Another attack by preservationists on area economy

What’s this? Yet another environmental regulatory hoop some businesses and their workers on the Range are having to jump through with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Citizens Board.

The board on Tuesday delayed voting on a plan to reduce the haze over the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness — a plan that would severely hamper taconite mining operation on the Range, the jobs they produce and the payroll checks that are cashed by workers, many of them carrying union cards.

But they’ll be back in a month and opponents will have to stay vigilant to block another excessive reach by preservationists.

Once again environmental groups, this time along with the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service, are trying to push their radical agenda of global warming or climate change (whatever is their trendy phrase at this time) to illicit big changes right now to resource-based industries, regardless the impact on jobs and families.

This time they are saying proposed rules by the MPCA in 2009 just aren’t good enough. So they want tougher sulfide dioxide and nitrogen oxide limits for taconite plants, which are the area’s biggest employer and one of the state’s best meal tickets for revenue.

What’s so troubling with this persistent drum beat for tougher rules and regulations and standards is not the need to monitor and respond with reasonable regulation to emissions from major industries. No, the problem is that there really is no end game for resource-based businesses. No matter what is done to meet environmental standards it will never be enough. Each time they adjust and comply, the rules of the game will change — those industries are like Charlie Brown from the “Peanuts” gang trying to kick the football, with the preservationist groups playing Lucy and picking it up just as Charlie approaches to boot it.

The irony of this latest affront to businesses on the Range trying to keep the economy from faltering is that the biggest creator of haze over the BWCAW last year was the U.S. Forest Service when it allowed fires in the wilderness area to go on unabated until gusting winds did their thing to fan them completely out of control.

It’s interesting that while there has been no accountability for that blunder and all the haze over the BWCAW it stimulated, now the Forest Service is party to the latest attack on the area’s economy through an attempt to exert more heavy-handed accountability on resource-based industries.


Copper mining better, needed

Mesabi Daily News 

During the last 10 or more years, there has been much activity and discussion in this area about mining ore containing copper and other metals. Iron and copper are by far the most useful and necessary elements in today’s society. Because of the geologic history of this planet over the last two billion years or so, Northeastern Minnesota had and has large deposits of ores containing both of these sometimes crucial elements.

When I was majoring in geology at UMD in the mid 1950s, our two professors told us that between the volcanic rocks along the North Shore of Lake Superior and the iron formations on the Iron Range, there was a large deposit of Duluth Gabbro that extended for many miles toward the northeast. Gabbro is an igneous rock similar to granite, but it is coarser grained and darker colored. They said there was a good possibility of ores of copper and other metals being in the Gabbro.

Today the formation is called the Duluth Complex and the more it is drilled, the more ore they are finding. In our 2005 Dodge Durango I counted 12 electric motors and one generator. Examples of the motors are the starter, windshield wipers, window openers and heating and cooling fans and blowers. When I started counting motors in our house and elsewhere, I stopped at 20. Washer, dryer, freezer, refrigerator, microwave, fans and blowers, blender, can opener, electric knife, etc.

On the large end of the scale are the huge generators and motors, transformers, transmission lines, telephone lines and all the wiring in homes and other buildings. If I said that the number of miles of copper wire in use on this planet was in the billions, I don’t think I would be exaggerating. Even a small electric motor has yards of cooper wire in it. Copper is the only practical element to use for all these purposes.

There are some people who oppose any copper mining, period. These same people depend on the copper products I just mentioned in their everyday living. They either never think about that or if they do, they “sweep it under the rug and stomp on it.” They keep bringing up places like Sudbury, Ontario, and its past pollution.

There has been bad pollution in the past in some areas. The pollution was caused by the smelters. In the smelting process, the copper ores are roasted at high temperatures to separate the sulfur from the copper and other metals. At these temperatures the sulfur combines with oxygen in the air forming sulfur dioxide, so2. It is a bad news gas with about twice the density of air. It sinks and collects above the land and water. It kills vegetation and reacts with water forming sulfuric acid, H2so4, which is a strong, corrosive acid. It is also the acid in car batteries that start your car whenever you turn the key. Also, car batteries are made up of alternating plates of lead oxide and lead which can be another toxic element under some conditions. Today’s car batteries last more than seven years and are recycled.

There won’t be any smelters here to separate the sulfur from the metals. There is a new process that is going to be used, I don’t know just what it is yet. That is what PolyMet and various agencies are talking about right now. The “environmentalists” don’t know what it is yet either. To them, no matter what it is, it will pollute everything. They come up with false statements and numbers involving things they know nothing about, just to “toot their own horn.”

There is only so much copper ore left on this planet. The ore is found only in a limited number of places. The copper deposits here are anywhere from the third biggest to the biggest one in the world. If we don’t mine copper here we have to import it. Our trade deficit will increase, which we don’t need. We become dependent on other countries. We know all too well what that can lead to with the oil situation. The world needs copper and lots of it. Copper mining here will be very closely monitored by various agencies. It has already been studied closely for seven years and millions have been spent on it.

Mining copper here will benefit everybody in this country. There will be many long lasting, good paying jobs. Area schools and cities will be much better off. The state and federal governments will get more tax money.

It is time for the so called “environmentalists” to wake up, open their eyes, quit trying to live in the past, get off of that narrow minded, one track only, path they are following and see 2012 the way it is.

P.S. I just looked at a 6-foot, two-wire extension cord and found 240 feet of copper wire in it. A 100-foot, three-wire has 75 strands, 7,500 feet or 104 miles of copper wire.

Frank Franson


Duluth sets Bechtel parameters for 100 year copper-nickel-pgm mine PFS


Bechtel has thus been instructed to prepare its study based on the following:

· A vertically integrated mining complex;

· Large scale phased underground mine plan and development;

· Evaluating different scenarios respecting both on-site and off-site surface facility alternatives, including examining options in milling capacity up to approximately 80,000 tonnes/day throughput; and,

· A hydrometallurgical plant with a minimum capability of producing copper cathode, nickel hydroxide and a platinum group metals concentrate.

An 80,000 tonne/day mining operation will make Nokomis one of the world's biggest underground mines on a scale with Codelco's El Teniente in Chile and LKAB's Kiruna iron ore mine in northern Sweden.

Back in North America, Vern Baker, President of Duluth Metals commented on this latest phase of the investigations, "Bechtel and the other Pre-Feasibility Consultants are aggressively working to define a large integrated mining operation that respects the environmental and social values of Minnesotans and which will benefit the State of Minnesota for generations. This project is being planned with the latest technologies in order to protect Minnesota's environment and will be a long-term economic engine for Northern Minnesota."

The Bechtel PFS is only one of a series of engineering studies into this massive project, the potential scale of which should not be underestimated. The geological structure which is the Duluth Complex is already reckoned to hold the world's third largest accumulation of nickel sulphides and the world's second largest accumulation of polymetallic copper and platinum group metals. .

An initial pre-feasibility NI-43-101 Resource Estimate report on the consolidated resources of the Twin Metals Project is nearing completion by AMEC and is anticipated to be finalized by the end of April, 2012. This report is going through final iterations as minor additions are incorporated into the geologic model. This resource will be used for mine planning purposes in the pre-feasibility study. This initial resource update will be followed up by a pre-feasibility resource report which will incorporate data from recent, current, and near future targeted drill programmes.

The Nokomis project comes under the Twin Metals 60:40 jv between Duluth and Antofagasta and together with Duluth's and the jv's other holdings in the Duluth Complex is believed to encompass one of the world's largest undeveloped repositories of copper, nickel and platinum group metals, with associated gold. There are environmental concerns over the project lying as it does close to the Boundary Waters recreational area, but it also borders on the Minnesota taconite mining operations and indeed the options do include utilising brownfields areas for some of the operation's facilities. The fact that it is envisaged to be an underground operation will also mitigate some of the environmental concerns.

According to Dundas, the state and federal governments are supportive of the project, in particular because it brings great employment prospects to the area and also will be a great contributor to future U.S. domestic supplies of key metals and minerals.

To further emphasise the size of the resource controlled by the Twin Metals jv, the most recent resource statement comprises 550 million tonnes of Indicated Resources grading 0.639% copper, 0.200% nickel, 0.660 grams per tonne TPM (TPM = Pt + Pd + Au) for a copper equivalent (CuEq) grade of 1.51%, plus an additional 274 million tonnes of Inferred Resources grading 0.632% copper, 0.207% nickel, 0.685 grams per tonne TPM for a CuEq grade of 1.53%. But this estimate was as of December 2009 and based on the Nokomis section alone and when a new resource estimate comes out from the AMEC study, scheduled for next month, it is likely to be considerably larger than this, particularly as the Twin Metals resource now includes a number of other major targets on the same structure acquired with the take-over of Franconia's neighbouring ground a year ago, and some extremely supportive drilling data obtained since the date of the last resource statement.

But Duluth also has wholly-owned exploration tenements adjacent to the Twin Metals resource for which Dundas has exceedingly high hopes that it will encompass the main feeders for the initial resource. His geologists are very hopeful that this feeder will be particularly rich in nickel. Permits to drill these areas are currently in process and Dundas hopes to have drill rigs turning on this during late summer.

As we've noted here before, this resource is likely to be so important to the Minnesota and U.S. economies that it's probably not a case of if it is developed, but when. Any hurdles are likely to be overcome, but it still could be a couple of years or more before construction will actually start. Dundas hopes it will be sooner rather than later – and is very confident this will be the case.


Twin Metals boosts investment on Range

Mesabi Daily News

Bill Hanna


VIRGINIA — The Twin Metals copper/nickel/precious metals project in Ely and Babbitt is accelerating its pre-mining activity, increasing its investment in the region and creating jobs.


And company officials are also continuing their extensive and ongoing public dialogue by reaching beyond the core area where it will be operational.


That outreach comes to the Coates Hotel in Virginia today when officials will host an informational meeting from 7-8 p.m. The company has committed to hold forums once a month somewhere in the region.


“We will be giving the public an update on the project and its progress and on who Twin Metals is. Then we’ll open the floor to questions,” said Bob McFarlin, vice president of government and public affairs for Twin Metals Inc.


The $2 billion-plus project is already reaping benefits for the area, including:


• More than $150 million already spent in the region so far.


• Offices open in Ely and St. Paul and a field office in Babbitt, with about 40 total employees expected to increase to 50 during the year.


• More than 160 full-time contractor jobs.


• IDEA Drilling of Virginia, the company’s main contractor, has been so busy it has funneled some work to subcontractors.


• As of January, there were 11 drill rigs operating.


The company has been doing environmental studies for more than three years and is now in its prefeasibility study stage, with a final product expected by mid-2013. Plans call the company to be in the latter phases of the EIS toward the end of 2013.


“We did a great deal of winter-style drilling under direction of the U.S. Forest Service and the DNR. We’re now into the spring and summer period. We will start to have more staff in fields doing environmental work who will document plants and wetlands and endangered species and wildlife in preparation for the EIS (Environmental Impact Statement),” McFarlin said.


Twin Metals has 32,000 acres of property leased, permitted or owned holding four mineral deposits — Nokomis, Maturi, Spruce Road and Birch Lake.


The copper, nickel and precious metals, which include platinum and palladium, will be recovered from an underground mine that officials say will minimize surface and environmental impacts. The minerals are essential for renewable green energy uses along with computers and medical devices.


McFarlin said the regulatory processes are always a struggle.

“We would like them to be more efficient. But we are working well with them and have had tremendous cooperation with state and federal agencies. They have a job to do and we are committed to working with them early.


“We know there will be some bumps in the road with a project of this magnitude. But when challenges come up we will be able to work with them. One thing we’ve heard is how much they appreciate us coming to them as early as we are … and that’s our commitment,” he said.


Twin Metals officials McFarlin, David Ulrich, vice president of human resources, and CFO David Ponczoch will be at today’s meeting.


Good to see meetings on nonferrous mining with all stakeholders

Mesabi Daily News 

For years the public was told by former 8th District U.S. Rep. James Oberstar and other officials that work was being done “behind the scenes” to move along the PolyMet copper/nickel/precious metals project slated for the former LTV Mining Co. site near Hoyt Lakes.

But “behind the scenes” obviously just didn’t do much, which begs the question: “Just what was being done ‘behind the scenes and why was it so necessary to keep the public out of the loop?’”

It is now clear that there was no good reason for the public — which is strongly supportive of nonferrous mining on the Range done in an environmentally safe way meeting state and federal standards — to have been treated as an outsider regarding this project of such immense importance to the region, state and country.

An informed and aroused public on an issue of jobs and the economy and the environment is always a plus and often can be quite a stimulative asset to get something done with more dispatch.

That’s why we are extremely pleased that new 8th District Congressman Chip Cravaack initiated a series of meetings (there have been four such gatherings now) when he took office in January 2011 to bring all stakeholders together and in the same room — supporters and opponents alike — to keep information flowing on the project. And then for regular updates for the public after those meetings.

The congressman has said the first meeting was a bit contentious. That certainly was not unexpected and there really is nothing wrong with that. It’s better for people to voice differences face-to-face rather than behind each other’s backs.

What’s so good about having these regular meetings is that everyone hears the same information in the same room, rather than participating in the old telephone game as kids where what was first said changes considerably as the message is passed down the line.

These meetings also get Democrats and Republicans and Bureaucrats together at the same table. If that has been uncomfortable for some — TOUGH. This is not an issue that should have a “D” or “R” or “B” in front of anyone’s name. Everyone should be sporting a “J” for Jobs.

And the PolyMet project is about a lot of “Js” — at least 350 full-time ones, hundreds more in spin-off positions and 1.5 million hours of construction work. Those numbers then grow considerably when other copper/nickel/precious metals projects in development — such as Twin Metals — are tallied.

The more public discussion, debate and knowledge the better.

Some Mining Opponents Simply Don’t Want to Disturb Nature

Duluth News Tribune
Virgil Swing

There’s no question that the word “natural” has great appeal for many folks. Almost every product that can claim with a straight face to be natural proudly says so on its label. The corollary is that manmade is bad — or at least suspicious.

These flawed beliefs are likely behind a lot of the opposition that proposed mining operations encounter. Mining has gone on in the Northland for about 120 years and remains a huge piece of our economy.

The latest planned mines in the Northland involve copper, nickel and precious metals. Some opponents contrast their risks with the iron ore mining that has dominated the Iron Range in the past. But the fierce opposition against a proposed iron ore mine nearby in Wisconsin makes me believe any mine proposal would be attacked.

For some people, the issue is simple: mining is wrong. Most critics won’t say that, but listening to their objections suggests it really is that simple. Foes cite things such as water pollution and damage to sensitive plants, but their broad objections suggest they just don’t want to disturb nature.

Since above-ground and underground water are found in most of the Northland, it’s nearly impossible to do anything without doing it near water in some form.

The mining industry has earned suspicion, especially with egregious practices in the American West. Minnesota and Wisconsin would be foolish to approve mining without environmental protections in place. But for some people, no protections will ever be strong enough.

There’s more than a little hypocrisy among mining opponents. Other than a few folks living off the grid, the rest of us count on the products of mining every day and in every way. If all mining is halted — as some prefer — where would all those products come from? Recycling can’t do it all.

Pushing mining to other countries would make products more expensive and put mines in countries with much less-stringent environmental controls. Is it OK to endanger their environment?

Gogebic Taconite, which sought an iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin, said recently it is canceling plans because of delays after lawmakers failed to approve a bill to make projects easier. It’s likely this is a bargaining ploy, which the firm may drop before this column appears if a compromise is reached.

I respect the Republican state senator in Wisconsin who refused to go along with the measure being rushed through the Legislature. It’s hard to buck your party, and the changes he seeks seem reasonable.

But changes that satisfy him are unlikely to end bitter opposition to the project from others. I expect nothing other than dropping the project would satisfy most of them.

As unemployed and underemployed people know, jobs are the key to surviving financially in the American economy. Northern Wisconsin and Minnesota’s Iron Range need all the jobs they can get.

Jim Heffernan, my former colleague, used to joke that, if Duluth had never been developed and someone came along and proposed doing so, it would horrify many people.

Build a city on that scenic hill and down to the shores of Lake Superior? Are you crazy? Every lawyer from the Twin Cities would be up here representing one environmental group or another and filing suit in federal court to stop such an outrage.

It’s possible to have development and a healthy environment. It just takes clear thinking and reasonable standards. And it may take people losing some reverence for “natural.”

After all, many of the worst things in life are natural. Infectious diseases: natural. Hurricanes, tornadoes and floods: natural. Oh sure, global warming (partly caused by humans) affects our weather — but rarely if ever causes a specific tornado or hurricane. And unwise flood-control projects can make floods worse, but Mother Nature provides all the water.

Modern politicians seem to have lost the skill, but compromise has been part of public-policy decisions ever since humans got beyond the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Projects sited in undeveloped areas necessarily require a compromise, but there is no other choice unless we want to return to hunter-gatherer days.

Saying that mining is intrinsically wrong is a head-in-the-sand philosophy we can’t afford.


Landowners Won’t Get Help Fighting Mining Leases from Minnesota Legislature

Duluth News Tribune
John Myers

Legislation that would give northern Minnesota landowners more power to say no to mining companies that own the mineral rights under their land appears dead at the state Capitol.

The bill would have given landowners more leeway to deny access to companies that want to drill for and possibly mine copper, nickel and other valuable minerals under private property.

Staff for Rep. Denny McNamara, chairman of the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee, confirmed this week he will not give the bill a hearing by the Friday deadline for bills to clear at least one committee, meaning it can’t advance this year.

So far there’s no Senate version of the bill.

The legislation was in response to complaints from several landowners last year who said the Department of Natural Resources leased access to minerals under their land without notice and with little or no chance for public input. The state owns the mineral rights under thousands of acres of private property across the state. Each year the DNR auctions off access to some of those mineral rights to encourage exploration for copper, nickel, gold and other valuable minerals.

Meanwhile, landowners may lose their chance for input into the mining lease process altogether under a second bill advancing at the Capitol. The omnibus environmental bill passed the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee last week.

The bill removes all oversight of the DNR’s mineral lease program from the Executive Council, which has for more than 100 years been asked to sign off on the DNR’s decisions.

“There was a sense in the committee that this was really dragging out too long,” said Amy Zipco, committee administrator, adding that the bill takes away Executive Council oversight of large timber sales and peat leases as well. “Some of these things were put in 100 years ago when we did things very differently than we do today. The thought was maybe we don’t need that extra step anymore.”

Frank Ongaro, executive director of Mining Minnesota, a copper industry group, said his members did not ask for the legislation ending Executive Council oversight of mineral leases. But he said he understands why some industry supporters are frustrated with the nearly yearlong delay in approving the 2011 leases.

“As we said last October, the delays send a bad message to investors about Minnesota’s support of mining,” Ongaro said.

“Private property rights bill”

Supporters of the eminent domain legislation said it would have leveled the playing field against mining companies. Currently, companies must negotiate compensation with surface property owners for access to drill exploratory holes. But if the company and landowner can’t agree, state laws allow the mining company to have the property condemned.

“It’s a private property rights bill,” the property owners said in a statement. “We believe that the majority of Minnesotans agree with us that homeowners and cabin owners are not just another form of overburden to be summarily cleared out of the way by mining companies; that we have equal rights as Minnesota citizens and taxpayers; and that it is totally inappropriate to grant mining companies the power of eminent domain when government itself is restricted from using it for economic development.”

The DNR annually makes available different mineral lease sites across the northern portion of the state where geologists suspect deposits of copper, nickel, platinum, gold and other valuable metals. Last year, the state offered 652 mining units across 226,000 acres in Lake, St. Louis and Koochiching counties up for mining companies to bid on for the 50-year exclusive right to prospect and drill for minerals at the site. In April, four mining companies bid on the rights to explore and drill on 22 of those mining units across about 22,000 acres, much of it in west-central Lake County, near Isabella, in an area thought to be rich in copper. The mining units included about 82 private landowners.

While the state owns the mineral rights under all of that land, much of the land itself is privately owned. And many landowners say they never knew they didn’t own the minerals under their property. Many also said they had no idea mining interest had moved into their area.

The DNR and mining supporters – as well as official state law and policy – say that the state mineral exploration leases are a critical first step in pinpointing marketable deposits of minerals and the first step toward creating hundreds of jobs and pumping millions of dollars into state school funds when mining royalties begin flowing into the state as mining begins.

The Executive Council, charged with approving state investment and land deals, includes Gov. Mark Dayton, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon, Attorney General Lori Swanson and Auditor Rebecca Otto, all DFLers.


PolyMet Timeline OK with Agencies

Mesabi Daily News
Bill Hanna

The PolyMet supplemental draft Environmental Impact Statement is on track for internal review in July and public scrutiny in October, Republican 8th District U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack said on Tuesday.

The congressman said officials of all agencies involved told him during a Monday meeting in Duluth they are on board with the timeline.

“The question I asked everybody, each agency, do you have what you need to proceed? And every agency has said yes,” he said.

The copper/nickel/precious metals project slated for the former LTV Mining Co. site near Hoyt Lakes would provide 350 full-time jobs, hundreds more spin-off positions and an estimated 1.5 million hours of construction work.

Cravaack updated the project timeline after meeting with officials from the state and federal agencies reviewing the proposal. Cravaack said there don't appear to be any more holdups to completing the supplemental environmental impact statement.

The Monday gathering was the fourth of a series of meetings initiated by Cravaack several months ago to bring together all stakeholders in the project.

Release of the long-awaited review was delayed last fall when the Environmental Protection Agency asked PolyMet for more modeling of how the project would meet water and air quality regulations.

Cravaack also said all the agencies involved anticipate the report will be challenged in court.

“The agencies have told us that even though they're going to do it to the best of their ability, making sure the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed, they know they're going to have litigation,” he said.

Two years ago, PolyMet's original Environmental Impact Statement was criticized by the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA has been more heavily involved in developing the new document.

Minnesotans Encouraged to Hug a Ranger

Northland’s NewsCenter
Jennifer Walch

Iron Rangers beware. If someone randomly stops you on the street and gives you a hug, don't be alarmed.

A new marketing campaign is designed to get people to embrace their appreciation for Minnesota's Iron Range, by hugging Iron Rangers.

Whether you'd feel comfortable hugging someone to salute the Iron Range is one thing.

But it's safe to say, mining has been the backbone of the region's economy for decades.

But not everyone knows just how big of an impact it has.

"I've got friends in Minneapolis who still wonder whether mining still exists," Tom Jamar, President of Jasper Engineering said. "So it's a well-kept secret that that we are strong."

"I talk to people that aren't even aware that we are still mining on the Iron Range," Commissioner Keith Nelson of District-6 said. "Yes, isn't that alarming that people don't even know that we are still mining up here?"

The Hug a Ranger theme stuck after Commissioner Nelson used the phrase during a recent speech in St. Paul.

Now his words, along with Hug a Ranger buttons and informational pamphlets are helping spark interest in the region's economic impact.

"It truly is a marketing piece to educate greater Minnesota and hopefully these hug a ranger pins find their way out there," Commissioner Nelson said. "They've become quite a collector’s item already."


Cravaack: PolyMet Review to be Released in Oct.

MPR News
Dan Kraker

8th District GOP Rep. Chip Cravaack says the controversial PolyMet precious metals mining project in northeast Minnesota is on track to have a draft environmental review released to the public this October.

Cravaack updated the project timeline after meeting with officials from the state and federal agencies reviewing the proposal. Cravaack said there don't appear to be any more holdups to completing the supplemental environmental impact statement.

"The question I asked everybody, each agency, do you have what you need to proceed? And every agency has said yes," he said.

Release of the long-awaited review was delayed last fall when the Environmental Protection Agency asked PolyMet for more modeling of how the project would meet water and air quality regulations.

Cravaack said draft review is set to be released internally in July, and to the public in October. He said all the agencies involved anticipate the report will be challenged in court.

"The agencies have told us that even though they're going to do it to the best of their ability, making sure the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed, they know they're going to have litigation," he said.

Two years ago, PolyMet's original Environmental Impact Statement was criticized by the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA has been more heavily involved in developing the new document.