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Local view: PolyMet and nature can coexist, so let's get that permit approved

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In my 25 years of experience as an economic-development professional, I've never come across an opportunity as important to Northeastern Minnesota's economic future as copper-nickel mining. A significant economic base for this region is and will remain mining. The growth of this industry is critical to the long-term success of the region and will support a way of life for generations to come. The economic opportunity stretches from the environmental technician at the mine site in Hoyt Lakes to the engineering professionals in downtown Duluth.

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PolyMet Mining's proposed NorthMet project represents a continuation of our strong mining tradition. As the public comment period for the project's Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement comes to a close, we are one step closer to bringing 360 full-time mining jobs to the Iron Range and more than 600 spinoff jobs in other industries.

These are career opportunities our young people need to support families. Too often in greater Minnesota we see empty storefronts, classrooms and industrial parks. Longtime residents are forced to move their families out of town to find work. This is the present, but it does not have to be the future; we can have thriving communities again.

Every development -- from new office buildings to housing to airports and to the highways that bring vacationers to northern Minnesota -- affects the landscape. All businesses and industries in this region, including those that transport and process natural resources, potentially affect the environment and human health. That is why we have multiple local, state and federal agencies ensuring each project is designed to mitigate potential environmental impacts.

Many of our former mines are now lakes that enhance our environment, and by bringing mining companies and communities together, the Laurentian Vision Partnership guides future land use after mining closure.

The naysayers keep referring to a 20-year mine and suggest the benefits are temporary. But the vast resources of the Duluth Complex indicate responsible mining could continue for many more years -- just as iron mining has existed for a century. The benefits from copper-nickel mining will be felt by generations of hard-working Minnesotans. Copper-nickel mining will provide millions of dollars in local and state taxes to support our communities and educational systems and will create a domestic source for metals essential to our quality of life.

Furthermore, our state has some of the strictest environmental regulations in the country, and the environmental review process for the NorthMet project has been sound and thorough. Keeping jobs here and doing mining the right way is arguably the real definition of economic and environmental justice. It would be irresponsible to import these metals from countries that do not have strict environmental standards when Minnesota has the opportunity to mine responsibly.

As a state, we have the opportunity to enter a new era of mining that will create hundreds of jobs, foster a strong economic future for Minnesota families and bring families back to this area. These families will sustain and build the future vitality of this region.

We do not have to choose between economic growth and protecting our environment. We can have both.

Nancy Norr of Duluth is chairwoman of the Jobs for Minnesotans coalition (jobsforminnesotans.org) and is the director for regional development for Minnesota Power.

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