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Cost and controversy mount for mine in Northeastern Minnesota

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New details about the environmental impact of the proposed Polymet copper-nickel mine in Northeastern Minnesota have added fuel to the arguments on both sides of the controversy.

The Duluth News Tribune reports that wastewater run-off from the site will require treatment to remove sulfate and metals for at least 500 years.

Bruce Richardson, a PolyMet spokesman, said that new technology can address potential problems. Polymet and the state must find a way to fund environmental mitigation. He estimates the cost “will be between $50 million and $90 million in the first year of operations and grow to between $120 million to $170 million in the 20th year of operations.”

According to the Star Tribune, state regulators said long-term costs will run into billions of dollars. Some reports predicted the state will have to treat runoff from the site forever.

“What they are saying is we have to treat in perpetuity,” said Dave Chambers, a geophysicist with the Center for Science in Public Participation, a Montana consulting nonprofit that has examined the PolyMet review. “And you can make mistakes. Those mistakes can and have cost a lot of money.”

Critics argue the environmental costs and the costs of mitigation are not worth several hundred jobs to be created over 20 years.

But proponents say the metals are necessary for smart phones, laptops, and batteries that power many "green" projects, and there are feasible ways to address potential damage. Many iron rangers say projects like Polymet are key for the region to make an economic comeback.

Polymet wants to build the state-s first hard-rock precious metals open pit mine in Babbitt and a processing plant at the old LTV site in Hoyt Lakes. The company has been working with federal and state regulators for years to develop a plan to mitigate environmental effects.

The draft environmental impact statement is expected to be released for public comment in November.

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