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Public will be able to comment on PolyMet mine impact statement this fall

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A new timeline would give the public 30 days to comment on the PolyMet mine proposal's environmental impact statement starting in November.

The updated timeline from the Minnesota DNR – which you can view here – gives all of the agencies involved until "early November" to review, revise and proof the preliminary impact statement.

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.

That's later than the initial goal of the end of 2015, the Duluth News Tribune says.

What's an environmental impact statement?

What's being reviewed isn't the mine proposal itself, but the "preliminary final" environmental impact statement – part of a standard process required before some big projects or developments.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency says environmental impact statements are designed to talk about "the potential negative environmental effects ... and ways to avoid or minimize them" before the project gets approved or built.

In June, the DNR revised and issued a previous draft of the impact statement so it now incorporates more than 50,000 public comments – something PolyMet called a major milestone in the review process. Those comments were gleaned from a 90-day period that ended last year.

This draft of the environmental review is now more than 3,000 pages, Northland's NewsCenter says, and that's what the agencies involved – including the DNR, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Forest Service – have until November to get through.

The DNR's final decision on the environmental impact statement – whether it's determined adequate or not – would come in February of 2016. That's not a ruling on the actual project however.

That just means PolyMet would then be able to apply for the various local, state and federal permits it needs. The Star Tribune says that totals 24 permits from nine different agencies.

The preliminary final environmental impact statement isn't technically up for public review, but is available upon request. However, the clean water advocate group WaterLegacy has all 3,118 pages available on its website.

What’s being proposed?

PolyMet’s NorthMet Project would include an open-pit mine near Babbitt and a processing plant near Hoyt Lakes, not far from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

It would be Minnesota’s first copper-nickel mine, which means it is setting a precedent for the permit process and regulation.

Environmental groups opposed to the project – including Friends of the Boundary Waters – note that the precious metals are embedded in rock that also contains sulfide, which produces sulfuric acid and other pollutants when it’s exposed to air and water.

Backers of the project have cited the jobs it would create in northeastern Minnesota and the demand for the precious metals.

The Associated Press reports the newly revised document says the project would have no significant impact on water quality in the area, but also notes the wastewater it produces would need pollution controls indefinitely.

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