PolyMet hearings to start ThursdayThe PolyMet copper mine proposed near Hoyt Lakes will get its first official public airing Thursday in Duluth — at least the first one in which supporters and opponents can speak their minds in front of a large audience with state and federal agencies forced to listen.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
The PolyMet copper mine proposed near Hoyt Lakes will get its first official public airing Thursday in Duluth — at least the first one in which supporters and opponents can speak their minds in front of a large audience with state and federal agencies forced to listen.
While the project has been in the works for more than a decade, similar public meetings held in 2009 didn’t offer a public venue for people to vent their support or opposition — comments were allowed in writing or verbally in private, to government stenographers.
No public venting was allowed.
“To have a public meeting where the public doesn’t get to comment is really a boneheaded move,” Tom Rukavina, then a state lawmaker, said at the time.
So Thursday evening’s meeting at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, after a two-hour open house, has nearly three hours set aside for just such venting.
Pro- and anti-copper mining factions are expected to be well represented.
Environmental groups held a class Saturday in Duluth on how to effectively comment on the environmental review. An Ely-based pro-mining group promises to bring busloads of copper mining supporters to the DECC.
But meeting organizers — the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Forest Service — are asking people to keep to the point and remain civil.
“This is not a referendum on mining,” said Tom Landwehr, DNR commissioner. It’s not a contest, Landwehr noted, to see which side has more supporters or who is the loudest.
Landwehr said he’s hoping for a big turnout of people “who want to learn more about the project” and learn more about the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement out for public review through March 13.
That 2,169-page document lays out how PolyMet plans to mine for copper and nickel, treat wastewater, replace lost wetlands, prevent acid mine runoff and rehabilitate the mine site after the minerals are played out — and do it while complying with state and federal environmental regulations.
The public hearing is part of the official process of government agencies deciding if the environmental review was formally “adequate” or not, whether it covered all the bases. In 2010, just such comments helped the agencies essentially decide the review was not adequate, forcing the project back to the drawing board for major changes that took more than three years to hone.
Those changes now are open for review in Round 2. But any approval of the mine, including permits to begin work, are still many months, perhaps more than a year away, Landwehr said.
“We know people are very passionate about this issue,” he said. “But this is not an approval process. This is an information gathering period.”
Landwehr said he hopes people who are interested in what would be Minnesota’s first-ever copper mine that they come and ask questions like how do sulfates transform into sulfides? What kind of long-term wastewater treatment is proposed? What is financial assurance?
“I think it’s a good opportunity for people who don’t want to read 2,200 pages to find out what really is being proposed. If you want to get the essence of what’s being proposed, and not a lot of misinformation, come to this meeting
The DNR already has received more than 3,000 comments on the SDEIS. State and federal agencies are required to respond to each of those — at least each subject raised if not specific comments — that make valid, specific points. So far, many of the 3,000 comments have been computer generated with little specific information, Landwehr noted.
“It adds nothing to the process to send an email saying, ‘I oppose mining,’ or, ‘Protect the Boundary Waters.’ We aren’t talking about the Boundary Waters here at all,” Landwehr said.
Paula Maccabee, attorney for the group Water Legacy and a vocal critic of the PolyMet project and the environmental review itself, said she’s encouraging people to put their comments in writing.
“Comments that are well thought out and researched and are to the point, especially to as specific point like perpetual water treatment, are going to be a lot more effective. So I tell everyone to write it down and submit it for the record,” she said.
Still, Maccabee noted that while that could be done via email, she’s one who prodded the DNR and Corps to allow public comments in a public venue this time.
“It’s important for people to be able to express themselves in a public setting … It’s important for people to be able to stand up for what they believe in, to get up and say, ‘I’m from Duluth and I don’t think your plan protects the Partridge River and here’s why,’ and to do that in front of their neighbors,” Maccabee said. “And I think when you raise concerns in public like that, in front of a lot of people, the agencies tend to listen a little more. They can’t ignore it.”
Gerald Tyler, founder of the Ely-based Up North Jobs coalition, said he agrees that comments be directed at the environmental impact statement and not mining in general.
“In our opinion, it is adequate. It addressed all the issues. It’s time to move to the next step,” Tyler said.
But Tyler also thinks it’s important for politicians, government agency officials and the general public to see the depth of support for copper mining in Northeastern Minnesota. He even suspects some judges who may eventually preside over environmental lawsuits on the issue might be watching “because you know some part of this is going to end up in court.”
“We’re absolutely going down there to show our support. That’s what this is about,” Tyler said. “I talked to one man who is in Buffalo, N.Y., who is flying back here to take the bus down with us … We have people who want to live here and can’t get jobs. This (copper mining) is absolutely critical to our region.”
To learn more
To learn more about PolyMet’s environmental review, and to get involved
The PolyMet environmental impact statement can be found along with other documents and tips on how to navigate the 2,169-page review at mndnr.gov/polymet.
Formal comments can be submitted in writing or orally at each of three public meetings scheduled.
The meetings will start with a two-hour, open house-style event starting at 5 p.m., during which people can meander around DNR-staffed table and ask questions on specific aspects of the project and environmental review. The DNR also offers a 10-minute video that highlights the project and environmental review. PolyMet also will have staff on hand.
The meetings are set for:
Comments will be accepted until 4:30 p.m. March 13.
Submit comments to NorthMetSDEIS.firstname.lastname@example.org. Email submissions should include a full name and legal mailing address. Written comments may also be submitted to: Lisa Fay, EIS Project Manager MDNR Division of Ecological and Water Resources Environmental Review Unit, 500 Lafayette Road, Box 25, St. Paul, MN 55155-4025.