Long time coming: How the PolyMet project got where it is today
Copper and nickel deposits are confirmed near the Mesabi Iron Range within the geologic formation now known as the Duluth Complex, now believed to be among the largest untapped copper-nickel-platinum group deposits in the world.
Several companies consider developing copper-nickel projects in Minnesota. But, riding a wave of environmentalism, the state enacts a moratorium on copper mining from 1974 to 1980. By then, the price of copper plummets, reducing interest in the state’s deposits.
Vancouver geologist John McGoran forms Fleck Resources, which later becomes PolyMet, as he pursues a large copper deposit north of Hoyt Lakes for which U.S. Steel held the mineral rights.
First company stock traded on Vancouver Stock Exchange.
UMD’s Natural Resources Research Institute publishes data suggesting a large platinum group metals deposit rests at the base of the Duluth Complex near deposits of copper, nickel and gold. The addition of the high-value platinum group metals renews interest in prospecting in the area.
PolyMet leases mineral rights from U.S. Steel for the area northeast of Hoyt Lakes later known as the NorthMet deposit.
News Tribune reports its first story on PolyMet, then a Golden, Colo.-based company headed by Donald Gentry after McGoran sold his ownership stake. Gentry says the company is seriously interested in developing a copper mine.
Australia’s North Mining Inc. agrees to pump more than $5 million into PolyMet’s project to pay for pre-feasibility and feasibility studies. But PolyMet pulls out of the deal after North is acquired by mining giant Rio Tinto. PolyMet resumes search for partner with money to pay for economic, environmental studies.
PolyMet gains full rights to the NorthMet deposit and begins a pre-feasibility study to advance the project.
A shakeup occurs in ownership and management, including the arrival of W. Ian Forrest to the board of directors. He became chairman of the board in 2004. The company focuses on acquiring the former Erie/LTV Steel processing plant as key.
PolyMet, state and federal agencies begins environmental review process; first public hearing on the project is held in Hoyt Lakes.
PolyMet announces it has received $13 million in private financing and purchased the former Erie/LTV taconite processing plant located six miles west of the proposed mine site.
PolyMet’s shares first listed on the American (now NYSE) stock exchange. Bateman Engineering publishes NorthMet Definitive Feasibility Study that details how much valuable ore is at the site. PolyMet acquires infrastructure, property and associated rights, linking the NorthMet mine site and the LTV plant.
Minnesota DNR geochemist tells the News Tribune that runoff from the PolyMet mine site will probably have to be treated “for decades, if not centuries” to avoid problems of acidic runoff and heavy metals reaching waterways.
PolyMet’s shares are listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
PolyMet enters a “strategic marketing and financial agreement” with Swiss-based Glencore International, now called Glencore-Xstrata, among the world’s largest producers and marketers of commodities, including copper and other minerals.
PolyMet Draft Environ-mental Impact Statement released to the public. It is widely criticized by tribal resource agencies, environmental groups and the federal Environmental Protection Agency as inadequate.
Consultants preparing the Environmental Impact Statement, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Forest Service start work on a revised environmental review to satisfy concerns over the first one.
Jon Cherry is named PolyMet president and CEO. Cherry, who spent most of his career with global mining giant Rio Tinto, was responsible for permitting and development of the Eagle Mine in Upper Mich-igan. He led the effort to secure environmental permits for the Resolution Copper Project in Arizona, a joint venture of Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton.
PolyMet announced it has received another $20 million loan from Glencore, which now owns about 28 percent of PolyMet. Glencore can continue to cash in other options and accumulate up to 34 percent of PolyMet stock. PolyMet also announces another $60 million public stock sale to help raise cash.
Revised environmental review, called a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement, with a reworked mine plan including reverse osmosis water treatment, is given to state, federal and tribal agencies for review and comments.
News Tribune reports that the SDEIS document contemplates that water leaving the PolyMet site will have to be treated for a “minimum of 500 years” and perhaps in perpetuity. DNR confirms it would be the first such permitted project in Minnesota.
Revised environmental review and comments will be released to the public. Several public meetings are expected with written comments allowed for 90 days or more.
DNR and other federal agencies expected to decide whether the environmental review is adequate; that it has covered all potential issues and resolved them. If yes, the project moves on to permitting.
PolyMet expects to receive about a dozen permits from multiple state and federal agencies to begin work. Construction would take about 15 months.
PolyMet hopes to be mining copper, nickel and other metals to ship by train to smelters in Ontario, Utah or Arizona.
PolyMet hopes to use money raised selling copper and nickel to build Phase II of the project, a hydrometallurgical plant at Hoyt Lakes.