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Crow Wing County community considers proposed manganese mine

Brainerd Daily Dispatch
May 16, 2009

EMILY, Minn. (AP) Officials in the north-central Minnesota town of Emily are mulling whether to allow a proposed manganese mine in the community.

Crow Wing Power made an informational pitch to the City Council this past week. And as the project progresses there are expected to be several public hearings.

Emily doesn't allow mining and its ordinance would need to be amended.

A spokesman for Cooperative Mineral Resources, a subsidiary of Crow Wing Power created for the manganese project, told the council the manganese deposit is the largest in North America.

It's located on 5 acres of a 12-acre site about a half mile off Highway 6 between Ruth and Anna lakes.

Manganese is used in alloys such as stainless steels and in batteries, among other uses.

Sulfide mining could boost Minnesota iron range, but proposal triggers fears of environmental damage

Finance & Commerce
May 13, 2009

A proposed $600 million mining project in northeastern Minnesota is drawing fire from environmental groups that say the operation and others like it could wreak havoc on lakes and rivers, and leave taxpayers on the hook for a major cleanup bill.

But the nickel and copper mining operation envisioned by Canada-based PolyMet is also gathering strong support from unions, business interests and elected officials who are intrigued by the prospect of several hundred new jobs in the economically distressed region.

PolyMet officials say the project would require 1.5 million man-hours of construction labor.

“We need to be inviting this type of smart investment into Minnesota,” said Dick Anfang, president of the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council, in a recent statement.

PolyMet holds a lease to develop the NorthMet mining site, just south of the Mesabi Iron Range. The mining company hopes to secure environmental approval for the NorthMet project by the third quarter of this year.

The NorthMet site contains rich deposits of copper, nickel, cobalt and other metals, and is part of the “Duluth Complex,” believed to be “one of the three largest known concentrations of nickel in the world,” according to a project overview from PolyMet.

The company hopes to crush and grind the ore from NorthMet at its nearby Erie Plant, according to PolyMet’s project overview. Company officials say the operation could produce 400 long-term jobs, an enticing carrot that excites northern Minnesota legislators.

Not everyone at the Capitol is enthusiastic.

A House bill, introduced earlier this year, would place additional requirements on mining companies such as PolyMet, including “financial assurances” to the state in case the operation leaves an environmental mess for the taxpayers to clean up.

The bill isn’t going anywhere this year. However, groups such as the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness and the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy are hoping it lays the groundwork for next year.

Those groups maintain that this type of mining activity known as sulfide or non-ferrous mining is new to Minnesota and that it has great potential to harm lakes, rivers and streams.

“State after state where this has been done has encountered really bad pollution problems,” said Betsy Daub, policy director for the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. “Costs involved with the cleanup are so high they exceed in most cases the financial assurances that the mining industry has to post before they begin their operation.”

In some cases, taxpayers have been on the hook “to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars,” Daub said.

“Let’s not have a repeat of this in Minnesota,” Daub added. “If we are going to do sulfide mining in the state, let’s make sure it’s as safe as we can possibly make it.”

Daub said the legislation isn’t strictly about the PolyMet project. She said dozens of other applications are pending to do sulfide drilling in Minnesota.

“There is a lot of interest in accessing these metals in Minnesota. … What we need is better assurance from the mining companies and Minnesota law that make us feel that the risks have been lowered to an acceptable level,” she said.

But proponents of the mining projects say existing rules are sufficient to protect the environment.

PolyMet officials say they would use “environmentally friendly, energy-saving” technology in the operation. Moreover, the company says it has submitted “more than 100 detailed technical reports” to officials charged with assessing the project’s environmental impact, including the Minnesota DNR.

To date, PolyMet has invested $20 million in the environmental-review process alone, according to company documents.

“Minnesota already has rigorous environmental standards and clear policies for financial assurance to protect the state’s taxpayers from the cost of project closure,” said Joe Scipioni, president and CEO of PolyMet, in a statement. “Support for the non-ferrous mining industry came from both sides of the political aisle, as well as from both labor unions and chambers of commerce.”

Scipioni pointed to a recent University of Minnesota-Duluth study, which shows that mining contributed more than $3 billion to the state’s economy in 2007. The study also found that if all the currently proposed mining projects go forward, it would add an additional $6 billion to the state’s economy and create 10,000 construction jobs.

But Daub said the study makes the unlikely assumption that all those contemplated projects will go forward.

“I don’t think anyone expects all of them to come about,” she said.

And if they did?

It would turn northern Minnesota into “a huge, vast mining wasteland,” she said.

If all goes according to plan, construction could begin as soon as early next year and some production would be up and running a year later, according to LaTisha Gietzen, PolyMet’s vice president of public and environmental affairs.

Gietzen said the legislation introduced this year was “not necessary,” and she wasn’t overly concerned about prospects that it might be revisited next year.

“We have a broad coalition of support,” she said. “The legislation introduced this year never had a committee hearing, didn’t make any progress in the Legislature at all. Certainly it is something we are going to watch for, but it’s not something that keeps me up at night.”

Copper-Nickel Exploration Slowing But Hopeful

Northland News Center CBS6
May 12, 2009

Exploration for copper-nickel in Northeastern Minnesota has been a hotly debated topic at the legislature this session, but it has also been a fairly successful one in Aitkin County.

Kennecott Exploration, an international mining company, has been exploring the area around Tamarack, Minnesota for non-ferrous metals for the past few years, and although the economy has slowed the search, geologists remain hopeful for future.

LeAnn Wallace has our story.

((NAT SOUND: CUTTING NICKEL))

"We found some interesting mineralization here in Tamarack but now we'd like to explore the broader area and see if there are other zones around here."

Last year Kennecott Exploration drilled more than 50 holes in Aitkin County, finding primarily nickel, which encouraged the company to continue their explorations, in the hopes of finding enough of the lucrative product to open a mine.

Drilling will continue this summer, but on a much smaller scale due to the crumbling economy.

"We've got to be more careful this year than last year, but we're always careful, but when resources are limited you've got to be more thoughtful about where you look."

Kennecott holds mineral leases on 16-thousand acres of land in the region, including some in Carlton County where they plan to focus their drilling this summer. Geologists say unless enough material is found to begin a mine the exploration has little or no impact on the land.

"This is what a typical drill site will look like three months after exploration is complete."

"After the core has been drilled from a site like this, it's taken to our core shed where the geologist examines the material and a representative portion of the sample is sent to get an analysis to determine the content of nickel and copper within the rock."

Exploration can take years and although the value of copper/nickel has dropped, geologists say the market is not their worry.

"Our goal really is to focus on what mineralization we can find and then run it through economic models that take a long term approach to pricing."

In Tamarack, LeAnn Wallace, the Northland's News Center.

Kennecott has drilled 14 holes so far this year and will continue exploration throughout the summer.

Mining’s economic impact could triple by 2013 00:00:00

Business North
May 5, 2009

A study by University of Minnesota Duluth economists underscores the importance of current and proposed mining to the region's economy.

Unveiled at the annual Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration (SME) conference in Duluth on April 15, it concludes an astounding 34 percent of gross regional product is tied mining; a share that's likely to increase as ferrous and non-ferrous projects proposed for Minnesota's Iron Range become operational.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, Minnesota Power, UMD's Natural Resources Research Institute, Iron Range Resources, the Iron Mining Association of Minnesota and Mining Minnesota commissioned the report. It explored the direct, indirect and induced impacts of mining on the Arrowhead Region and Douglas County, Wisconsin, as well as statewide.

Economist James Skurla, director of UMD's Bureau of Business and Economic Research, led the research effort. He reviewed its conclusions during a keynote address at the mining conference.

Using 2007 as a baseline, Skurla and other economists deduced that ferrous mining has an annual statewide impact of $1.5 billion in wages, rents and profits and more than $3 billion in output (local production required to sustain activities). In the Arrowhead and Douglas County, mining has a nearly $1.4 billion annual impact on wages, rents and profits with output of $2.9 billion. About 10,000 jobs are directly or indirectly tied to the mining industry. Just over one-third of those jobs are directly tied to mining. "It's crucial here," Skurla said.

Not only is the region highly dependent on mining, its share of the economy (percentage of gross regional product) is increasing. In 2001, mining accounted for $2.3 billion, or 23 percent, of a $10.1 billion regional economy. By 2007, mining's impact had jumped to $4.7 billion, or 34 percent of the region's estimated $13.7 billion economy.

"I was pleasantly pleased to see an increase in the importance of the industry," said Craig Pagel, president of the Iron Mining Association. "The industry's not getting old, it's an industry that's growing."

Add mining's current impact to the potential of both ferrous (iron) and nonferrous projects at various stages of development – such as Essar Steel Minnesota, Mesabi Nugget and PolyMet -, and the impact triples. "The mining industry by 2013 could have an economic impact of $9 billion," Skurla said.

"This study confirmed what we've known in this region for a long time about the importance of the existing industry and the importance non-ferrous could have," said Frank Ongaro, executive director of Mining Minnesota, a collection of groups, businesses and organizations promoting copper, nickel and precious metals mining development.

Potential large scale economic impact is bound to have at least some impact on state policymakers' decision making. Non-ferrous projects have the potential to create 5,600 jobs and add $2.3 billion to the state's economy, according to the study.

"This report is a strong recognition of how we can get out of the current economic condition the right way – by creating jobs," Ongaro said.

The improving prospects for non-ferrous mining and the industry's growing economic momentum have spurred state legislation to tighten permitting and force mining companies to set aside more capital for environmental reclamation. In late April, neither House File 0916 nor Senate File 0845 had cleared a single committee, however, minimizing the chance that the 2009 Minnesota Legislature will force tougher regulation.

Meanwhile, the short-term economic prospects for iron mining aren't so favorable. The Iron Range iron ore industry faces a virtual shutdown this summer as global demand for steel has plummeted. Long term, however, ferrous and non-ferrous mining appear poised to grow. Analysts suggest the long-term outlook for demand in BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China) nations will make iron ore a commodity in high demand over time.

With 34 percent of the regional economy dependent upon mining, according to the study, is there cause for concern?

"You don't want to be dependent on one industry, if that (34 percent) number is correct, it shows a dangerous degree of dependence,' said economist Tony Barrett at The College of St. Scholastica.

Barrett agrees mining is vital to the region, but was surprised by the study's findings. He notes the region weathered the last two recessions, in 2001 and 1990-91, thanks to the stability of healthcare and other industries that have grown.

Pagel said diversification of the economy is important. But he argues a stronger natural resources-based economy can create a base from which other industries in turn can grow.

Life on the Iron Range of Minnesota

Mesabi Misadventures Blog
May 1, 2009

"It's a shallow life that doesn't give a person a few scars." – Garrison Keillor

We start off our lives flawless.

Our skin is smooth.  Our hair is shiny.  Our outlook is hopeful. 

But then life happens.

Our souls become scarred.

As does our outside.

Within each scar is a story. 

Our story.

Are you less beautiful? 

Or are you a survivor?

National Geographic did a ZipUSA article on Hibbing in 2002.  http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0210/feature7/fulltext.html In it, they quote Bob Dylan.  "You've seen that great ugly hole in the ground, where that open-pit mine was," Dylan told biographer Robert Shelton. "They actually think, up there, that it is beautiful."

Yeah Mr. Dylan.  I do actually think it's beautiful.

I stare at my computer monitor and type away, knowing fully that somewhere there is a hole in the ground because of this computer.  A large hole, a massive hole potentially seen from space. 

A scar if you will.

My "need" for this computer and for my truck and for my food and for my house and for my clothes and for my paper and for my everything single thing I own created the scar.

I created the scar.

"I am only one, but still I am one" – Helen Keller

Yes Mr. Dylan.  The Iron Range is one hell of a large gash in Minnesota.  The pits are deep, the sides are steep, and the stockpiles rise up like Aztec temples. 

The blasting and digging end, the gashes heal. 

Our gashes heal. 

Yet we are deemed destructive. 

Farmland and wetlands beyond count are lost in the metro area, but this is considered success.

Those gashes won't heal. 

They'll remain torn open with strip malls, townhomes, endless cloverleafs and cars ripping the cut open continuously like the little kid who won't listen when mom says to quit picking at their scabs.

We will heal and our scars will tell a story.

A story about how the Iron Range provided and continues to provide for a quality of life that grants people the time, resources and technology to fight against mining.

Ironic.

And beautiful.