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PolyMet receives comments, advances to next step
Photo: Upon entering Hoyt Lakes, former home of an LTV taconite plant, there’s no doubt about how residents feel about non-ferrous mining. BusinessNorth photo
PolyMet Mining hosted three public hearings during January to receive verbal comment on the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) prepared by regulators for its proposed nonferrous minerals mine near Hoyt Lakes.
Attendance at the sessions – held in Duluth, Aurora and St. Paul – numbered well into the thousands, although some people attended more than one gathering. Speakers were selected at random and limited to a three-minute presentation. Prior to the hearings, DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr asked Minnesotans not to treat them as a referendum, but rather to address scientific data within the SDEIS, which was prepared by his agency, the Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Forest Service. Some participants followed his advice but many others didn’t.
Prior to the Duluth public hearing, environmentalists held a news conference to voice distrust of the system – questioning the work of everyone from state and federal mine regulators to college educators who studied the economic impact of non-ferrous mining. Some argued the process is driven by capitalism.
“The money is really loud and the people are really quiet,” retired Duluth teacher Phyllis Mead said at a news conference held three hours prior to the Jan. 16 meeting.
“This is not jobs versus the environment, but rich versus poor,” said Mike Kuitu, who added that big corporations don’t care about Northeastern Minnesota or understand its unique environment.
More to the point, Paula Maccabee, advocacy director and counsel for Water-Legacy, said the SDEIS doesn’t address potential leaks or unusual weather events that might allow polluted water to leave a holding pond on the PolyMet site near Hoyt Lakes.
“It’s like a house of cards. Some of the assumptions are unjustified,” she said in an interview.
PolyMet President and CEO Jon Cherry said the hearing was not meant to be a straw poll.
“We’re not here to discuss whether or not we mine, but how we mine,” he said before the Duluth meeting. “We’ll follow the law,” added Bruce Richardson, PolyMet vice president of corporate communications.
Many speakers, however, questioned whether existing environmental regulations are adequate. Some also contended a UMD economic impact study was flawed. Others took aim at the environmental review process. One of them, Ian Kimmer, area program director for the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, said the review period for a 2,100-page SDEIS is too short for a thorough analysis.
Proponents were equally strident, including former state legislator Joe Begich, 84, who said Minnesota’s environmental regulations are the toughest in the United States.
“There’s nothing wrong with mining if it’s done the right way,” he said.
PolyMet has been preparing environmental documents for 10 years, noted Phil Larson of Duluth. He said a growing national population demands more copper every year. Mining it in Minnesota would guarantee the process is done correctly, he said.
Nonetheless, another issue emerged even before the hearings concluded. It involves the water flow rate used in the SDEIS. Some contend it may force Poly-Met to significantly update data in its SDEIS while others feel the data can be adjusted quite easily.
Written comments may be submitted until March 13. They can be e-mailed to NorthMetSDEIS.firstname.lastname@example.org. Email submissions should include a full name and legal mailing address. Persons who prefer to submit comments by mail should address their letter to Lisa Fay, EIS Project Manager, MDNR Division of Ecological and Water Resources Environmental Review Unit, 500 Lafayette Road, Box 25, St. Paul, MN 55155-4025.Previous BusinessNorth Exclusives Articles:
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