PolyMet environmental review draft complete

Duluth News Tribune
December 23, 2008

A draft environmental impact statement has been completed for the proposed PolyMet copper mining project near Hoyt Lakes, but it will be several weeks before the public can see it.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' private contractor recently finished the draft, and agency officials are reviewing the huge document.

A copy of the study has been forwarded to PolyMet, the company said Monday. Stuart Arkley, DNR project manager for the PolyMet environmental review, said it will be January or later before the document is officially released to the public.

"It's significant progress that we have a completed review document from our contractor, but we're still some time from a document that is ready for public comments,'' Arkley said.

Joe Scipioni, PolyMet's president and CEO, called the document "a major milestone for PolyMet.''

"While we have been frustrated by how long it has taken to reach this milestone, we believe that the [DNR] has produced a comprehensive document that thoroughly analyzes the potential impacts of the project,'' Scipioni said in a prepared statement.

The effort to develop the document has taken more than three years and has been delayed several times, with state officials noting the complex nature of the project.

The draft is expected to make public for the first time PolyMet's detailed plans, and the state's officials response, on how to mine and process copper and handle waste rock without harming the environment. If approved and built, Polymet would be the state's first copper mining and processing operation, and the review is expected to set the standard for any additional copper projects that might follow.

The Polymet mine also would produce nickel, platinum and other valuable metals. The mine site is near Babbitt, while the company plans to use the former LTV Steel taconite plant near Hoyt Lakes as a processing center. The company says it will create 400 or more jobs for more than 20 years during mining operations.

Environmental groups have questioned PolyMet's ability to prevent sulfuric acid runoff from the mine and piles of waste rock. Because copper is locked in rock that often is high in sulfur, mining operations can release high levels of sulfuric acid when rock and waste rock is exposed to air and water, and runoff can damage streams, lakes and wetlands. Taconite, by comparison, usually is in rock with little or no sulfur.

PolyMet officials say rock at the mine site is very low in sulfur compared to other copper mines worldwide and that they will take extreme care to collect any runoff from the mine and waste rock storage areas, preventing any water pollution.

The public will have 45 days to comment on the draft environmental review once it's released.

Deficit may affect mining issue

Mesabi Daily News
December 7, 2008

ST. PAUL – Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness convinced a group of many environmental factions to target copper/nickel/precious metals mining in Northeastern Minnesota during the 2009 legislative session.

But several area lawmakers, who strongly support non-ferrous mining projects on the east Range once they pass environmental review, say with a projected $5.27 billion budget deficit for the next 2 1/2 years they doubt the full Legislature will have much time for that issue.

"Some will make it an issue, but with all the other headaches, I think we're going to be too busy to be battling that issue, especially when you look at all the tax revenues and jobs those projects would generate," said state Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia. The PolyMet project, slated for the footprint of the former LTV Mining Co. taconite operation near Hoyt Lakes and Aurora, is the nonferrous venture furthest along. After more than 4 1/2 years of environmental review it is still waiting a draft Environmental Impact Statement that has been delayed for several months by the Department of Natural Resources, with the latest date for release sometime later this month or early January.

PolyMet officials estimate the $602 million project will create about 400 jobs, more than 500 spin-off jobs and more than 1.5 million hours of construction work. Projections of tax revenue are $17 million annually for local and state governments and $53 million for the federal government.

But some groups have environmental concerns and that's why the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, acting on the urging of Friends of Boundary Waters Wilderness, is preparing legislation to tighten and make more restrictive regulation for nonferrous mining that a lobbyist for them said would be ready to be introduced when the session begins the first week of January.

But state Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said the legislative playing field was dramatically altered last week with release of the revenue forecast that calls for a $426 million deficit hole in the current budget cycle that ends June 30, 2009, and a projected deficit of $4.85 billion for the next two-year budget.

"Anybody who has a legislative proposal negative on job creation will have a tough pull this session," Bakk said.

"We need to stay on our game and make sure we have the support of other rural members where we have backed their projects. I firmly believe these projects can be done in an environmentally safe way for future generations and we can realize the jobs they will create and revenues they will produce," said state Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake.