Minnesota will stick with a local consulting company to help figure out how much money PolyMet will have to set aside as financial assurance against any long-term treatment or disaster at its proposed copper mine.

The Department of Natural Resources has signed a contract with Oakdale, Minn.-based Emmons Olivier Resources Inc. to help the agency develop the financial assurance portion of the permit to mine that PolyMet is expected to apply for in coming weeks.

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DNR officials announced the contract Monday saying the firm was picked by a state review panel that also includes the Pollution Control Agency, state Board of Investment, governor's office, an outside law firm the DNR has contracted with on the issue, as well as private experts on mining and financial analysis.

Emmons Oliver Resources "is a nationally recognized group of environmental and design professionals,'' the DNR noted. Emmons Oliver also will bring in subcontractors Spectrum Engineering and JLT Specialty USA.

Spectrum is a Montana-based mining, engineering, reclamation and permitting consulting firm that has worked on reclamation of thousands of mines/abandoned mines, including large open-pit metal mines. JLT is considered a global leader on insurance, reinsurance and surety bonds related to the mining industry.

The DNR's permit to mine will specify both a dollar amount - expected to be tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars - as well as the type of financing requirements that PolyMet must set aside to cover any unexpected problems as well as planned long-term treatment of water leaving the site and money for rehabilitation of the mine.

If the project eventually passes state and federal environmental approval, receives some 22 permits from state and federal agencies and survives any litigation by opponents of the mine, the amount in the financial assurance fund will ramp up as PolyMet unearths the mine and begins using a processing facility.

State officials say they want to make sure that money is sufficient and readily accessible by the state even if PolyMet, its parent companies or successor companies fold, declare bankruptcy or walk away from the project at any time.

The DNR has said there will be both a public comment period on the permit to mine, including the issue of financial assurance.

PolyMet is proposing Minnesota's first copper operation, with an open-pit mine not far from Babbitt and a processing facility at the site of the former LTV Steel Mining Co. site near Hoyt Lakes. The operations would employ about 300 people for about 20 years. Supporters say the project will help diversify the Iron Range economy, while critics say it could cause pollution that will damage the St. Louis River watershed that flows into Lake Superior.