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PolyMet expands copper search to Pine County

PolyMet Mining Corp. is looking at potential copper deposits in Pine City Township in Pine County, the first serious interest in what would be a new area of exploratory drilling.

PolyMet prospecting in new area

PolyMet Mining Corp. is looking at potential copper deposits in Pine City Township in Pine County, the first serious interest in what would be a new area of exploratory drilling.
The company confirmed Friday it has had discussions with Pine City Township officials on permits needed to drill on private land for core samples that might divulge exactly where and how much copper is buried underground.
Pine City Township, about 75 miles south of Duluth and 60 miles north of St. Paul, runs south and east of Pine City - south of the Snake River and roughy between Interstate 35 and the St. Croix River.
The area has been suspected of holding copper since the 1880s, according to geology books. Some companies, including Kennecott Metals, have done above-ground exploration in Pine County over the past decade. But there’s been little or no physical prospecting in this area before.
PolyMet spokesman Bruce Richardson confirmed Friday that the company has had discussions with Pine City Township Zoning Administrator Gordon Johnson about what type of township notice and permits would be necessary to drill test borings on private land.
Johnson told the Pine City Pioneer newspaper that PolyMet wanted to begin drilling at least three bore holes in coming weeks.
Richardson would not confirm details on exactly where or when that drilling might occur.
“We’re not going to talk about the specifics of what we are doing in terms of exploration.
But this is coming out of a conversation we had with Pine County officials to see what permitting or processing we need to go through. It was really just informational,’’ Richardson told the News Tribune.
The company appears not to need any special permits other than permission from landowners. Before any actual test drilling occurs, Richardson noted PolyMet would have to notify both the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Minnesota Department of Health. The company has not yet done that. A DNR mining official did not immediately return a request to comment on the situation.
It’s PolyMet’s first search outside its established NorthMet area near Hoyt Lakes, a project in the works for more than a decade and potentially within a year of being permitted for operation as Minnesota’s first-ever copper-nickel mine.
“Our focus still is on getting through the permits and (Environmental Impact Study) completed for NorthMet. But, naturally, as a mining company, we’re interested in other opportunities for bringing metals to market and (improving) long-term shareholder value,’’ Richardson said.
It would take years of test drilling perhaps hundreds of holes, and years more of engineering and environmental review and permitting, before any actual mining could occur, and only then if geologists find a large enough deposit that’s economical to dig out of the ground.
The Pine County interest follows two other major areas of copper exploration in the state.
First it was the Duluth Complex of rock, mostly north and east of the Iron Range and south of the Boundary Waters, where copper mining companies looked for and found huge deposits of copper, nickel and other valuable metals.
In addition to PolyMet, Twin Metals Minnesota, Teck, Encampment, Beaver Bay and other companies continue to prospect for specific copper deposits and other minerals in the Duluth Complex near the traditional Iron Range.
Then it was Aitkin and western Carlton counties that showed promising results as companies bored holes and checked the core samples where they found copper in reportedly large amounts.
West of Duluth., Rio Tinto’s Kennecott division, in a relationship with Talon Metals, is honing in on a copper mine project near the tiny town of Tamarack near the Aitkin-Carlton county line. Active test sample drilling has continued in that area this year where the state owns mineral rights.

Related Topics: MININGENVIRONMENT
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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