Facing a choice on PolyMet, Dayton will get up close look at mines in other states

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"Momentous, difficult and controversial," is how Gov. Mark Dayton describes a choice he'll soon have to make: Whether to give the green light to a controversial mining project in northeast Minnesota.

This week, to help him make his choice, Dayton will tour mines in two others states, MPR News reports. One of them is essentially a cautionary tale about what can go wrong; the other is a modern success story for mine proponents.

The PolyMet copper-nickel mining project in Hoyt Lakes, which Dayton faces a decision on, has an immense amount of both support and opposition.

He told the Star Tribune he's "genuinely undecided."

On one side, there's the promise of jobs and an economic boost for a region beset by closures and limited opportunities. On the other, environmentalists say the risk to the nearby Boundary Waters is too high, and the possible hundreds of years of clean-up is too damaging.

In recent years, Dayton's consistently said he has not made a decision (though his opponent in the last gubernatorial election, Jeff Johnson, accused Dayton of using state agencies to delay the project, then hiding behind the lengthy environmental review process.)

“I want to see first-hand what the upside could be as well as what the downside could be,” Dayton said of the tours, according to the Timberjay. “I’ve got a lot of questions. ... This will be the most momentous, difficult and controversial decision I’ll make as governor.”

Dayton also sat down for an interview with The Associated Press ahead of his tour.

Dayton's tour

The first stop is the Gilt Edge Mine in Deadwood, South Dakota, where a gold mine sits abandoned – it's now a Supderfund site after the company went bankrupt, meaning the federal government came in, took it over, and is paying for the lengthy process to decontaminate it.

That happened after the mine operator, Brohm Mining Company, up and left in 1999 after 13 years, KOTA explained. Brohm filed for bankruptcy, and the EPA took over.

The company left about 150 million gallons of "acidic heavy-metal-laden water" behind, the Superfund description says, plus millions of cubic yards of "acid-generating waste rock." The clean-up is ongoing.

On Thursday Dayton heads to Michigan, and the Eagle Mine in the Upper Peninsula.

That project has resulted in about 400 jobs after a permit process of 11 years, MPR News reports (the PolyMet project is at about a decade). It also uses the same water cleaning technology proposed at the Minnesota PolyMet site, before it's returned back to the environment.

Production at Eagle Mine started just last year, the company says on it website, and the mine is expected to operate for about eight years.

The PolyMet project

A new timeline from the Minnesota DNR over the summer – which you can view here – would give the public 30 days to comment on the PolyMet mine proposal’s environmental impact statement starting in November.

The 30-day public review period would run from early November until early December (barring any changes), with the agencies then considering and processing the comments received before heading toward a final decision in 2016.

For more on that process, and where things go from here, check out this story.

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