ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — A 10-year study found that a controversial mine in northeastern Minnesota meets all state standards for protecting air and water quality.

PolyMet wants to build a $650 million copper-nickel mine between Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes, near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Critics say the first-ever copper-nickel mine in Minnesota could pose huge risks to the environment.

The 3500 page environmental impact study may have taken a decade to complete, but it’s already clear that this fight is far from over.

The exhaustive environmental study found the proposed project has some possible risks, but meets Minnesota’s air and water quality standards.

“The PolyMet project, as proposed, meets state standards,” DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said. “The standards of which were set to maintain a safe environment for people and the environment.”

The report found that PolyMet could safely contain contaminated water from the mine, and a nearby processing plant, but would need to treat the water indefinitely — for many years. But the study said PolyMet’s plans to do so appear — on paper — to be credible.

“If you buy a house, you get an inspection report on the house,” Landwehr said. “It gives you information about the strengths and weaknesses of the house, but it doesn’t give you the information to decide whther to buy the house. It just tells you what you’re getting if you buy it.”

A coalition of environmental groups immediately said the environmental impact study has major flaws and few safeguards for the public in case of a catastrophic environmental damage.

“I think we’ve heard enough to be very concerned,” Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy representative Kathryn Hoffman said. “We’re talking about a project that requires water treatment for hundreds of years that has to be paid for by somebody. We have no information at all at this point that PolyMet will offer any kind of damage deposit that could potentially cover that water treatment forever.”

The project is expected to bring 350 jobs with it. PolyMet President John Cherry said today the report “demonstrates that PolyMet can mine and process copper, nickel and platinum in a manner that complies with the law, protects the environment and creates hundreds of high-paying jobs.”

It will still be a couple of months before this Environmental Impact Statement is made official. Then, PolyMet must obtain 20 different permits to operate. So it’s going to be about a year from now before the company can find out if it can open the mine.

Pat Kessler