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Local view: PolyMet foes use rejected data to sway Minnesotans

Leaders of Mining Truth, a group opposed to proposed copper-nickel mining, responded last month to a News Tribune report on PolyMet CEO Jon Cherry's comments in Duluth regarding misinformation being used against the NorthMet Project. The leaders claimed to have identified the problem causing public confusion when they wrote: "The problem is the two stories we are hearing come from the same source. If you believe the documentation the company provided the state as part of the SDEIS, 500 years is on the low side of the estimate of how long water treatment likely will be necessary. But if you believe the statements the company is making to the chamber and other organizations that have publicly endorsed the project, the water treatment timeframe seems to shrink considerably."

To get to the bottom of what the three writers -- Paul Austin of Minneapolis, executive director of Conservation Minnesota; Paul Danicic of Minneapolis, executive director of the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness; and Scott Strand of St. Paul, executive director of the Minnesota Center For Environmental Advocacy -- described as "the problem," I decided to enlist the help of a computer whiz to conduct research of the full Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement, or SDEIS, that I downloaded from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website.

What I found may surprise the 33 percent of Minnesotans a recent poll said were "undecided" about PolyMet and precious-metals mining in Minnesota.

Austin, Danicic and Strand indicated the information supporting their position came from "the documentation the company provided the state as part of the SDEIS" but failed to state that the phrase, "minimum of 500 years," actually is located in a table within Appendix C, Tribal Position Supporting Information (Executive Summary Table, Pages 1-4).

This is an issue where the co-lead agencies on the environmental review -- specifically the Minnesota DNR, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Forest Service -- and the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, which assisted the cooperating Chippewa agencies, apparently agreed to disagree.

The phrases, "minimum of 200 years" and "minimum of 500 years," did not make it into the final SDEIS -- and for good reason. They are not accurate statements.

The facts apparently didn't deter Austin, Danicic and Strand from stretching it even further when they wrote, "500 years is on the low side of the estimate."

This is from the official SDEIS: "Mechanical water treatment is part of the modeled NorthMet Project Proposed Action for the duration of the simulations (200 years at the Mine Site, and 500 years at the Plant Site). The duration of the simulations was determined based on capturing the highest predicted concentrations of the modeled NorthMet Project Proposed Action." (Source: Closure and Post-Closure Maintenance, SDEIS, Executive Summary, page 11).

Also from the official SDEIS: "Actual treatment requirements would be based on measured, rather than modeled, NorthMet Project water quality performance as determined through required monitoring."(Source: Closure & Post-Closure Maintenance, SDEIS, Executive Summary, page 24).

Austin, Danicic and Strand may now find themselves in an awkward position, having written: "Are we to believe PolyMet CEO Jon Cherry, who was quoted by this paper telling Duluth Chamber members that the 500-year number was the result of a 'misreading or misinterpretation of what's actually in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement' "?

Based on the computer research, the answer is YES.

Will anti-mining advocates come clean and confess where their information is really coming from? Not likely. Instead they'll likely scream, "It was published with the SDEIS! That counts!" Sorry, Minnesotans, but publishing a list of rejected suggestions doesn't suddenly turn them into facts.

The "problem" Austin, Danicic and Strand should be addressing is why the environmental lobby didn't do its homework. Or does it think facts shouldn't matter to Minnesotans?

Another problem is news media too often publish information without confirming source data as accurate. Some may argue bias or unethical journalism.

You be the judge. But the computer research strongly suggests it is not Cherry who is misleading the Minnesota public.

Harlan Christensen is a PolyMet Mining shareholder formerly of Duluth who now lives in the Twin Cities area.