A coalition of environmental groups on Friday asked state and federal officials to extend the public comment period for a controversial copper-nickel mine proposal.
The comment period for PolyMet's NorthMet project in northern Minnesota began last week and will last 90 days. But the Minnesota Environmental Partnership and more than two dozen other groups signed a letter asking for an additional 90 days to review and comment on the environmental study for the proposed mine.
PolyMet wants to mine copper, nickel and precious metals for a 20-year period at a site north of Hoyt Lakes, Minn. It would be the state's first such mine and has raised concerns among environmentalists and those who fear the state could end up being responsible for maintaining and treating water on the site for centuries after mining has concluded.
Steve Morse, the Minnesota Environmental Partnership's executive director, notes the environmental study is nearly 2,200 pages.
"An individual would have to read and analyze 25 pages every day to read the entire document before the end of the comment period and make informed decisions," he said.
In addition, the letter stated, the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement for PolyMet's project references thousands of pages of additional studies that are not easily accessible to the public.
The letter is addressed to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Forest Service, who are leading PolyMet's environmental review.
Agency officials said they had received the letter and were reviewing it. Extensions for public comment periods on environmental impact statements are relatively common.
Besides extending the comment period, the groups asked for an additional public hearing to be held in May. Three public hearings are already scheduled for January, but Morse said that allowed only six weeks for the public to review the document before the hearings.
"It short circuits the process if the comments are all asked for before the people who are knowledgeable, as well as the public, have the opportunity to really analyze it, and we're just not going to get the type of really quality, robust public discussion that benefits us as a state," he said.
Here's the DNR's response:
We recognize that the NorthMet SDEIS is a lengthy document and many of the points raised by the groups were already considered by the co-lead agencies when the public comment period was set.
Nonetheless, we will consider the requests and will discuss them with the co-lead agencies. It should be noted, however, that we looked nationally and 90 days was at the long end of comment periods for any proposed mining project nationwide.
Also, we will have three public meetings in January with open house opportunities to talk with project staff. These will be held in Duluth, St. Paul and Aurora. This should give folks who are interested in the project the opportunity to learn first-hand about it from the experts.
Given the complexity of that project and the public meetings we're having, we're comfortable that the public will be able learn about the proposed project and offer their informed comments.