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Carlton City Council supports sulfide mining moratorium

The city of Carlton is taking a stand against copper-nickel sulfide mining.

Carlton city councilors Ann Gustafson, Heather MacDonald and Mayor Kitty Bureau passed a resolution at the Feb. 14 council meeting in support of a moratorium on copper-nickel sulfide mining in the St. Louis River watershed.

According to the resolution, the moratorium should be in effect until it is shown "that similar mines in the U.S. or Canada have operated safely for at least 20 years in a water-rich environment similar to that of the upper St. Louis River watershed, and have subsequently been closed for at least 20 years, all without resulting in acid mine drainage, pollution of, or toxic damage to surface or groundwater, wildlife, people or communities."

Carlton resident Timothy Soden-Groves had addressed the issue with councilors at their January meeting, when they said they needed more information.

The one-page resolution passed by the council this month outlines the reasons the city — which is located along the St. Louis River — opposes the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine, including the statement that "copper-nickel sulfide ore mining has never been accomplished in a water-rich environment without polluting surface and/or groundwater with acidic runoff of mine wastes."

The PolyMet project is located near Hoyt Lakes and Babbitt on the Partridge River, a tributary of the St. Louis River, which flows into Lake Superior.

The Carlton resolution also outlines the city's commitment to protecting the natural resources of the area to preserve quality of life for citizens as well as their health, safety and prosperity.

"We are not against mining, (but) we are very concerned about the different mining that could affect our area," Bureau told the Pine Journal on Tuesday. "We all have a right to our opinions, (and) mine happen to be different than the mining community. I stand with all the members."

Councilors Ruth Jorgenson and LeAnn Theisen were absent from the Feb. 14 meeting, although the mayor said one of the absent councilors expressed her approval in an email.

Soden-Groves said he hopes other cities and reservations in the St. Louis River watershed will take notice and consider taking a similar action, pointing out that local government is put in place to protect its citizens and be their voice.

"The resolution is unique in that it not only identifies concerns over sulfide mining's local site impact, acid mine drainage and significant CO2 emissions but, in contrast, also refers to the values and vision of the city of Carlton as outlined in its 2015 City of Carlton Comprehensive Plan," he said, adding that the resolution also calls for a "new paradigm" in thinking about protection for the St. Louis River watershed by doubling the previously proposed standard of proof for sulfide mining safety to a minimum of 20 years in operation and 20 years closed without environmental harm.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Pollution Control Agency issued draft operating permits for PolyMet last month, signaling that the company's plans appear to comply with state and federal regulations.

After the agencies review public comments this spring, final permits for the projected $650 million project could be issued later this year, with construction set to follow. The company hopes to be mining and processing copper, nickel, platinum and other valuable metals by 2020.

Supporters say the estimated $650-plus million project will help diversify a regional economy that has been tied the cyclical iron mining industry for a century.

The News Tribune contributed to this report.