A controversial proposed copper-nickel mine in northeast Minnesota reached a major milestone Monday.
The long-awaited preliminary draft supplemental environmental impact statement was released to the co-lead agencies, including the Minnesota DNR, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Forest Service; and cooperating agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Bois Forte, Fond du Lac, and Grand Portage bands. The public may review it later this summer.
The initial environmental impact statement for the proposed mine was released in 2009, but the EPA called it inadequate. As result, Polymet has made several changes to the proposed mine. For example, the company now plans to treat all water discharge with reverse osmosis to meet the state's sulfate standard for wild rice.
"This is the moment when the agencies look at the environmental impacts of a project, and if they don't do a good job, then it becomes very difficult to adequately regulate the facility and insure that environmental impacts are mitigated or minimized later on," said Kathryn Hoffman, an attorney with the Minnesota Environmental Advocacy Center.
The group will closely scrutinize the study, including water quality modeling, effects on wetlands and a proposed land exchange, Hoffman said.
"We'll be looking not only at how they design the site, and the mitigation measures they want to propose, and the environmental measures they want to implement," Hoffman said, "such as water treatment and water collection. But we'll also be looking at how do they deal with potential failures at the site."
PolyMet's LaTisha Gietzen said she anticipates this draft supplemental EIS will be better received than the original EIS in 2009. PolyMet and the lead agencies have incorporated several comments the public and the U.S. EPA made four years ago, she said. The EPA was more involved this time around "as a formal cooperating agency," she said.
Gietzen says PolyMet expects the final EIS to be completed and permits issued in the first half of 2014, which would allow for the start of construction later that year. If that happens, production would start in the latter half of 2015, she said.