Lawmaker's view: PolyMet will revitalize Iron RangeA few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to tour the proposed PolyMet mine site near Hoyt Lakes. PolyMet would like to reopen a former taconite mine for copper and nickel. Not knowing much about the mining industry in general, I was curious about the new jobs, tax revenue and other opportunities that could be generated for the state.
By: Sen. Dave Brown, Duluth News Tribune
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to tour the proposed PolyMet mine site near Hoyt Lakes. PolyMet would like to reopen a former taconite mine for copper and nickel. Not knowing much about the mining industry in general, I was curious about the new jobs, tax revenue and other opportunities that could be generated for the state.
The staff members at PolyMet are lifelong Iron Rangers proud of their northern Minnesota mining heritage. They are avid outdoors enthusiasts who enjoy hunting, fishing and frequent trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. PolyMet has put together an experienced mining staff with strong and loyal employees who represent the best of Minnesota.
Refurbishing the PolyMet site will cost about $475 million and take about 2 million working hours. This is about the same as building Target Field, the new baseball stadium in Minneapolis. New jobs will be for carpenters, laborers, operating engineers and teamsters. Once the buildings and equipment are repaired and refurbished, the plant will have about 360 jobs that will pay $26 to $32 per hour year-round, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. Over the 20-year life of this proposed project, it is estimated to generate $720 million in wages and benefits, $300 million in state and local government taxes and $10.3 billion for St. Louis County.
Obviously, all mining operations have environmental concerns. But as I noted earlier, many of the people currently working for PolyMet in Minnesota are Iron Rangers. I do not believe they would jeopardize their way of life and favorite pastimes.
The PolyMet mine’s water cannot flow into the Boundary Waters; to do so would be geographically impossible due to the watershed boundary. Many environmentalists are concerned about the sulfur and mercury content of water. PolyMet has worked with local tribal experts and local communities to adhere to a policy for strict water regulation. The company is constructing an on-site reverse osmosis system to purify water collected and reused during the mining and processing procedure before depositing it back into tailings ponds. PolyMet also would adhere to the 10-milligrams-per-liter sulfate standard and all other clean-air and water standards currently in state and federal statutes.
Due diligence is required for every industrial project, and I believe PolyMet is doing its best to ensure life on the Iron Range will not be tainted by this facility. I have serious doubts the third- and fourth-generation Rangers controlling the day-to-day operations of this mine knowingly would devastate their own backyard. This facility has the opportunity to revitalize the economy of the area, generating jobs that will give a spark of life to many of the small mining towns craving an influx of revenue.
The U.S. currently imports 100 percent of the nickel used in manufacturing from countries like Russia, where there is major pollution and mass environmental impacts. I think environmentalists can agree our Earth is much better off having nickel mined in the U.S., where we have some of the most stringent environmental standards in the world.
I hope Gov. Mark Dayton and the Minnesota Legislature realize the laws and industry regulations we have implemented are working and will ensure our children will be able to enjoy better air and water quality than I did as a child. To impose stricter regulations only will hinder Minnesota’s ability to capitalize on an industry that has done so much for the quality of life on the Iron Range.
Sen. Dave Brown of Becker is the Republican representative of District 15 in the Minnesota Legislature. He wrote this for the News Tribune.