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If PolyMet meets its commitments, the DEIS suggests that its proposed mine poses no serious environmental impact

One of the most controversial Minnesota projects in recent years is the proposed PolyMet mine on the Iron Range. The NorthMet Project calls for surface mining and mineral processing of approximately 228 million tons of copper-nickel-Platinum Group Element (PGE) ore over approximately a 20-year mine life.

The project would be the first large-scale nonferrous metallic mineral mine in the state of Minnesota. PolyMet Mining Inc. expects to mine, on average, 91,200 tons per day (tpd) of material, which would include about 32,000 tpd of ore and 3,900 tpd of overburden and 55,300 tpd of waste rock.

Annually, this would result in the removal of about 19.7 million tons of waste rock and 1.4 million tons of overburden, although most overburden would be stripped during the construction period at the beginning of the project. Operating at these rates, annual metal production would total about 38,821 tons of copper, 9,037 tons of nickel, 400 tons of cobalt, 22,184 ounces of platinum, 87,129 ounces of palladium, and 13,824 ounces of gold.


Environmentalists are lined up in opposition to PolyMet, viewing its project as a serious threat to water quality in the entire region, including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Project advocates include Rep. James Oberstar, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Gov. Tim Pawlenty and others who are mindful of thousands of new quality jobs on the depressed Iron Range.

There are valid arguments against the PolyMet project. Perhaps the most negative is the financial status of PolyMet, a relatively small corporation for whom this is the major activity. PolyMet will have to meet the substantial commitments of the project, which are described in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). There is also the final closure and remediation, which is estimated to cost $50 million, and then the long — more than 1,000 years per the DEIS — follow-up of drainage from left over tailings and newly created storage ponds.

It is clear from the 714-page DEIS from the Minnesota DNR and the Corps of Engineers that all of the effluent from the project ends up in the drainage areas of the Partridge and Embarrass Rivers. Those rivers flow south to the St. Louis River and Lake Superior, not north to the Boundary Waters.
 
The DEIS has both positive and negative comments about the project, but in general it suggests that IF all of PolyMet's commitments are met, there is no serious impact on the environment. The following quote from page 244 of the DEIS sums up comments about the rivers involved:
 
"Even with these higher loadings and assuming no natural attenuation, the model results indicate that water quality standards for the Partridge River would be maintained for the eight constituents studied (i.e., antimony, arsenic, fluoride, cobalt, copper, nickel, vanadium, and sulfate) under all flow conditions and mine years modeled. Therefore, even using relatively conservative assumptions, the Proposed Action is not predicted to result in any exceedances of surface water quality standards for the Partridge River at the modeled locations."
 
Rolf Westgard of St. Paul is a professional member of the Geological Society of America.

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Comments (6)

The US EPA, the tribal cooperating agencies and other organizations disagree with this DEIS conclusion. They have good reasons for doing so. First, there is inadequate hydrogeological data with which to draw conclusions. There have been only nine test wells drilled to determine the ground water movement across thousands of acres of a fractured bedrock environment. Some of the stream flow data is sixty years old. This led the EPA to give the DEIS a rating of "3 - Inadequate" which means that there is inadequate information to determine the impact on the environment.

Second, the EPA also rated the DEIS as "Environmentally Unsatisfactory" for many reasons, including downstream water quality, inadequate wetlands reclamation and protection, and lack of consideration of cumulative effects on the entire Lake Superior watershed.

Since 1987, these ratings (EU/3) have only been given in 2 of 844 DEIS's in EPA Region 5 (Midwest), and in less than 1% of all 10,000+ DEIS's rated by the EPA nationwide. The EPA is required by law to conduct this review of all DEIS's filed by federal agencies, in this case, the Army Corps of Engineers. The EPA's rating, in short, means we ought to discount both the DEIS's conclusion, and Mr. Westgard's reliance on it.

Very well said!

The full EIS will be massaged by the EPA. DNR, MPCA, Corps of Engineers, etc. Mr Kleinz last sentence phrase " The EPA's rating, in short," applies to the EPA response of just 15 pages to the massive 700+ page DEIS with all of its charts and tables.
FWIW i"m guessing we will see this mine at some point. The real issue isn't the number of test wells; it's the financial strength and stability of Polymet Corp.

REW

Somehow, I don't think that continually referencing how long a document is makes it inviolate. Oh wait, I forgot, it has all those charts and tables too! Silly me.

I'm reading Atlas Shrugged for a class right now, and I can assure you, length does not equal quality.

Mr. Westgard,
The following is a quote from a recent interview with Brian Gavin, President and CEO of Franconia. Referring to Polymet, Mr. Gavin stated. "So, they are essentially clearing the way for us from a permitting point of view."

No connection between the PolyMet project and the Boundary Waters? Think again.

Mr. Gavin's comment and a few dollars will get him a Starbucks coffee.
Franconia will face the same years of approval process that Polymet is facing. Just keep those food stamps going to the Iron Range.