A hearing will be held Jan. 23 on the state’s proposed denial of U.S. Steel Minntac’s application for a water quality permit variance at the corporation’s 8,700-acre Mountain Iron tailings basin.

The term of Minntac’s current permit ended in 1992. Although it has technically expired, the permit was administratively extended for 24 years until three environmental groups filed a lawsuit in 2016 demanding a new permit be written.

That legal action was withdrawn when the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) released a draft permit in November 2016. Both the company and environmentalists found it unacceptable. A contested case hearing was sought by U.S. Steel and the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy. No decision has yet been made on that matter, said Erik Smith of MPCA’s industrial division.

The Iron Mining Association of Minnesota (IMA) said it is disappointed by the  proposed denial.

"...it poses challenges for a larger employer on the Iron Range and raises questions about how the agency will respond to variance applications from other industrial facilities and municipalities in the state,” IMA President Kelsey Johnson said. “The MPCA has continually used the potential for variances to brush away concerns raised by multiple stakeholders. But this proposed denial raises serious concerns that the agency has no intention of granting variances on the wild rice sulfate standard.”

The hearing on MPCA’s proposed variance denial is scheduled from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Jan. 23 in the Iroquois Room at the Mountain Iron Community Center. MPCA staff will present an overview of the agency’s variance review process, site-related permitting options and reasons for the proposed variance denial. An opportunity to ask questions or make verbal comments will follow. 

Written public comments will be accepted at the hearing. They can also be e-mailed or mailed to Smith at the MPCA, 520 Lafayette Road N., St. Paul, MN 55155 or erik.smith@state.mn.us. The public comment period ends at 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 24. Comments must include a statement of the writer’s interest, the action the writer wishes the agency to take and reasons supporting the writer’s position.

The IMA said it encourages all those who spoke up regarding the wild rice sulfate proposal to also attend this hearing or submit comments.

To learn more about the proposed variance denial, visit the agency’s website at www.pca.state.mn.us and search for “Minntac variance.”