Minnesota opens review on controversial copper mine to public

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An environmental analysis on Minnesota's first proposed copper-nickel mine has been released for public review and comment.

The Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed PolyMet NorthMet copper-nickel mine has been in the works for years. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Forest Service are seeking public comment on the proposed mine project near Hoyt Lakes.

The document is 2,200 pages long and is highly technical.

PolyMet says it would invest $650 million into the project and expects it to generate 300 to 360 jobs over 20 years.

“The environmental review process in Minnesota is thorough and rigorous,” said PolyMet president and CEO John Cherry. “Our team of scientists and engineers have worked diligently with the regulatory agencies to improve the project design and complete the analysis and technical studies needed to demonstrate how we plan to extract copper, nickel and platinum group metals in a manner that complies with the law and protects the environment."

It has been a controversial issue in northern Minnesota. Some feel it could be the key to the economic future of the region, others say it could lead to the environmental destruction of it.

DNR Commissioner, Tom Landwehr is urging people to take a "hard look" at the proposal, according to an Associated Press report.

Environmental groups, indian tribes, other groups and thousands of citizens are expected to use the comment period as a chance to express their views of the mine and its potential consequences.

The Star Tribune reports that the type of mining carries a greater risk to water quality and wildlife habitat.

Copper-nickel mines have a long legacy of destruction in other states and taxpayers have had to spend millions of dollars to clean up streams and rivers across the country. Unlike taconite which has long been mined in the region, the metals are found in ore that contain sulfites. When those sulfites are exposed to air and water they create acid drainage, the acidity destroys aquatic life.

Cherry said the supplemental draft analyzes how the project might affect the environment and ways to avoid or minimize effects. It also outlines the controls and mitigation measures that will be used to protect water, air and other resources.

"We are committed to an operating plan that will meet or exceed regulatory requirements," Cherry said.

The Northland's News Center reports that comments are being accepted on the draft review environmental impact statement until March 13. There will also be public meetings held on Jan. 6 in Aurora, Duluth and St. Paul, to discuss the proposal.

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