Public urged to speak up now on controversial PolyMet mine

The LTV Steel processing plant,which was taken over by PolyMet Mining Corp.
This undated file photo shows the LTV Steel processing plant near Hoyt Lakes, Minn., which was taken over by PolyMet Mining Corp. to use as a copper-nickel processing plant.
Mesabi Daily News via AP

Members of the public will get their final chances to comment on the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine starting Wednesday.

Public meetings are set for Wednesday in the Iron Range town of Aurora and Thursday in Duluth. The Department of Natural Resources and the state Pollution Control Agency have posted details online, and are also taking comments through a website for the project. More than 100,000 comments have been filed already about the PolyMet project with state and federal agencies over the past several years."

The agencies are taking public comments on PolyMet's draft permit to mine, as well as water and air permits and a wetlands certification.

The DNR and PCA have not yet made final decisions on whether to grant the permits, said PCA commissioner Jon Linc Stine.

"This is the time for comments to come in and people to speak up, then we have decisions after that, so at this point it's premature to say we've decided anything," he said.

The $650 million project could spur an entire new mining industry on the Iron Range, but it also carries new environmental risks in the most pristine corner of Minnesota.

Before you keep reading ...

MPR News is made by Members. Gifts from individuals fuel the programs that you and your neighbors rely on. Donate today to power news, analysis, and community conversations for all.

The proposed mine project near Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes has already gone through more than a decade of review.

If the permits would move forward, environmental groups will likely file more lawsuits in addition to the four already filed.

A draft permit to mine issued by the Minnesota DNR last month calls for PolyMet to make available $544 million in financial assurance the first year of mining, which acts as a sort of damage deposit if PolyMet couldn't pay for the proposed mine's cleanup.

However, state officials estimated that more than $1 billion would be necessary to cover the potential environmental liability Minnesota could be left with from the mine.

The DNR is taking comments through March 6; the PCA through March 16.

Correction (Feb. 8, 2018): A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that PolyMet has put up money for financial assurance. A draft permit calls for that, but PolyMet would not begin to make financial assurance available unless and until it receives permits and begins construction.