PolyMet Mining Corp. on Wednesday said it has spent nearly $250 million so far to develop its NorthMet copper mine project near Hoyt Lakes as it moves into 2016, likely a pivotal year in determining the project's future.
The company also said Wednesday it will get an extra year, until March 2017, to pay back more than $66 million to Glencore, the Swiss-based commodities company that owns about 28.4 percent of PolyMet stock.
Glencore could eventually hold about 37.4 percent of PolyMet under new terms of the loan which should help get PolyMet closer to actual production and making money.
The loan had been due this coming March.
"The extension of the Glencore loan maturity demonstrates the company's continued support of the PolyMet project. It allows us to continue our focus on concluding the environmental review process and preparing for permitting," PolyMet spokesman Bruce Richardson told the News Tribune.
PolyMet released its third quarter financial reports Wednesday, revealing that it has spent more than $90 million over more than a decade on environmental review aspects to get the project where it is today - on the brink of becoming Minnesota's first copper mine and processing center.
The project is awaiting final word on whether the decade-long environmental review process is adequate in state regulators' eyes, a decision that will come early in 2016.
The company in coming months also will find out whether it will be able to exchange land with the U.S. Forest Service to gain access to the mine site, and whether the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will allow it to destroy more than 900 acres of wetlands at the site in exchange for creating more wetlands elsewhere.
All of those decisions are likely to come in 2016, but so are lawsuits likely challenging those decisions and the project itself.
When acquisition of the former LTV Mining processing center and tailings basin are included - along with mine engineering plans, mining equipment, staff salaries and the cost to acquire mineral rights, among other expenses - the total investment by PolyMet so far hits nearly $250 million, Richardson said.
All of the money has come from investors and creditors, with PolyMet - assuming the project is approved - still more than a year away from any production and income.
In addition to the $250 million already spent, another estimated $600 million will be needed to dig the open-pit mine, build railroad and other infrastructure and restart the long-shuttered LTV processing center to get the mine producing ore.
PolyMet said Wednesday its goal is to have a "commitment" for that financing before state and federal permits are issued, although the money would be contingent on having the permits in hand.
The project is expected to employ 300 people for 20 years or more, mining and processing copper, nickel, platinum, palladium and possibly other valuable metals. Supporters say the PolyMet project remains viable even though copper prices have crashed in 2015, as have nearly all commodities, with several copper producers including Glencore curbing production and some even closing mines.
Copper hovered around $2.08 per pound Wednesday, down from the 2015 high of $2.90 in June and the $4.50 per pound peak in 2011. Polymet stock was at 85 cents per share at the end of trading Wednesday compared to 45 cents in September and $1.20 in November.
NorthMet is the only project for the Toronto-based junior mining company.
Supporters say the project will help diversify the beleaguered Iron Range economy now dependent on cyclical iron ore mining, while critics say copper mining in high-sulfide rock is likely to taint nearby waters with mine waste.