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DNR releases more detailed PolyMet timetable

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on Monday released a slightly more detailed timetable for the ongoing environmental review and potential permitting process for the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine near Hoyt Lakes.

The agency, in a schedule posted on its website, says the final Environmental Impact Statement will be published in early November, followed by a 30-day period in which the public can comment.

The DNR, which finished its preliminary environmental review in June, had said it will have a final decision on the adequacy of the review by the end of 2015. DNR officials now say that adequacy decision won't come until February 2016.

Offering less detail, the DNR simply lists "2016" for federal agencies — namely the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Forest Service — to issue a record of decision on whether their environmental review process has been adequate for the PolyMet project.

PolyMet officials said this week they will begin to apply for state and federal permits in August, even as the environmental review winds down. Once the environmental review efforts have been deemed adequate by the agencies, and details of the permits worked out, permits could be issued for PolyMet to start work, possibly in 2016.

"The adequacy decision does not authorize or approve the project. The project would still need to receive local, state and federal approvals and permits in order to proceed," the new DNR posting notes.

Lawsuits notwithstanding, once permits are issued, PolyMet plans to start digging the mine and building its transportation and processing systems as quickly as possible. But the company first needs to raise millions of dollars from investors and/or lenders to pay for the buildout.

PolyMet is proposing Minnesota's first copper-nickel mine, a $600 million open-pit mine near Babbitt with a processing center at the former LTV Steel site north of Hoyt Lakes. The project is expected to create about 350 jobs for more than 20 years, plus extensive spinoff business. Copper mining skeptics continue to have grave concerns about long-term water treatment at the site, especially acidic mine runoff and mine waste from high-sulfur rock, noting that treatment could be required for decades after the mine closes.

Supporters say any runoff can be effectively treated without environmental damage, and they say the project could help diversify the regional economy that's been hard-hit this year by the collapse of global iron ore prices, the only metal mined in the state so far.