Reader’s view: Mining supports thousands in northern Minnesota

Duluth News Tribune
December 31, 2009

The Dec. 20 Opinion section included a commentary by Marc Fink, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, alleging we are giving up too much of our natural resources and could be turning northern Minnesota area into Appalachia because of the proposed PolyMet project ("Creating our own Appalachia means giving up too much"). I'm afraid the opposite is true. Fink stated additional mining could lock the area into a permanent resource-extraction economy. I ask him to wake up! I ask what alternative we have. Mining and wood products support thousands of families. A huge percentage of local jobs result from providing goods and services to employees working in extraction jobs. We must face this fact. We will turn into Appalachia without the resource-extraction jobs in our area. What other opportunities do we have up here? Not everyone can sit at home and write, work in a hospital or be an attorney or judge, or work in other areas of non-resource dependency. We can sell minnows to tourists or be fishing guides – excuse me, I forgot, these are resource-based also.

Bryce Makela Duluth

Reader’s view: PolyMet mine will lead renewal on the Range

Duluth News Tribune
December 20, 2009

Mining to the Iron Range is what wheat production is to the Great Plains. Mining is the lifestyle, the very essence of the Range. It’s the basis of the region’s very existence. Those who do not understand the significance of mining on the Range and the consequences of its exodus not only underestimate the value of mining to Rangers but to all Minnesotans.

The proposed PolyMet project would produce 400 to 470 direct, long-term jobs plus a large number of ancillary and support jobs. This would be in addition to the thousands of construction-related jobs during the initial phases of building. Furthermore, a study by the University of Minnesota Duluth found PolyMet would add an additional $6 billion annually to the state’s economy. That would prove welcome relief from ever-rising taxes to aging northern Minnesotans and their ability to remain in their homes.

The PolyMet project, near Hoyt Lakes, represents the vanguard of the rebirth of the Iron Range, this time as a producer of nonferrous metals like nickel, copper and platinum.

But the PolyMet project has been a typical example of the way government can create hurdles instead of highways for Range miners and the tax base of Minnesota. This project holds great promise for the futures of both the Iron Range and all of Minnesota, but government bureaucracy and national special-interest groups have held the project hostage five years.

Adding to the obstacles is U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar’s proposed Clean Water Restoration Act, which would further introduce impediments in bringing prosperity to an area already finding elusive the fruits of economic recovery.

My hope is our currently elected officials have the good judgment to facilitate the PolyMet project not only for the hard-working people of the Iron Range but for all Minnesotans.

Chip Cravaack

Lindstrom, Minn.

Reader’s view: Pollution fears misplaced for PolyMet project

Duluth News Tribune
December 20, 2009

 Like Steve and Jane Koschak, who were featured in the Dec. 6 story, “PolyMet mine splits Iron Range,” my husband and I were born and raised in Ely, we both graduated from Ely schools, and we have seen our schools and hospitals suffer due to a decreasing population, a lack of good-paying jobs and a tax base to sustain them.

This year the graduating class in Ely was 39. That is a definite sign of a dying community.

My husband works at Northshore Mining, and his job provides our family with a good income that includes benefits. It allowed me to be a stay-at-home mom while our two daughters were young. We have lived on Fall Lake for 35 years, and in all those years, we have not noticed any change in Fall Lake, even though there has been iron ore and taconite mining in the area for close to 100 years.

We know the importance of our tourism industry and can appreciate the Koschak’s concerns for Birch Lake, where they have one of the area’s nicest resorts. But most tourism jobs are part-time and seasonal, and they do not pay enough to support families.

We disagree that PolyMet will pollute Birch Lake, as PolyMet is not in the Kawishiwi Watershed.

The jobs that PolyMet will provide will support workers and their families for the next 50 years. These full-time, year-round jobs will pay livable wages with benefits and will help revitalize our communities with even more spin-off jobs.

We support the PolyMet project as well as other mining projects. We have the resources here and we are confident that under the watchful eyes of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency our environment and lake waters will be protected with new technology.

Nancy and Doug McReady


Reader’s view: PolyMet would meet demand responsibly

Duluth News Tribune
December 20, 2009

I am writing to clarify comments attributed to me in the Dec. 6 story, “PolyMet mine splits Iron Range.”

I was quoted using the phrase “slave labor” in reference to current global copper production. This comment was misleading. I do apologize for making it and wish it had not been included. However, the reality, and the point I was attempting to make, is that copper is currently mined in places with histories of atrocious working conditions. Places like Mexico and Zambia. Although not “slave labor,” standards are clearly below what they are here.

I consider myself an environmentalist, and ultimately that is why I am supporting the PolyMet project. Ten years ago, when I was dropping off campers along the Echo Trail, I would never have thought I would be supporting a copper mine. However, these minerals are being used; I use them. By reading this you have participated in their use.

Perhaps the best-case scenario would be to stop consuming everything, period. That seems a bit impossible because we would all start getting a bit hungry. Then someone would start a tractor and we would be using resources again.

We could conserve, and I would encourage everyone to do so, but that would not eliminate the need for resources for food, heat and electricity.

The best we can hope for is for the resources we use to be produced in the most technologically advanced and environmentally friendly way possible.

That is what PolyMet’s proposal is and why I am in favor of it.

I am glad people are concerned about this project. I do hope these people investigate their concerns fully. We do need to be educated and not incendiary on a project this important.

I do regret if any quotes attributed to me in the article served the latter.

Justin Mattson


Editorial: Minnesota can embrace PolyMet and copper mining

Duluth News Tribune
December 20, 2009

A team of Iron Rangers has been working for years to bring "the next generation of mining" to Northeastern Minnesota. Under the name PolyMet, the team acquired a massive, long-idled processing plant. It lined up investors from around the world, spent more than $20 million of the investors' money in preparations, and is now, it says, "in the late stages of the environmental review process."

A long-awaited draft environmental impact statement, more than four years in the making, was unveiled in October, a major step in making PolyMet a long-needed reality. The statement explains how the mine can process copper, nickel, platinum and other valuable metals in accordance with strong state and federal environmental rules and regulations.

Public comments on the draft statement are being accepted even as Minnesota's U.S. senators and the region's representative in Congress and others in high places voice their strong support for PolyMet and copper mining.

The plan will be tweaked before final approval. The company then must apply for permits before this boon for our region can begin operations.

Iron ore has been mined from our region since the 19th century. PolyMet would be a different kind of mining. Copper, nickel, cobalt, palladium, platinum and gold are precious metals used to make everything from electronics to jewelry. Rich deposits have been found just south of the famed Mesabi Iron Range.

How rich? We're actually sitting on the third-largest nickel deposit in the world, with the potential to create thousands of construction jobs and hundreds of good-paying permanent positions. The industry could mean an economic impact in the hundreds of millions of dollars for

And not all of it from PolyMet. At least four more companies are poised to follow PolyMet's permitting and environmental-review lead.

At least 37 pages of laws and regulations are in place to monitor and to take care of environmental issues, including after mines close. The existing provisions even prevent the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources from issuing mining permits if precautions aren't taken.

"No additional restrictions are necessary," Frank Ongaro, executive director of Mining Minnesota, a coalition of copper-mining ventures, told the News Tribune earlier this year.

Two groups strongly opposed to copper mining are far removed from the Northland. The Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness group is based nowhere near the Boundary Waters, but in Minneapolis. And the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy is based in St. Paul.

Much of their concern has centered on sulfuric acid, which has run off at other copper mining operations, including ones in countries devoid of or nearly devoid of environmental laws and concerns. At those mines where acid runoff has been a problem, the sulfur content of the rock has been as high as 15 percent to 30 percent. The sulfur content of the rock at the PolyMet site is 1 percent or lower. It's negligible.

"There's no one more interested in doing this right than those of us who live here. This is our backyard," PolyMet President and Chief Execu tive Officer Joseph Scipioni told members of the News Tribune editorial page during a visit this year to PolyMet. "This is not worth doing if we can't do it right. That's what the [environmental-review] process is all about."

An impressive and reassuring list of agencies and others are making sure PolyMet — and any companies that follow — will "do it right." The list includes the DNR, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and three tribal governments.

The timing is right for copper mining. New technology allows precious metals to be recovered without smelters, the biggest culprit in the industry's dirty-air history.

In addition, PolyMet would bring back to life the former LTV taconite plant near Hoyt Lakes. The massive facility was one of the largest construction projects ever undertaken in the U.S. when it was built in the mid-1950s for $350 million. That's $2.7 billion in today's dollars. Closed in 2001, the facility's water tower, power plant, tailings ponds, grinders, crushers and other features and infrastructure all can be reused. And it would be a shame not to with opportunity presenting itself.

"This is an exciting project that's ready to add to the viability of this region" Ongaro said.

Added U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., in a letter of support to the DNR: "PolyMet will help diversify the economy of the iron ore- dependent Range, and will help meet our nation's domestic demand for copper, nickel, platinum, cobalt, gold and palladium. Most importantly, this project offers a real opportunity to put Northeastern Minnesota citizens back to work.''

The economy continues to struggle. Despite the protests of a few, many others — including politicians, bureaucrats, regulators and everyday citizens eager for jobs and prosperity — are embracing and encouraging PolyMet and copper mining. They can all — from the Iron Range, from across Minnesota, and all the way to Washington, D.C. — continue to embrace and encourage a new industry being done right.

‘Enough,’ indeed: There’s no one female view on mining and the environment

December 14, 2009

SIDE LAKE, MINN. — In a recent Community Voices piece about about the PolyMet draft environmental impact statement (EIS), Elanne Palcich beseeched women to stand up and say "Enough."

So I stand before you and say "Enough!"

For my fellow women scientists and engineers, I cry "Enough!" Our female minds are rational, fact-based and view the world statistically, graphically and independently from the influence of male colleagues. We are well-educated, experienced professionals who are able to dispassionately review the PolyMet draft EIS. We operate under strict ethical codes of conduct as well as consciences that were formed in the generation of the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts. We understand risk assessment, risk management and accept our responsibility to minimize the consequences created by a consumer-driven society. We are working as professionals in industry, earning solid wages and the respect of our male coworkers as we battle together the challenges created by a global economy.

For my mining colleagues, men and women, I cry "Enough!" Mining has created our civilization and is the reality of a world requiring industrial-scale agriculture, water and wastewater treatment and simple, quality-of-life goods such as structurally sound houses. If it cannot be grown, it has to be mined. We are not able to select where the Earth's minerals are found, but we are able to select as responsible citizens and consumers where and how we want these minerals to be mined.

We live in a global economy

The raw materials of civilization can be forged in Northern Minnesota, where there are environmental regulations and fair wages — or the mines can exist only in foreign countries with limited, if any, regulations to protect workers, their families and their ecosystems. We operate and live in not only a global economy, but also a global environment. Air currents and the hydrological cycle guarantee that contrary to the bacchanalia of Vegas, what happens in China most definitely does not stay in China.

For those of us who live and breathe facts, I cry "Enough!" The facts are that while PolyMet may be headquartered in Canada, the employees making up the majority of the current workforce are Rangers who have their roots here and who will stay here whether or not this project moves forward.

The fact is that we live in a global economy in 2009. Other countries such as China are developing rapidly and either Rangers benefit from China's growth through the sale of our resources or we choose to become dependent on a service-based economy that may not prove to be more sustainable for the Range in the long-run than a resource-based economy. The fact is that there are those of us who do not see destruction when we see a mine. We see the construction of homes, bridges, modes of transportation, communication devices and medical instruments. We recognize and applaud wise utilization of the Earth's resources for the improvement of society.

Not going 'along for the ride'

For my nieces who refer to their mom's 1-ton, horse-trailer hauling, diesel-burning pick-up as the "chick truck," I cry "Enough!" There are a lot of us women who refuse to be "along for the ride" in our lives. We are intelligent, we are strong, we are resourceful, we are independent and yes, we are feminine. Stereotypes may save time, but are painfully antiquated. The opportunities for my nieces as they grow up are abundant courtesy of the women who have refused to be labeled or placed in a teeny-tiny box of expectations. I would be honored to have them follow in my footsteps as an environmental professional on the frontlines, using technology and common sense to find a way to balance civilization's need for mineral resources with the corresponding need for environmental stewardship.

For the men who are often unfairly lambasted, I cry "Enough!" You are protective husbands, fathers and neighbors who lace up your steel toes everyday to contribute your talents at the mines and contribute to your family's financial well-being. Even with the recent economic downturn, you are still solid husbands and fathers providing emotional support for your family. You work alongside increasing numbers of young women where you mentor us and pass along your hard-earned knowledge to us. You encourage your wives and daughters in their career choices or cheer them on as stay-at-home moms.You are our teammates at home and in the workplace. Your children are the future of the Range and you strive to ensure that they have the ability to live and work here someday and raise your grandchildren. The children are yours too.

For the future of the Iron Range as more than a tourist destination, I cry "Enough!"

Julie C. Klejeski is an environmental professional on the Iron Range.

Public Comments on PolyMet’s EIS

December 13, 2009

More than a hundred people gathered in Aurora this evening to share their opinions on the multi–million dollar Polymet Mining Project.

The DNR is gathering input on the project's Draft Environmental Impact statement.

There's a lot at stake.

The PolyMet project would bring a type of mining to the Iron Range never seen before in Minnesota.

If the plans for the nonferrous, copper–nickel mine move forward, it's anticipated that 900 or more jobs will be created in mining and mining related industry.

The Iron Range economy has taken a big hit during the recession, and some say PolyMet is the perfect solution to the unemployment problem.

Others fear the implications of PolyMet's open pit mine would have devastating results on the environment.

They say acid mine drainage will contaminate ground and surface water.

The public submitted written comments about PolyMet's environmental impact statement at the open house at Mesabi East High School.

The Minnesota DNR will use the comments as a guide for any changes they may make to the EIS.

The public comment period will continue until February.

After the EIS is finalized, PolyMet officials will move toward gaining permits to break ground.

The proposed site for the PolyMet mine is in Hoyt Lakes.

The DNR is hosting another informational open house tomorrow in Blaine.

Hundreds turn out for meeting on PolyMet EIS

Timberjay Newspapers
December 12, 2009

Close to 1,000 Iron Range residents filled the Mesabi East High School gym Wednesday night to learn more and to voice their support or concerns about the draft environmental impact statement on the PolyMet mining project, near Hoyt Lakes.

The draft EIS was released last month after more than four years of effort identifying the environmental effects of the state’s first non-ferrous mining project. PolyMet’s planned NorthMet project is expected to primarily produce copper and nickel, but also significant amounts of platinum, palladium, cobalt, and gold.

The release of the draft EIS is a major step forward in the company’s efforts to open a mine, but it still remains unclear when that might happen. Public comment on the draft EIS runs through Feb. 3. After that, the DNR and Army Corps, which are overseeing the process, will have to respond to comments and possibly conduct additional research as a result. That typically can take 4-5 months, but officials indicated that time frame could be longer in this case due to the magnitude of the project. Once a final EIS is approved, PolyMet would then begin the permitting process, which is likely to take several months more.

While state regulators acknowledged the project will entail significant environment effects, many of the supporters of the project touted the environmental benefits as well. “The new green economy is about to explode,” said Sen. David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm), addressing the crowd that turned out for the public presentation. Tomassoni and Rep. Tom Rukavina (DFL-Pike), who also spoke, both noted that many of the metals that PolyMet would produce are needed in a wide range of green products, such as solar panels, hybrid cars, and wind turbines. “Whether you support this project or have concerns, no one will dispute that we need these metals,” said Rukavina.

Supporters argue that by taking advantage of the former LTV processing plant and tailings basin, the PolyMet project minimizes the need for disrupting undeveloped sites, as would likely be the case for mining operations elsewhere. “I say we should mine right here. Let’s not export our pollution,” said Rukavina. Both Rukavina and Tomassoni urged quick approval of the EIS, so mining can get underway.

On that point, Rukavina and Tomassoni not only spoke for many in the audience— they spoke for the entire Range legislative delegation as well as Congressman Jim Oberstar, and Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, all three of whom issued statements of support for the project.

While supporters touted the environmental pluses, the draft EIS itself does identify significant effects, including a sizable loss of wetlands. According to John Ahlness, with Army Corps of Engineers, the operation will directly impact about 850 acres of wetlands, mostly coniferous peatlands, and indirectly impact another 650 wetland acres.

“It would be the largest single wetlands impact that the St. Paul office (of the Army Corps) has permitted,” said Ahlness. As part of the EIS process, Ahlness said regulators and the company have developed some changes in the plan that help to reduce the impacts in some areas, but he said a significant amount of compensatory wetlands will need to be created elsewhere to make up for the losses. The company has proposed two sites for wetlands mitigation, including one in Aitkin County and one in Pine County.

Even as supporters dominated Wednesday’s event, there were some local critics in the crowd. Bob Tammen, a retired electrical worker from Soudan, has followed the mining debate closely and he says he remains unconvinced by the arguments of supporters. “It’s too bad that we have a lot of smart people focused on developing a low grade mining operation rather than a high grade manufacturing sector,” he said. Tammen said automation has reduced the job-creating potential of resource extracting industries like mining. And Tammen questioned the ability of mining to build economically-viable communities. “If mining created healthy communities, we’d have some by now,” he said.

While Wednesday’s meeting was billed as both informational and to solicit public comment, some were not happy with the way that comment was gathered. Normally, the public is allowed to voice their views before an assembled audience, which gives those listening a chance to hear the views and arguments of their neighbors. But such “public” comments weren’t allowed during Wednesday’s meeting. Instead, anyone wishing to comment had to do so one-on-one with a stenographer, in isolation from others.

“That decision was a screw-up on somebody’s part,” said Rep. Rukavina during his comments to the crowd. “If I was governor, people would have been able to talk tonight,” he quipped.

Region’s lawmakers support PolyMet mine

Duluth News Tribune
December 11, 2009

The state’s political forces are lining up in support of the PolyMet copper mining project proposed for Minnesota’s Iron Range. The barrage from all points of the spectrum coincides with public input meetings held this week in Aurora and Blaine.

Both of the state’s U.S. senators and the region’s representative in Congress voiced strong support this week for the project as state regulators take public comments on the project’s environmental review. Democrats Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken released letters of support for what would be Minnesota’s first-ever copper mine, as did Rep Jim Oberstar, DFL-Chisholm.

Several labor unions and the Minnesota and Duluth Area Chambers of Commerce joined in the outpouring of support for PolyMet.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are conducting the environmental review. Theoretically, the support of lawmakers should have no more effect on the process than comments made by the general public, who have until Feb. 3 to weigh in on the mining project.

“PolyMet will help diversify the economy of the iron ore-dependent Range, and will help meet our nation’s domestic demand for copper, nickel, platinum, cobalt, gold and palladium,’’ Franken wrote to the DNR. “Most importantly, this project offers a real opportunity to put Northeastern Minnesota citizens back to work.’’

Meanwhile, PolyMet also has the benefit of two former state pollution regulators on the job.

Brad Moore, who last year served as commissioner of the Pollution Control Agency and who now works for Minneapolis-based Barr Engineering, is working in support of the project. Duluthian Ann Glumac, now a private consultant, also is working on behalf of PolyMet. Glumac is a former deputy PCA commissioner and has held other state posts.

PolyMet hopes to build Minnesota’s first open-pit copper mine near Babbitt and use the former LTV taconite plant near Hoyt Lakes to process copper and other precious metals. The project would create about 400 jobs for 20 years. Opponents say the risk of sulfuric acid runoff from mining operations, which could cause heavy metals to leech into local waterways, is too high.

For more information, or to comment, go to www.mndnr.gov.

Surge of Support at PolyMet Meeting in Blaine

December 10, 2009

Hundreds of folks from around Duluth and the Iron Range made a strong showing, at the second public comment meeting for PolyMet.

The meeting was in Blaine. Busloads headed south from Hibbing, Hoyt Lakes, Duluth, and Aurora. Some held signs in front of the doors of the National Sports Center, showing their enthusiasm for the project.

Many had expected there to be more environmental groups at the meeting. But it appeared there was only a small amount of people who say they are not in favor of the project.

In fact, many people from the Twin Cities who support the project, came to the meeting.

"I read that EIS inside and out. I've met the professionals. They have a world class team. I'm all for it," said Jeff Kopp, who showed up wearing a home-made PolyMet sweatshirt.

"I don't think the people who work there, are going to want to pollute their backyard," said Mark Frendschuh, of Blaine.

"Sometimes people in the Twin Cities think they're better than the rest of the state. People need to look around and realize this is an industry we need," said Mike Bleeker.