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Local view: Evidentiary hearing on PolyMet necessary, sensible

Late last month a citizens group in Duluth called for an evidentiary hearing on PolyMet’s forthcoming permit-to-mine application, wanting to hear all the facts before a decision is made. PolyMet has announced its intent to file “within weeks.” Frank Ongaro of Mining Minnesota responded that, because there will be public comment periods and hearings on the application once it is filed, an evidentiary hearing would be a “waste of time.”

We do not agree.

First, an evidentiary hearing is different from a public comment period. At the various public hearings to date, we have heard many pleas on all sides of this issue about threats to our way of life, whether from painful changes to our local economies or painful changes to our ecosystems. What we haven’t heard is the evidence of experts, presented objectively, in front of a judge and subject to cross-examination.

Credible experts disagree with the conclusions of PolyMet’s experts and even the agencies, but the opinions of those experts have never been weighed side-by-side by a neutral party. An evidentiary hearing — standard when requested in our state’s regulatory setting — would allow for such an opportunity.

Second, we understand both from public statements by legal organizations like the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and the fact that the state of Minnesota already has budgeted for lawsuits related to PolyMet that these matters are going to go before a judge one way or another. Would it not behoove the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to hear from all of the experts on all sides before it makes a decision?

Given the grave concerns expressed by Gov. Mark Dayton over the Twin Metals proposal near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, which we share, one would think his DNR commissioner would want these facts as well. Having the fully scrutinized facts about the PolyMet application available in advance of a decision would be more likely to avoid future litigation by giving the DNR the best possible record.

DNR spokesman Chris Niskanen said, “It would be premature for DNR to decide whether it is going to order a pre-decisional contested case hearing.” We agree, but by the end of 2016, the DNR will have to make a decision about a hearing. That means now is the right time for communities and citizen groups to register their request for an evidentiary hearing, and we agree with the call for Duluth to do so.

Many cities in the area have passed resolutions regarding the PolyMet proposal. It is time for Duluth to be open and on the record about its significant interests in this highly consequential decision as well.

We are downstream of this proposed project. We reside at the tip of, and depend on, the world’s greatest lake. The call for a fact-based hearing on PolyMet’s

permit-to-mine application, where we can hear evidence presented and challenged by experts in an open and democratic process, is about the most reasonable thing we can think of. If the science and technology truly support this proposal, by all means, let’s hear about it in court.

J.T. Haines and John Doberstein are volunteers for the group Duluth for Clean Water (