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Local view: Leave PolyMet water modeling to experts

 

Recently, individuals opposed to the PolyMet copper-nickel mining project raised concerns about a potential northward flow of wastewater into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, which is in the Rainy River watershed. This is notable because the project is in a different watershed, the St. Louis River watershed (“Regulators: PolyMet mine water could flow north toward BWCAW,” Sept. 3).

Anti-mining activists long have looked for a scenario in which at least a drop of water could flow from the PolyMet site into the BWCAW watershed. There are two main drivers behind this claim, both with the ultimate intention of killing the project and the hundreds of good, middle-class jobs it will create in this region.

First, they hope that introducing a new hypothetical scenario will force PolyMet and regulators to redo large portions of the water flow analysis.

Secondly, they are playing into Minnesotans’ love for the BWCAW and the habitat and recreation it provides. We Minnesotans are protective of the Boundary Waters and want it to remain pristine. But we care about all of our watersheds.

Northward water flow from PolyMet would be unlikely due to a number of factors that are all well documented in the preliminary final Environmental Impact Statement. Scientists from the co-lead agencies (the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Forest Service), their third-party consultants, and PolyMet all agree on this point. I am not aware of any water-modeling expert who has disputed this consensus.

And as insurance against the hypothetical, monitoring and detection systems will be in place to measure bedrock water levels during and after operations. This would provide advance warning of any potential change in water flow and would trigger contingency adaptive mitigation measures to prevent the flow and any potential harm.

It is completely appropriate to ask the tough questions and even contemplate hypotheticals about PolyMet or any other project. However, in the end, it is important to trust the experts, many of whom have dedicated their entire careers to this highly technical science.

Federal and state regulators hold new mine proposals to extremely high standards not seen in many other industries. In fact, the public is free to see just how stringent the process is by accessing the 3,100-page environmental impact statement that has been 10 years in the making by these regulators.

Finally, lost in the water-flow debate is the fact that the PolyMet water that leaves the site will meet applicable water-quality standards, including the strict wild-rice standard, regardless of the watershed.

PolyMet has the technology, plan and dedication — along with strict regulating agencies — to ensure protection of the water we all value so much.

Chris Vreeland has been a licensed water and wastewater operator for the state of Minnesota for 33 years and is a Hoyt Lakes city councilor.

EPA Letter Good News for PolyMet

EPA Letter Good News for PolyMet

Mesabi Daily News (Daily)

Editorial Board

Sept. 5, 2015

Once again, as happens often with arguments of critics of the proposed copper/nickel/precious metals project on the Iron Range, it is hard to fathom their logic.

Opponents of the PolyMet venture, including some in the media on and off the Iron Range, hailed a letter from the Environment Protection Agency with recommendations on the company’s Preliminary Final Environmental Impact Statement as a testimonial in agreement with their views.

Hardly. Just the opposite.

Yes, the letter said there is “potential” for a northward flow path from the mine site’s east pit. But in life, there’s potential for anything — nothing new there.

However, what matters in the EPA letter is that the agency said a number of very positive things about the PFEIS.

• The PFEIS “reflects many improvements to the project, and to the clarity and completeness of the environmental review.”

• Extensive discussions with co-lead and cooperating agencies “helped to resolve virtually all of our previous comments, and to review important questions about project modeling.”

• The adaptive management plan of PolyMet and the co-lead agencies to address “possible” northward flow issues is “an appropriate response to the possibility.”

PolyMet CEO/Director Jon Cherry said the EPA’s recommendations will “absolutely” be addressed and implemented.

That should be pretty good news for everyone closely watching the PolyMet issue.

Unless, of course, you are an opponent whose feelings will only be assuaged if the project, which will meet all environmental rules and regulations of state and federal agencies, is never built.

They don’t give a hoot about the hundreds of direct and spin-off and construction jobs that will be created on economically stressed Iron Range.

Pretty sad.

PolyMet ‘Pleased’ With EPA Letter

PolyMet ‘Pleased’ With EPA Letter

Mesabi Daily News (Daily)

Bill Hanna

Sept. 2, 2015

PolyMet CEO and Director Jon Cherry says the company is “very pleased” with a letter from the Environmental Protection Agency on the Preliminary Final Environmental Impact Statement for the state’s first copper/nickel/precious metals mine near Hoyt Lakes.

“We’re proud of how we’ve been handling this. We are pleased with the final PEIS,” Cherry said in a telephone interview with the Mesabi Daily News.

Cherry also discounted allegations by critics that the EPA comments on the PFEIS related to a “potential” northward flow path from the mine site’ east pit should be a major blow to the project.

PolyMet officials point out that the major spokesman for anti-nonferrous mining advocates on this issue, John Coleman, who works for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, has admitted previously to not being a “groundwater modeling expert.”

The EPA, in letter dated Aug. 5, made recommendations to even further improve the PFEIS, which the federal agency praised.

“The PFEIS reflects many improvements to the project, and to the clarity and completeness of the environmental review.

“Our extensive discussions with the co-lead and cooperating agencies have helped to resolve virtually all of our previous comments, and to review important questions about project modeling,” the letter said.

The EPA included six recommendations on the NorthMet PFEIS, which Cherry said will “absolutely” be addressed and remedied by the final document.

Coleman has especially zeroed in on the northward flow issue, as if it could be a killer of the project.

But the EPA basically defuses the issue. And Cherry said the company will have no problem handling the recommendation.

“The co-leads have proposed an adaptive management strategy to monitor for a possible northward flow path from the NorthMet Mine Site’s East Pit, and to mitigate or prevent this flow path if necessary.

“EPA’s review and discussion with co-lead and cooperating agencies indicate that a northward flow path is possible and can be addressed through adaptive management.

EPA regards the proposed strategy as an appropriate response to the possibility,” reads the agency letter.

The recommendation is that the adaptive management strategy “should be clearly and specifically described in the FEIS, with reference to relevant analysis in a supporting technical memorandum.”

Cherry said that recommendation, too, will be followed.

A PolyMet statement on the issue stresses that the agencies involved with review of the PFEIS “have appropriately evaluated all concerns submitted to them from the public, including the one from Mr. Coleman. There have been no miscalculations, fundamental or otherwise in the Environmental Impact Statement.”

PolyMet officials say the efforts to try to discredit the model in the draft EIS “are purely an attempt to create doubt in the process.”

The company also points out how Coleman’s assertions have been disproved and rejected.

“Mr. Coleman admits in his own words through a letter to the co-lead agencies that he is not a groundwater expert. And he has challenged unsuccessfully groundwater models at the Eagle Mine in Michigan and the Flambeau Mine in Wisconsin in attempts to stop them from being developed.”

The other recommendations from the EPA, which Cherry said will be satisfied, deal with the following issues:

• Base flow and cumulative impacts.

• Potential impacts of groundwater drawdown.

• Wetland mitigation ratios.

• Model calibration.

• Contradictory information.

• Impacts to moose.

The PolyMet copper/nickel/precious metals project near Hoyt Lakes and Babbitt will create 350 permanent jobs, hundreds more spin-off positions, and more than 2 million hours of construction.

The venture has already received more than a decade of environmental review.