Feds: Another year for proprosed Iron Range mine review

Federal agencies signaled this week that it will be nearly another year before they release a revised environmental review on the proposed PolyMet copper mine project.

Federal agencies signaled this week that it will be nearly another year before they release a revised environmental review on the proposed PolyMet copper mine project.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Forest Service says the supplemental environmental impact statement will be ready in summer 2011, then open to public review before a final EIS is issued sometime in 2012.

The company then would need to secure specific mining, emissions, wetlands and construction permits before any mining could begin.

The Corps and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources earlier this year released what was supposed to have been the completed environmental review of the project, Minnesota's first copper mine and processing plant. But concerns by environmental groups, tribal resource agencies and especially the federal Environmental Protection Agency spurred another round of environmental review.

The EPA gave the project's environmental review especially low grades, saying it was incomplete in stating how local waters would be protected from mine runoff for years into the future. Copper-bearing rock, when exposed to air and water, often can cause acidic runoff that can contaminate waterways.


The revised environmental review will especially focus on the proposed land exchange between PolyMet and the Superior National Forest, which was not included in the first review. PolyMet is in the process of buying private and within the forest to trade for land at the proposed mine site currently owned by the Forest Service.

The revised timeline was published in the Federal Register on Wednesday.

The PolyMet project has been proposed for nearly a decade, with environmental review starting in 2005 and early company predictions that mining could begin in 2008.

In a statement released by the company, Joe Scipioni, president and CEO of PolyMet said the new timeline "is an important step in completion of the environmental review of the NorthMet project."

"The state and federal agencies have been meeting frequently, conducted detailed site tours, and implemented a plan to ensure a coordinated effort to complete the" environmental review, Scipioni said. "PolyMet is committed to being environmentally and socially responsible. The quality and nature of the lands that we propose to exchange with the Superior National Forest demonstrate our commitment."

PolyMet's open-pit copper mine also would produce nickel, platinum and other valuable metals. The proposed mine is near Babbitt, while the company would use the former LTV Steel taconite plant near Hoyt Lakes as a processing center.

The $600 million project would create 400 or more jobs for about 20 years, digging and processing billions of dollars of high-value minerals. The project has been praised by Iron Range leaders as a critical step toward diversifying the region's dependence on iron-ore mining. PolyMet is the first of what could be a half-dozen or more copper mines stretching from the Ely area to Aitkin County.

Critics say that the company and government regulators can't be sure the mine won't cause long-term environmental problems years after mining operations cease.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at
What To Read Next
Get Local