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Editorial: A needed and clear sign for nonferrous

Mesabi Daily News
August 30, 2010

Members of Congress, especially one with the experience in Washington D.C. such as Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn, can exert vital influence on the bureaucracy when the wheels of government grind to a halt.

So we were extremely pleased to see Congressman Oberstar stand with local and state elected officials last Friday at the future site of the PolyMet copper/nickel/precious metals project.

Oberstar said on Friday what has been the belief of supporters of the nonferrous venture for years now – this type of modest sulfide mining can be done safely with Minnesota environmental safeguards in place.

In other words enough of the bureaucratic foot-dragging by state and federal regulators in the Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency. After more than five years of environmental review and more than $20 million spent by investors on environmental review, let's get on with it.

There has been no doubting Oberstar's strong historical support for all mining, including nonferrous. And Oberstar has been working hard behind the scenes in support of the project. But it was clearly time for him to make an aggressive public stand with PolyMet and local officials to put some fire to the fannies of regulators. And if it took an election year for the congressman to take a more visible stand stage on the issue for the congressman, then thank goodness for elections.

It would be nice to see the same very highly visible pronouncement of support from Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken. In addition, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty could turn his GPS due north to the Iron Range and the PolyMet site rather than south to Iowa in advance of the 2012 presidential primary and advocate personally for the project.

It's one thing to answer a reporter's/editor's question on the project or to put out a press release of conditional support, and quite another thing to make the effort to spend some political capital, travel to a nonferrous mining site in Northeastern Minnesota and call for an end to the regulatory delay to set free hundreds of good-paying jobs.

And if that upsets preservationists and their groups such as the Sierra Club, so be it. It is way past time to stop walking on egg shells around those groups.

PolyMet: Oberstar Visits

WDIO
August 27, 2010

Congressman Jim Oberstar said he will continue to push vigorously for the PolyMet coppernickel mining project near Hoyt Lakes. The copper-nickel mining project will add minerals vital to home construction and high-tech production. Oberstar noted that the PolyMet project will create up to 1,000 jobs and play a key role in the diversity, stability, and sustainability of northern Minnesota's mining industry.

"We are defined by faith, family, and work, and when you lose any one of those the others are threatened." Oberstar continued, "We can reclaim not only the copper and the nickel, but we can reclaim the lost jobs from northeastern Minnesota."

Oberstar also talked about the environmental implications of the project. He expressed his confidence in PolyMet's responsible and innovative approach to nonferrous mining and processing, which will help minimize the environmental impact. Currently the US imports a majority of its precious metals from other countries around the world. Oberstar noted that when we import their products, we also import their pollution.

"We don't want to import pollution either, and that's what happens when you're bringing in paper from places like Indonesia or China, where they do not engage in sound silvicultural management practices. Nor are many places in the world that are nickel or copper or precious metal producers careful of the environment. So when we import their nickel we are also importing, to that degree, the pollution that they are leaving behind in their mining practices."

Oberstar's opponent, Chip Cravaak, said he has met with PolyMet in the last month.

Deal could bring Iron Range 600 new mining jobs

Minnesota Public Radio
August 3, 2010

Duluth, Minn. – A deal between Chilean and Canadian mining companies could bring as many as 600 new jobs to northeastern Minnesota in the next decade.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty met with the Chilean ambassador to the U.S. at the governor's residence this morning. Officials from Antofagasta mining and Ontario-based Duluth Metals were also on hand.

Mara Strazdins, a spokeswoman for Duluth Metals, said the 600 job estimate is on the low end.

"We did a preliminary economic assessment and they were saying that at about a 40,000 ton per day scenario, they were looking at over 600 jobs, but that doesn't include construction or part-time work," she said. "So probably in the long run, the jobs could be quite a bit more."

Antofagasta has agreed to spend $130 million on an initial feasibility study, which is expected to take at least three years to complete. They'll also get a 40 percent share of the stake. The Chilean conglomerate also has an option to acquire another 25 percent of the property in the future.

Pawlenty excited about mine proposal

Finance and Commerce
August 3, 2010

Gov. Tim Pawlenty is hoping that a partnership between a Chilean mining company and a Canadian-based counterpart will lead to the construction of a massive copper-nickel mine in northeastern Minnesota.

But state environmentalists are withholding judgment on the proposed so-called non-ferrous mining project, some fearing the venture could harm the area's pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

"I think this is a project that has a lot of promise. We are excited about it," Pawlenty said Tuesday morning, referring to the alliance between Antofagasta PLC, a London-based company whose origins are in Chile, and Toronto-based Duluth Metals.

Pawlenty made his comments at press conference after meeting at the Governor's mansion with top officials from Duluth Metals, Antofagasta and a Chilean delegation led by Arturo Fermandois, Chile's ambassador to the U.S.

Late last month, Duluth Metals and Antofagasta closed on a partnership agreement to create a joint venture called Twin Metals Minnesota LLC, whose field operations will be based in Ely.

Antofagasta has pledged $130 million to pay for studies over a three-year period to investigate the feasibility of building an underground mine on a 3,000-acre site near Ely.

If the two companies determine the so-called Nokomis Project is feasible, they would then begin the lengthy process to conduct an environmental impact statement and apply for mining permits.

Duluth Metals Chairman Christopher Dundas said the Twin Metals venture could result in one of the world's largest copper-nickel mines, yielding millions of tons of precious metals and supporting thousands of jobs for Minnesotans for "decades to come."

At Pawlenty's press conference, Antofagasta Chairman Jean-Paul Luksic said the Twin Metals' Nokomis Project is a long-term investment that could employ hundreds of engineers, at least 5,000 construction workers and 2,000 to 2,500 permanent operations employees.

Dundas said the capital expense to design, build and operate the non-ferrous mine could top $1.5 billion to $2 billion if the two companies determine the project is feasible and meets environmental regulations and eventually obtains governmental permits.

That's an issue that worries some environmentalists, who point out the proposed mining operations would be just three miles from the BWCA and could adversely affect its watershed district.

"There is a concern about this kind of mining this close to the nation's most popular wilderness area," said Betsy Daub, policy director at Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness.

Daub is concerned that the type of mining Twin Metals is proposing with the Nokomis Project has a history of causing water pollution in other projects. "This should be a great deal of concern to Minnesotans and people across the country," she said.

Daub added the economic benefit of any mining needs to be weighed against the current economic benefits of the 1 million-acre BWCA, which generates an estimated $30 million annually from recreation and tourism.

"We need to be very careful about the decisions that we make that could change or alter that forever," Daub said, referring to any decisions to allow new mining in northeast Minnesota.

On that point, Pawlenty said, "This is a very large and significant project. So, we need to make sure we move the [Nokomis] project along. But it needs to be done in accordance with our environmental laws and regulations and expectations."

Dundas contended that an underground mine would mean there'd be little or no surface impact on the area.

Meanwhile, Fermandois expects Antofagasta PLC will work well with Minnesota state agencies if the two companies determine the Nokomis Project is financially doable. He noted Antofagasta has a track record of meeting environmental standards in Chile.

And he added that Antofagasta will be bringing its mining knowledge and management experience to the Twin Metals partnership.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty today lauded a Chilean mining company and its Canadian-based counterpart for forging a partnership that may eventually lead to building a massive copper-nickel mine in northeastern Minnesota.

"I think this is a project that has a lot of promise," said Pawlenty of the alliance between Antofagasta PLC, a London-based company whose origins are in Chile, and Toronto-based Duluth Metals.

Pawlenty's comments came in a press conference after he hosted a breakfast meeting at the Governor's mansion for top officials from Duluth Metals, Antofagasta and a Chilean delegation led by Arturo Fermandois, his country's ambassador to the U.S.

Late last month, Duluth Metals and Antofagasta closed on a partnership agreement to create a joint venture called Twin Metals, whose field operations will be based in Ely. Antofagasta has pledged $130 million to pay for studies over a three-year period to investigate the feasibility of building an underground mine on a 3,000 acre site in Ely.

In an interview with Finance & Commerce, Duluth Metals Chairman Christopher Dundas said the Twin Metals venture could result in one of the world's largest copper-nickel mines and produce thousands of jobs for Minnesotans for "decades to come."  He said the capital expense to design, build and operate the mine could top $1.5 billion to $2 billion if the two companies determine the project is financially feasible and eventually meets environmental regulations and obtains governmental permits.

On that point, Pawlenty said, "This is a very large and significant project. So, we need to make sure we move the project along. But it needs to be done in accordance with our environmental laws and regulations and expectations."

Although offering no timeline, Pawlenty said it could "take a while" for the project to go through the government review process.

Officials tout benefits of mine near Ely

Minneapolis Star Tribune
August 3, 2010

Executives of the international mining consortium that plans a huge, underground copper-nickel mine near Ely on the Minnesota Iron Range say their project will employ up to 5,000 construction workers over a three-year period and create 3,000 permanent jobs at the mine and through local suppliers.

They also pledged not to take environmental shortcuts to complete the project, which is close to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

"We already know the broad issues of environmental concern," said Chairman Jean-Paul Luksic of Antofagasta, the Chilean mining company that has joined with Canada's Duluth Metals to form Twin Metals Minnesota. "There are fears from the mining of years ago. We won't be destroying the environment or tourism."

Luksic and other Twin Metals officials, accompanied by the Chilean ambassador to the U.S., met Tuesday with a supportive Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

In an interview, they said they expect first to spend up to three years on feasiblility and environmental studies that will employ up to 300 people directly and through contractors.

Mark Cowan, a Washington lawyer who also is a director of Duluth Metals, said the consortium will ask for no environmental waivers, but that it be allowed to eliminate "duplication as much as possible" in its studies and reports for federal, state and local environmental and other regulators.

Luksic said the United States will need to produce more copper, nickel, palladium and other metals found in abundance at the site if it intends to meet increasing demand from manufacturers of electronics, re-chargeable batteries, electric cars, wind turbines, solar panels and other equipment the nation is counting on to increase energy independence.

The project, which would take several years to plan, permit and construct, has the early support of the Iron Range legislative delegation and key federal legislators.

Twin Metals estimates that total investment in its mine and processing plant could exceed $2 billion. That's up to three times the estimated cost of the Polymet copper-nickel mine near Hoyt Lakes. Unlike the Polymet operation — a surface mine that environmentalists say threatens to pollute waters that run to Lake Superior — the Twin Metals mine would be underground. But its eastern edge would lie only a few miles from the Boundary Waters, and environmental groups are concerned about water-related pollution.

The mines would drastically kick-start the modest mining rebound on the Iron Range. Antofagasta, one of the world's largest mining companies, owns 60 percent of the Twin Metals joint venture.

Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144