Minnesota issues draft permit for PolyMet mine

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has issued a draft "permit to mine" to PolyMet for a proposed copper-nickel mine in northeastern Minnesota that has divided both citizens and policymakers. 

The PolyMet mine would be the first copper-nickel mine in Minnesota. Supporters of the mine say it will bring much-needed jobs to the region -- PolyMet has promised 360 permanent jobs in the Hoyt Lakes-Babbitt area and 600 indirect jobs and an annual economic benefit to St. Louis County of more than $500 million. But environmentalists have warned that mining operations could pollute waters with sulfuric acid and other toxic chemicals.

The using of the draft permit triggers a public comment and objection period. The DNR will accept comments and written objections through Tuesday, March 6, 2018.  Written comments and objections can be submitted at polymet.mn.gov

The DNR has attached special conditions to the PolyMet permit, including a requirement that PolyMet provide financial assurances that won’t leave taxpayers on the hook for any closing and cleanup costs, as well as a wetlands replacement plan. PolyMet will need to provide $588 million for the first year of operation, which will inflate to about $1 billion a decade into its operation. By the time the mine closes, PolyMet would be required to maintain a $580 million fund to cover wastewater treatment costs.

As part of the draft permit to mine comment and objection process, the DNR will hold two public meetings jointly with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). Public meetings will be held on:

Wednesday, February 7, 2018
Mesabi East (Aurora-Hoyt) High School
601 N 1st St W, Aurora, MN 55705
4:00-9:00 p.m. Open house
6:00-9:00 p.m. Public comment forum

Thursday, February 8, 2018
DECC - Duluth Entertainment Convention Center
350 Harbor Drive, Duluth, MN 55802
1:00-9:00 p.m. Open house
6:00-9:00 p.m. Public comment forum

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said in October he's moved from being "genuinely undecided" on the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine to being a genuine supporter of the project. The governor said the financial assurances are critical so that Minnesota taxpayers won't have to pay the environmental cleanup and monitoring costs if PolyMet goes bankrupt.

"They'll be controversial, but that's where I come down on the side of jobs and environmental protection," Dayton said. "I think we've found a way to make them compatible."

Dayton saids he's not as comfortable with another proposed copper-nickel mine, Twin Metals near Ely, because it's in a watershed that flows into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The governor said he understands that people who want jobs in northern Minnesota see Twin Metals as worth the risk, while those whose priority is protecting the Boundary Waters and that region think it's not. He said he doesn't see any middle ground.