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PolyMet submits another permit application

PolyMet Mining, Inc. on Tuesday submitted another in a series of applications for state and federal permits needed to build a proposed copper-nickel mine and processing center on the Iron Range. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said it has ...

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PolyMet Mining, Inc. on Tuesday submitted another in a series of applications for state and federal permits needed to build a proposed copper-nickel mine and processing center on the Iron Range.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said it has received the company's application for so-called 401-certification that involves water and wetlands that will be impacted by the project. The applications also includes the company's plan to replace wetlands destroyed.

It will be up to the PCA to determine if the project can meet applicable laws and requirements, such as water quality standards. The public will be invited to comment on any PCA draft certification if one is proposed.

In July the company submitted the first three permit applications for the project - a water appropriations permit to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, a water pollutant discharge permit to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and a tailings basin dam safety permit to the DNR.

They are the first of nearly two dozen permits from state and federal agencies the company needs before it can start building a mine near Babbitt and refurbishing a processing plant at the old LTV Steel Mining Co. site near Hoyt Lakes.

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The most critical of the permits - and the most controversial - will be the DNR-issued "permit to mine" that will lay out how the company can proceed with unearthing the mine, moving and processing the ore and dealing with any polluted water at the site. That permit also will dictate how much money PolyMet will be required to set aside as an insurance policy should any problems occur.

The company hopes to have all the permits approved and work started in 2017, along with securing financing to pay for the project, and then start mining about 18 months after construction begins. The project, estimated at $650 million to build, would employ about 300 workers for about 20 years.

Supporters say the jobs would help diversify the Iron Range economy that is tied to the cyclical iron ore mining industry. But critics say the copper, nickel, platinum, palladium, gold and other valuable metals that PolyMet plans to mine and process are locked inside rock that is high in sulfide. When that rock is unearthed and exposed to air and water, it creates acidic runoff that can pull heavy metals and other contaminants out of the rock.

Related Topics: MININGIRON RANGEENVIRONMENT
John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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