MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — State regulators are giving the go-ahead to a controversial mining project near Minnesota’s Iron Range.
PolyMet Mining now has permission to move forward with a $1-billion copper-nickel mine.
The open-pit mine project will refurbish part of an old steel plant. It will produce copper, nickel and other precious metals. It is expected to create around 300 jobs — but not everyone is happy about it.
“I think it’s safe to say no project in the history of Minnesota has been more thoroughly evaluated,” said Tom Landwehr, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
After more than 14 years of review, public input, analysis, negotiation and amendments, the DNR has issued several permits for PolyMet’s NorthMet mining project in northeast Minnesota.
“Including the permit to mine … six water appropriation permits, two dam safety permits, one work and public waters permit and one endangered species taken permit,” Landwehr said.
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Also included are financial assurance and wetland replacement plans. The funds will make sure the DNR can reclaim and close the mine and plant site if the project fails.
“It is intended to make sure the taxpayers are not on the hook to pay for closure of the site,” Landwehr said.
The project was discussed at several town hall meetings. The DNR addressed concerns of air and water quality. But for many, the debate has been about jobs versus the environment. Environmental groups say mining near Lake Superior poses some unique risks.
“This is talking about several thousand, 6,000 acres of wetlands at the headwaters of the St. Louis River, the largest tributary in the United States to Lake Superior, the largest fresh water source in the world,” said Aaron Klemz from the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy. “It poses a unique risk and a unique threat to that precious resource.”
Klemz says there are several lawsuits challenging the land exchange and the environmental impact statements. He and others believe mining for copper and nickel deposits is a gamble and could pollute our water for hundreds of years.
The project still requires water and air quality permits along with other local approvals. Those are expected to go through around the end of the year.