA – University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks believes the non-ferrous projects slated for the area have "tremendous potential.''

Bruininks supports the projects because he believes they can be done in a way that protects the natural resources and the environment, he said in an interview at the Coates Plaza Hotel in Virginia.

"It has potential for great economic activity,'' said Bruininks, who addressed the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools annual meeting Thursday night. Such projects provide added resources for the U of M's institutions in this region, he added, through royalties from minerals mined on university lands.

The university has many connections to the Range, Bruininks said, including taconite research conducted by E.W. Davis.

Davis discovered a process for separating the iron particles from what was thought to be waste rock. The process made taconite mining an economically viable proposition and revitalized the Iron Range, according to the U of M Web site.

Bruininks also addressed the university's intention to seek $225 million in capital bonding support from the 2008 Legislature. Combined with $63 million from the U of M, the funds would be used for biomedical research facilities, he said.

Overall, the funding is part of an 8-10 year strategy to build facilities for continuing the U of M's leading edge biomedical research, Bruininks said. The research includes work on Alzheimer's, heart tissue restoration and diabetes, he said.

The capital dollars would preserve the U of M's research stature and enable it to compete worldwide, he added.

Bruininks remains hopeful on the funding after the way the Legislature responded to the university's needs last year. That was due in part to a great deal of leadership from the Range delegation, he said.

In past years, however, the state has provided "insufficient financial support'' to the university system, Bruininks said. That has forced the U of M to raise tuition and use other means to increase funding.

He said "the state hasn't done enough'' and needs to fund education better at all levels.

Duluth Metals scoping study urges doing next step

Mesabi Daily News
January 22, 2008

A scoping study released Tuesday on the Nokomis Deposit, owned by Duluth Metals, near Ely "confirms robust economics," while the study's economic figures indicate the potential for the Nokomis Project to be "one of the word's lowest-cost copper-nickel producers operating on a large scale over a very long period of time,'' the study said.

The study, produced by engineer Graham Clow of Scott Wilson Roscoe Postle Associates, gave models and financial highlights based on market prices as of Jan. 13 in producing its figures.

A concept of mining scoped by Scott Wilson RPA projects 20,000 tons a day over its 25-year mine life for 172 million tons total, less than half the resource estimate of August; payback on pre-production expenditure of $915 million would be in four years in a basic scenario, and two years with current market prices; undiscounted, pretax cash flow would be $4.3 billion in a basic scenario, and $12.3 billion at current market prices.

The study's authors recommended "the project be immediately advanced to pre-feasibility stage, including examination of the benefits of increasing the production rate above the base case of 20,000 tons a day,'' with higher grade feed in early years to maximize the economics, the Scott Wilson RPA said.

"We are extremely pleased the scoping study has confirmed the world class potential of the Nokomis Project and its potential to be one of the world's lowest cost producers,'' Duluth Metals President and CEO Henry Sandri said in a statement. He added that with the results of their 2007-08 drill program, with 41 holes drilled since May, "we will be significantly expanding our resource.'' Five drills are operating currently on the project.

Sandri said that during pre-feasibility they would be seeking to maximize economics by planning higher grade feed, considering the impact of a larger level of operations, at 40,000 tons a day, and confirming the extent of the resources.

The company is one of several now drilling or making plans to explore nonferrous mining along the East Range, specifically in the Babbitt and Ely areas, in the Duluth Complex in Northeastern Minnesota. Copper, nickel, cobalt and gold, as well as precious metals like platinum and palladium, are the main metals being considered.

Local view: Responsible mining is good for Northland

Frank Ongaro
Duluth News Tribune
January 16, 2007

It is clear from reading Joseph Legueri's Jan. 11 Iron Range View commentary that the next generation of mining, and the progress and growth it will provide Northeastern Minnesota, is creating unrealistic fears in some uninformed people ("In imaginary boardroom, mining execs cook up propaganda to feed Iron Rangers").

Anyone willing to take the time to learn and educate themselves about the specifics of the projects being proposed will gain an acute understanding of how nonferrous mines and processing facilities will operate and how the waste from this extremely low-sulfur ore body will be treated with available technology and applications that will protect the environment.

Yes, base and precious metal mining operations are being developed in Minnesota. Yes, they will provide hundreds, potentially thousands, of great-paying, enduring jobs. Yes, they will be required to operate within Minnesota's strict environmental standards, making sure our air and water is protected. Yes, this will allow young families to live and work in the region, not only in the mines, but in thousands of supplier jobs as well. Yes, these mining operations will generate millions of tax dollars each year in local and state tax revenue. Yes, this will help our cities and schools remain viable.

This is all good for the entire state.

Most of us from this region, including those of us who are third-generation Rangers with grandfathers who also worked in the mines, have as much respect for the environment as anyone. We want nothing less than to leave our wonderful lakes, woods, and clean air to our grandchildren to enjoy and appreciate.

Demand for base and precious metals is growing, both domestically and globally. Mining development for this demand is growing as well, much of it in countries that have little regard for environmental safeguards. The United States is dependant on foreign imports for a majority of our consumption of copper, platinum, palladium and 100 percent of nickel. Some of these metals are on the Academy of Science's list of minerals "most critical" to the U.S. economy.

Do letter writers use a computer? Do people have cell phones? Do we drive cars? Do we go to a doctor for health care? Our computers, our cell phones, batteries for hybrid cars, catalytic converters to remove emissions from automobiles, stainless steel for medical devices, alloys for our defense systems and plumbing and wiring for our homes all come from these base and precious metals.

We have a once-in-our-lifetime, win-win opportunity for Minnesota right now. We can help meet the growing demand for metals with Minnesota jobs and do it within Minnesota's strict environmental standards. As environmentalists, we should all get behind and support the excellent example of responsible development being proposed and hold it up as a standard for all mining development in the U.S. and in the world.

Finally, yes, groups do have to be formed to provide good, objective and accurate information to the public. The "imaginary" meeting described in Legueri's commentary was a perfect example as to why that is necessary.

The people in Northeastern Minnesota are smart. They will take the time to learn all the facts and form their own intelligent decisions. Decisions based on real information. Not imaginary fears.

Testing finds Birch Lake water quality OK after drilling

Duluth News Tribune
January 15, 2008

Independent testing by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources shows that water quality in Birch Lake near Babbitt hasn't been affected by a copper, nickel and platinum group drilling program from www.hagstromdrilling.com.au, Franconia Minerals Corp. said.

Franconia Minerals in the second half of 2007 drilled six holes beneath the lake bed as part of an exploration for copper, nickel, palladium and platinum.

The DNR Division of Lands and Minerals sampled water during drilling and found that pH, specific conductance and turbidity met water quality guidelines, Franconia Minerals said in a news release Monday.

A DNR report on the testing obtained by the News Tribune concurs with Franconia Minerals.

The DNR report noted that three of 70 total water samples slightly exceeded the water quality level of concerns for total phosphorus, but all three were found upstream and were "not likely the result of drilling activity," the release said. Historical data indicates that Birch Lake typically has somewhat elevated total phosphorus concentrations, according to the report.

Four of the 70 samples exceeded the water quality guideline for oil and grease, according to the report. Of the four, two were downstream deep samples, one was a downstream surface sample, and one was upstream and deep.

Based on the data, the DNR determined that there was no change in water quality in Birch Lake as a result of the drilling program, the report said.

The Birch Lake site and two other nearby sites contain an estimated 307.9 million tons of minerals.

Area needs stronger words of support for mining projects from Sen. Klobuchar

Mesabi Daily News
January 12, 2008

Iron Range residents who realize we are in a battle for the very economic survival of the region don't need to hear from elected officials that they need more details on several mining projects. What they need to hear are strong words of support for those initiatives.

But, unfortunately, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., is being far, far too meek in her general support for some resource-based projects, calling for "more details" on them.

In a Mesabi Daily News story last Sunday, Klobuchar said regarding the PolyMet copper/nickel/precious metals project slated for the former LTV Mining site near Aurora and Hoyt Lakes: "Support economic projects, yes … but I want to see more details."

In the same story regarding the Franconia Minerals non-ferrous project at Birch Lake near Babbitt, Klobuchar said: "Open to the project … but want to see more details."

Those remarks sound like something that would be voiced by a spokesperson for any of several environmental groups that continually pour money and effort into trying to block darn near every mining-related venture that comes along.

"Support …. but."

No, no, no, no. It should be, "Support, period."

More details? That sounds as if the companies developing these projects are being evasive, or even trying to hide something. Or else that there aren't details of the two projects aren't available. But just the opposite is true.

These two companies have spent millions of dollars already in meeting the high level of regulation of the state and federal governments and ensuring that there is full transparency of the two projects for the public. And that's fine. That's how it should be because no one wants these ventures to be injurious to the environment.

Meanwhile, they are facing a whisper campaign – one getting louder and louder – to try to keep the projects from becoming a reality. A campaign by people and groups who could care less about the Range's economic future, about the area's workforce, about the need for good-paying jobs, about the very fabric of communities in the area.

We are a resource-based area where a big part of the economy has been and will be for some time mining. That's not something to chew our nails over. It's something to work to develop in harmony with the environment.

Has the environment been violated by mining in the past around the country and on the Range? Certainly.

But this isn't the 1950s, 1960s or 1970s. This isn't about the terrible environmental legacy left by Reserve Mining. This is about two mining initiatives in 2008 where modern technology and rigid regulation can pave the way for new projects and new jobs created with the environment as a partner, not a victim.

We hear a lot from politicians about the need for better health care, better education opportunities for our young people, more youth centers provided by communities, more services for our seniors, more affordable housing … more, more, more, more.

And we couldn't agree more with those sentiments. But funding for all of them flows from jobs, jobs and more jobs.

There's going to be a big effort made by some environmentalists and groups and certain DFLers in the Twin Cities area – does the Sierra Club ring a bell? – this legislative session in St. Paul to try to either ban sulfide mining in Minnesota or at least build up more obstacles to such mining that would affect both PolyMet and Franconia Minerals.

We're in for a battle, folks. There's no doubt about that. And we had better be standing tall and firm to fight for the economic future of the region.

And that means we need the strong and solid support of elected officials – both on the state and federal level. And that means most definitely Minnesota's two U.S. senators.