The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency on Friday released a draft air permit for Prairie River Minerals, the young scram-mining company looking to process ore left behind by old mines into lump and sinter ores for the steel industry.

If approved, the air permit will regulate particulate matter, namely dust from excavating ore stockpiles, material crushing and handling and vehicle on haul roads.

On top of emission checks and water sprays to reduce dust, the draft permit requires Prairie River Minerals to track annual and monthly material processes, test requirements for processing equipment and keep records on fugitive dust.

Prairie River Minerals plans on processing stockpiles of hematite left behind at the former Jessie and Buckeye mines near Coleraine. Last year, it purchased two former Magnetation and ERP Iron Ore properties for $1.95 million in federal bankruptcy court: the Jessie Load-Out Facility near the former Jessie Mine and Plant 1 in Keewatin. The company could own another former Magnetation/EPR Iron Ore plant — Coleraine's Plant 4, near the former Buckeye Mine — by next month after a federal bankruptcy judge approved the purchase in September.

The air permit is the second of two draft permits released by the MPCA. Last month, the MPCA released a draft water-quality permit for the project's demonstration project and is taking public comment on it through Oct. 23.

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The water permit would allow Prairie River Minerals to process 500,000 metric tons of waste rock into 150,000 metric tons of lump and sinter ores over an expected three to nine months. The company then intends on sending the lump and sinter to steel mills for evaluation.

If the steel companies like what they see, the plant could expand into a full operation, something that would require a water permit amendment.

The project also requires permits from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which issued two water appropriation permits Oct. 6. A permit to mine from the agency is on public notice until Oct. 14, DNR Assistant Commissioner Jess Richards said in an email to the News Tribune on Friday.

Unlike the other mines and processing facilities on the Iron Range, Prairie River Minerals would not be producing iron ore pellets from mined taconite. Instead, it would be processing waste left over by past mines into lump and sinter ores.

Like pellets, lump ores — rough chunks of iron ore — can be added directly into a blast furnace, while sinter fines — iron ground down into a powder — must first be sintered in combination with other materials at high temperatures before it can be added to a blast furnace and turned into steel.

Prairie River Minerals intends on using a liquid to separate different materials within the rock by density, a process called “Ultra-High Dense Medium Separation.”

The MPCA is taking public comments on the air permit through 4:30 p.m. Nov. 9. Written comments can be sent to Ben Wenkel, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, 520 Lafayette Road N., St. Paul, MN 55155 or benjamin.wenkel@state.mn.us.

Additional information is on the MPCA's website at pca.state.mn.us/regulations/prairie-river-minerals.