Feds say another year for new PolyMet review

Duluth News Tribune
By: John Myers
October 15, 2010 

Federal agencies signaled this week that it will be nearly another year before they release a revised environmental review on the proposed PolyMet copper mine project.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Forest Service say the supplemental Environmental Impact Statement will be ready in summer 2011, then open to public review before a final EIS is issued sometime in 2012.

The company then would need to secure specific mining, emissions, wetlands and construction permits before any mining could begin.

The Corps and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources earlier this year released what was supposed to have been the completed environmental review of the project, Minnesota's first copper mine and processing plant. But concerns raised by environmental groups, tribal resource agencies and especially the federal Environmental Protection Agency spurred another round of environmental review.

The EPA gave the project's environmental review especially low grades, saying it was incomplete in stating how local waters would be protected from mine runoff for years into the future. Copper-bearing rock, when exposed to air and water, often can cause acidic runoff that can contaminate waterways.

The revised environmental review will especially focus on the proposed land exchange between PolyMet and the Superior National Forest, which was not included in the first review. PolyMet is in the process of buying private land within the forest to trade for land at the proposed mine site currently owned by the Forest Service.

The revised timeline was published in the Federal Register on Wednesday.

The PolyMet project has been proposed for nearly a decade, with environmental review starting in 2005 and early company predictions that mining could begin in 2008.

In a statement released by the company, Joe Scipioni, president and CEO of PolyMet, said the new timeline "is an important step in completion of the environmental review of the NorthMet project."

"The state and federal agencies have been meeting frequently, conducted detailed site tours, and implemented a plan to ensure a coordinated effort to complete the" environmental review, Scipioni said. "PolyMet is committed to being environmentally and socially responsible. The quality and nature of the lands that we propose to exchange with the Superior National Forest demonstrate our commitment."

Paula Maccabee, an attorney for WaterLegacy, a Minnesota-based environmental group, said the extra time for the additional environmental review is critical to consider the large amount of wetlands at the proposed mine site and because of federally listed species in the area, as well as the possibility of polluted runoff.

"The devil's in the detail on how they conduct'' the review, Maccabee said. "The extra time is necessary to really look more closely, not just at the land-exchange issue but the mining aspects.''

PolyMet's open-pit copper mine also would produce nickel, platinum and other valuable metals. The proposed mine is near Babbitt, while the company would use the former LTV Steel taconite plant near Hoyt Lakes as a processing center.

The $600 million project would create 400 or more jobs for about 20 years, digging and processing billions of dollars of high-value minerals. The project has been praised by Iron Range leaders as a critical step toward diversifying the region's dependence on iron-ore mining. PolyMet is the first of what could be a half-dozen or more copper mines stretching from the Ely area to Aitkin County.

Critics say the company and government regulators can't be sure the mine won't cause long-term environmental problems years after mining operations cease.

Public Comments on Polymet Project

Posted at: 10/15/2010
By: Renee Passal 

The USDA Forest Service, along with the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MnDNR) are inviting public scoping comments on a proposed land exchange between the Forest Service and PolyMet Mining, Incorporated (PolyMet) that is being considered as part of the NorthMet mining and ore processing proposal, both of which will be evaluated in a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS).

The Forest Service has proposed a land exchange as a means to eliminate conflicts with minerals development and to avoid intermingled and inefficient ownership patterns. Non-federal lands offered for consideration by PolyMet would complement existing federal ownership by eliminating or reducing private inholdings.

The non-federal tracts consist of forest and wetland habitat as well as some lake frontage, and would potentially enhance public recreation opportunities. The federal lands proposed for the exchange are located in a single parcel in St. Louis County. The non-federal lands proposed for the exchange are scattered throughout Cook, Lake, and St. Louis Counties.

The proposed land exchange is described in the "Proposed NorthMet Mining Project and Land Exchange" scoping document, available in the Land & Resources Management/Projects section of the Superior National Forest (SNF) website at: www.fs.usda.gov/goto/superior/projects.

Two public open houses will be held to provide opportunity for interested parties to talk one-on-one with agency representatives.

Dates and locations for the public open houses follow:

Tuesday, October 26, 2010, 5:00 to 8:00 pm

Mesabi East High School Commons Area, 601 North First Street West, Aurora, MN

Wednesday, October 27, 2010, 5:00 to 8:00 pm, New Brighton Family Services Center Conference Room A, 400 10th St. NW, New Brighton, MN

Scare tactics won’t help Friends

Ely Echo Editorial

October 9, 2010

Here we go. The publicity show from the anti-mining crowd cried wolf with a news release that there was "Acid mine drainage discovered two miles from Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness."

This is not a news release; it is an attempt to influence public opinion against mining.

The Friends call this find "toxic soup" on a website and then say, "The Spruce Road site drainage is not acidic but the presence of the metals indicates acidity which would have leached the metals out of the rock before reaching the point at which sampling was possible. The acidity is apparently being neutralized before reaching the discharge point, but is likely responsible for the high levels of metals."

So we have "acid mine drainage" and "toxic soup." Scare tactics? Yes. Are those terms correct? If put in proper context, no.

The area the Friends cite was excavated by International Nickel Company (INCO) in 1974. But the comparisons are being made directly to Twin Metals in 2010.

Are the Friends saying Twin Metals should be held to 1974 standards? Or are the facts and circumstances being twisted and misused?

We'd like to hope the Twin Metals proposed project as well as any other mining project be held to 2010 standards. That includes proper monitoring.

To say what was done in 1974 is exactly the same way things will be done in 2010 flies in the face of reality and does the Friends no favors.

There will be a need to have public and governmental agency review of any proposed mining projects when and if they occur. That should be done on a factual level, without using words and scare tactics designed to incite people.

We'd point out that mining has been going on in the Ely area since the 1880s. There were mining operations scattered across the area in varying depths and sizes.

The history of Ely can be traced back to its roots and to the depths of the Pioneer Mine. This area has known underground mining, which, by the way, is what Duluth Metals is proposing and not what was conducted at the International Nickel bulk sample site.

We know that mining methods and applicable laws have changed mightily in the last 130 years. There was good reason for that. Safety of the workers was number one but how the mining is conducted and how waste rock is managed are nearly unrecognizable from 1974.

The focus of groups like the Friends seems to only be on what "could" happen. We understand those concerns, and share the belief that water quality needs to be a foremost goal.

But we won't fall for attempts from the anti-mining crowd to scare the public.

We are going to follow the developments of any reports of possible contamination of water. But we will stick with the facts.

A story in the Duluth News-Tribune last week included an interview with Richard Clark with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. He said his recent inspections found "little or no runoff moving into nearby streams or rivers" and that he's been there "several times in recent years and not seen any environmental damage."

Knowing that we have trained professionals like the MPCA allows us to live peacefully without hitting the panic button. And if there is an area that needs to be looked at, the first phone call should be to the responsible agency.

And if groups like the Friends think people in the Ely area are not concerned about water quality and what will be left when mining days are over, they are sadly mistaken.

Here in Ely, our lakes and rivers are the envy of a nation for quality. When a group out of Minneapolis (where the news release came from) continues to tell people here what's good for them, the first response is obvious. What are you doing to clean up your own backyard?

Our response is this: We know that any mining done today in this area will be done in a manner that far exceeds the standards and laws of 1974.

A comparison that puts 1974 and 2010 on equal footing is misleading. To be honest, if the Friends want to go back and live under the laws of 1974 and ignore laws passed since that time, does this mean they'd like to do away with PL 95-495, the "Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act of 1978?"

We didn't think so.

New building in store for Twin Metals

The Ely Echo

By: Tom Coombe
October 9, 2010

The prospect of several hundred new mining jobs may be years away, but there was tangible evidence of the region's first copper mining venture this week.

Twin Metals, the new corporation linking Duluth Metals with Chilean mining giant Antofagasta, held its board of directors meetings in Ely Wednesday and Thursday, and company officials also met with city leaders.

One of the next orders of business for Twin Metals is the development of a brand-new, approximately 8,000 square foot, two-story office and headquarters facility in the city's business park.

Juan Andres Morel, president and chief executive officer of Twin Metals, said plans call for construction to begin this fall with hopes that a cement slab will be up before the winter.

Duluth Metals chairman Chris Dundas, who is also part of the Twin Metals board, called the business park site a "great location for us," and touted the economic benefit of construction jobs related to the development of the new facility.

Twin Metals is a separate organization, but Duluth Metals continues to exist and employs administrative staff and drilling personnel.

Some staff will be shared between the two companies, Dundas said.

The new building and the formation of Twin Metals are among the latest developments in a long process that could lead to the development of a new underground mine.

The Nokomis deposit south of Ely, just off the Spruce Road, has been touted as one of the richest mineral deposits in the world. Plans for a mine got a significant boost this year when Antofagasta, one of the world's major copper producers, invested $130 million.

But development is in its infancy. Morel said the "permitting process is down the road."

"There's a lot of planning and coordination before we submit the (environmental impact statement)," said Morel. "It's too early to give a timeline."

Dundas said the process would evolve over the next several months and that Twin Metals would work closely with state and federal permitting agencies.

"We don't want to rush," said Dundas. "We are doing everything in a deliberate and careful fashion."

The project seems certain to face opposition from environmental organizations who contend copper mining can not be done safely, and who charge that the site is too close to the neighboring Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

But Ely area government leaders, and a slew of state officials have already indicated their support for the project

Both Dundas and Morel said they were impressed with the local support.

"The town has been very supportive and there's a great heritage and legacy of mining here," said Dundas.