DULUTH, Minn. (WCCO) – About 1,500 people turned out Thursday night to weigh in on what Minnesota’s first copper mine could mean for their water and air.

The DNR has spent the last five years studying what PolyMet’s proposal could mean for the environment on the Iron Range.

A crowd packed the convention center in Duluth. The building, which is usually home to concerts and hockey games, turned into the place Barb Crow came to join a polarizing debate.

“Water quality and pristine wilderness is very important to me,” Crow said.

Last month, the DNR released its more than 2,000-page environmental impact study surrounding PolyMet’s proposed copper mine.

The state admits the mine could pollute the water for hundreds of years. But the DNR says if the company follows proper mitigation procedures, it would meet environmental rules.

Jon Cherry is the president and CEO of PolyMet.

“We have a design on the table that we’re very confident in that demonstrates that we can meet all of the state [and] federal standards that are out there,” Cherry said.

PolyMet has promised a $650 million investment in the Babbitt area, pledging 300 jobs for at least 20 years.

Derek Pearson is a student who told WCCO that he welcomes the employment opportunities.

“We’re electrical students, so more work, industrial work is good work,” Pearson said.

But it hasn’t been enough to convince those like Crow, too concerned with what it will do to what she considers the most peaceful part of the state.

“I don’t believe if you look at a risk-benefit analysis that the risk justifies the benefits,” Crow said.

There will be another public meeting on this proposal at the end of the month in St. Paul. If the project gets approved, it could be the first of a half dozen copper-nickel operations in northeast Minnesota.

Liz Collin