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Environmentalists urge more comments on PolyMet

ST. PAUL — Environmentalists say the Dayton administration has failed to adequately vet a proposed Iron Range copper-nickel mine and they want thousands of Minnesotans to let state officials know how they feel.

Leaders of a variety of environmental groups told reporters Friday that they fear Minnesotans will think the fight against the PolyMet mine is over after release of a final Environmental Impact Statement a week earlier. However, the public has until 4:30 p.m. Dec. 14 to make one last attempt to stop the mine, they said.

Copper, nickel and other such metals have not been mined in Minnesota, and Steve Morse of Minnesota Environmental Partnership said “this mining is much more risky” than taconite and other mining that has been common for years in the northeastern part of the state.

A preliminary Environmental Impact Statement drew 58,000 comments over three months, and Morse is concerned that in a condensed, one-month comment period it will be hard to get such a response.

Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr has said that comments must be narrowly focused on whether the report adequately examined the potential environmental consequence of the proposed mine. When he released the environmental report, he said the conclusion was sound when it concluded that the PolyMet operation “would not cause any significant water quality impacts.”

Gov. Mark Dayton plans to decide himself about whether the mine will be allowed to receive the 23 permits it needs to open. If those permits are approved, environmental groups are expected to take the issue to court, further delaying the PolyMet project beyond the decade it already has been in the works.

PolyMet Vice President Bruce Richardson said the environmental report was comprehensive and included plenty of public review and comment already.

“The final Environmental Impact Statement for the PolyMet project reflects 10 years of intensive independent review and analysis showing that the environment will be protected while delivering hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in economic benefit to the region over a sustained period of time,” Richardson said.

Landwehr said the 3,500-page review is sound. “Obviously, we would not have put out a document we didn’t think was adequate.”

Paula Maccabee of WaterLegacy disagreed.

She said the regulations call for the review to be done independently, but “it relies on poor quality data and unsubstantiated assumptions provided by PolyMet.”

One problem she pointed out is a tailings (waste) holding area left over from a taconite mine at the proposed copper-nickel mine site. It leaks badly, she said, and would continue to do so with toxic waste from the new mine.

Environmental groups also are concerned that the small PolyMet company never has operated a mine and that the company and state have yet to tell taxpayers how they PolyMet would pay for cleanup needed for at least decades after the mine closes.

Landwehr said state law requires the Department of Natural Resources to update a financial review annually to make sure the mine sets aside enough money to provide for any potential cleanup. Dayton has said the cleanup financial question is one of his concerns and promised to do what he can to make sure taxpayers do not foot a cleanup bill.

To comment on environmental review

Comments will be accepted until 4:30 p.m. Dec. 14. They may be emailed to or mailed to Lisa Fay, EIS Project Manager, DNR Division of Ecological and Water Resources, Environmental Review Unit, 500 Lafayette Road, Box 25, St. Paul, MN 55155-4025.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.