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Public meeting will go over what's next for the PolyMet mine project

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Now that the state gave a thumbs up to an environmental review for the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine project, what happens next?

A public meeting in northern Minnesota next month is going to explain.

The DNR will fill people in on the permitting process at an April 19 event at Mesabi East High School, located in Aurora.

PolyMet – whose NorthMet project would include an open-pit mine near Babbitt and processing plant near Hoyt Lakes, making up the first copper-nickel mine in the state – is at the point where it could apply for a permit to mine application with the state.

A permit to mine is required for any mining operation in the state – PolyMet would need to apply for nonferrous metallic minerals permit to mine, the DNR says, which requires a $50,000 application fee.

The DNR's meeting next month will walk people through the process – what PolyMet still would need to do, and which hurdles (including obtaining other state permits) they would need to clear, before the NorthMet project is actually ready to get started.

They're also creating one central website specifically to keep people updated on the PolyMet project. There's no launch date right now, but the materials from next month's meeting are supposed to be posted there.

Representatives from PolyMet and the DNR will be at the meeting to answer questions.

The NorthMet project

The project would be placed on the eastern edge of the Mesabi Iron Range in the St. Louis River watershed. There would be an open mine pit, a processing plant, tailings basins, and an existing 7-mile railorad corridor to bring ore from the mine to the ore processing plant (located on a former industrial site).

The mine has become a divisive topic within the state.

Proponents argue the mine would be done safely with proper protections in place, and it would bring much-needed jobs to the region. (PolyMet pegs the number of employees at 360.)

Environmentalists say the risks aren’t worth the possible damage to the land, especially since it's so close to the Boundary Waters.

The environmental review

Part of the approval process is an environmental review, a report that goes through possible "negative environmental effects" and ways to avoid or minimize them, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency says.

The DNR determined in its 3,500-page review of the impact statement that the pollution safeguards proposed by PolyMet are “acceptable” and it wouldn’t cause undue damage to the Boundary Waters and the surrounding environment. It did however note the wastewater would have to be treated indefinitely.

At the beginning of this month, the DNR approved the environmental review, with commissioner Tom Landwehr calling it “deliberative and thorough.” (A review for the project in 2009 was actually rejected after being deemed unacceptable by federal officials).

That opened the door to the licensing step, which could still be influenced by legal challenges.

The DNR has also pointed out that this isn’t the end of the state’s involvement, saying more environmental analysis will be required during the permit stage.

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