PolyMet denies access for wetlands research by U of M scientist

In the map above, PolyMet’s proposed Northmet mine site is circled in purple and the processing plant at Hoyt Lakes circled in orange.

PolyMet Mining has denied access for a University of Minnesota research scientist to sample wetlands around its proposed copper-nickel mine in northeastern Minnesota.

The sampling was to be done on U.S. Forest Service land, and the project was given a green light by Superior National Forest officials. But PolyMet owns the road that provides access to the site.

Paul Glaser

Paul Glaser, a research professor in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Earth Sciences, proposed to sample baseline plots in peatlands around the NorthMet site, with the goal of identifying wetland types and assessing potential impacts of the mining operation on wetlands surrounding the site. Glaser and his colleagues have been doing similar baseline studies across northern Minnesota since the 1970s. The data was to be shared with agencies conducting environmental review of the proposed mine.

The research was to be sponsored by the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA), a nonprofit group that has been critical of the environmental review process for the proposed mine.

The letter from PolyMet denying access said that MCEA had recently threatened to sue if the mine is approved. In the letter Brad Moore, Polymet’s executive vice president for environmental and governmental affairs, said, “We feel no obligation to allow a non-federal third party, with MCEA’s stated intent to litigate and its efforts to prevent PolyMet from commencing the permitting process, access across private roads as requested.”

According to MCEA attorney Kathryn Hoffman, Moore was referring to a public event in Ely, at which no PolyMet representative was present. Hoffman said she described many legal problems with the environmental review of the proposed mine. “MCEA is not trying to stop any ongoing process. But based on our review of DNR’s work on this mine to date, the PolyMet proposal does not meet legal standards.”

The PolyMet letter also referred to safety issues and said the road could not be used for “non-business related use.” And it said studies being conducted by the Minnesota DNR and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are “the most effective way to make unbiased scientific data and analysis available to both regulatory decision-makers and the public.”

The wetland research project was approved by Superior National Forest officials. The letter approving the project said, “Your peatland research is important to the management of water quality and vegetation on the Forest and in the state of Minnesota.” It required Glaser to share his data with the Forest Service, and noted that “This approval grants permission to conduct research but cannot grant permission to access the site via a privately owned road.”

The U.S. Forest Service owns the land where Glaser planned to conduct his research; a proposed land swap that would transfer ownership to PolyMet is being studied.  

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Comments (28)

  1. Submitted by joe smith on 08/28/2015 - 07:08 pm.

    Reminds me of the joke that starts out “how about I use your gas can to start the fire to burn down your house” the arsonist asked the home owner. Friends of the snipe are next on the list to litigate trying to slow down the permitting process, MCEA will just have to wait their turn.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 08/29/2015 - 08:45 am.

      Right, Joe: STOP ALL STUDIES anyway you can !!

      Nothing could show more clearly that PolyMet is hostile to the interests of Mininesotans in general, not just hostile to scientists seeking to cast light on the state of the relevant wetlands in support of understanding the environmental impacts of the proposed project.

      And THESE are the same people who assure us they are going to GUARANTEE funding for remediation efforts for 500 years ??

      • Submitted by joe smith on 08/29/2015 - 01:02 pm.

        Why would a 3rd party, without the ability to grant permits, that has already threatened to file suit against Polymet be given permission to use a road to write up an anti mining report? As you can tell by the responses every time one of these stories is posted, there are a certain percentage of folks (sounds like you are one) who claim to know more than the DNR scientists, the EPA specialists, MPCA environmental experts who will or will not grant Polymet permits. This is just another faction of that group that is opposed to copper mining no matter if Polymet passes all the requirements in place to safely extract the metals. As I have stated for 30 yrs, yes this has been an issue up here that long, if a company complies with the regulations in place for copper mining, let them mine. I would not hand gas to a “fire expert” who has stated his goal is burn down my house either.

        • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 08/30/2015 - 11:17 am.

          I suppose then you’d include the U.S. Forest Service in…

          …your imagined grouping of people you describe as

          “anti mining”,

          “claim to know more than…”,

          “just another faction opposed”,

          “fire expert..who has stated his goal is burn down my house” ??

          • Submitted by joe smith on 08/30/2015 - 08:34 pm.

            What does a non profit, 3rd party anti-mining group have to do with U.S. Forest Service? You’ve lost me here.

            • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 08/31/2015 - 07:36 am.

              I guess you must not have read the article, Joe, but…

              …to quote from it:

              “The sampling was to be done on U.S. Forest Service land, and the project was given a green light by Superior National Forest officials.”

              So it’s actually been sanctioned by the organization that you seem to believe has nothing to do with it.

              • Submitted by Mary Tome on 08/31/2015 - 08:22 am.

                Please read the entire article Steve…

                “This approval grants permission to conduct research but cannot grant permission to access the site via a privately owned road.”

                The road is owned by Poly Met, not USFS. There are many private properties that abut Forest Service land and none of those property owners have an obligation to allow access through those properties, no matter what the reason is.

                Further, Glaser has already been there twice (in 2006 & 2009) and has submitted comments on both the DEIS and SDEIS. If he still hadn’t assessed the wetlands properly in the first place, he had no business commenting.

                • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 08/31/2015 - 08:46 am.

                  Try again. Joe’s question was “What does a non profit,…”

                  “…3rd party anti-mining group have to do with U.S. Forest Service?”

                  I gave a succinct answer to this question above.

                  Your comment here ignores both Joe’s question and my answer to it.

        • Submitted by chuck holtman on 08/30/2015 - 11:23 am.

          And why would the US Forest Service

          Authorize a private road on public land without reserving a right to use the road for authorized public purposes?

          Mr Smith, you seem to be unaware of the familiar concept of agency capture. With respect to decisions that implicate private interest in public resources, there are systematic reasons why public resource management and regulatory agencies do not act in accordance with sound science and sound public policy.

        • Submitted by Bill Willy on 08/30/2015 - 01:16 pm.

          “If a company complies, let them mine”

          They aren’t complying and they won’t be complying because they can’t. For starters, it’s impossible. Right after that, they can’t or won’t comply because Polymet would be way more broke than they already are if they tried.

          No mining company in Minnesota is complying with the regulations. Most (if not all) of them are operating on expired permits. If they had to apply for those new permits (like the law says they have to every five years) it would be obvious that they’re not in compliance and, according to your logic, we would have to NOT let them mine.

          The thing that makes it possible for them to keep operating on expired permits is the “Variance” and “Compliance Schedule” scheme the mining industry and the MPCA (and probably the DNR) have cooked up that makes it “legal” for mining companies to keep operating and polluting while NOT being compliance with the requirements.

          The flimflam works like this:

          I own a mine. It, my processing plant and tailings lake is polluting water that goes into the St. Louis river and Lake Superior because I am not complying with the standards in the Clean Water Act. But that’s okay because I have a “Variance” or a “Compliance Schedule” that I’ve worked out with the MPCA that says I WILL be in compliance real soon. But just before the deadline for that comes up I get back together with the MPCA and work out an “Extension” on my “Compliance Schedule” and keep doing what I’m doing to the St. Louis until just before the NEXT deadline, when I need to file for another extension.

          If my last name is Minntac, I’m able to do that — keep mining on my expired permit — for 23 years. Sure, I’m not in compliance with the regulations, but, according to my “Compliance Schedule,” I WILL be, any day now.

          Or maybe I’ll just get someone (but who?) to get a law passed that says I can keep mining as long as I want and not worry about being in compliance with anything because the new law says that’s what mining compliance means in Minnesota.

          Anyone that thinks Polymet (or any of the MN mining companies operating today) will be anywhere near “in compliance with regulations” anytime soon, if ever, is either working for Polymet, some other mining company, or has been duped by them.

          “A mine is just a hole in the ground with a liar standing next to it.”

          Some say Mark Twain said that, some say Anonymous did. Whoever said it wasn’t lying. It was true 200 (or 2,000) years ago, and it’s true today.

          If you don’t believe it, pull off at one of those observation spots and take a good long look around next time you’re in Hibbing, and order yourself a nice piece of fresh-caught (near town) Superior Lake Trout next time you’re in Duluth. Have a local beer with it. One thats label says, “Brewed with the freshest spring water the edge of the Superior National Forest has to offer.” And while you’re sipping it, contemplate the term, “in compliance with regulations.”

          Ahhhhhhhhhhh.

          And maybe go to this web address, print the thing out, and take it with you to read while you’re parked at that observation area, and while you’re sipping that beer, waiting for the fish.

          https://s3.amazonaws.com/s3.documentcloud.org/documents/2165786/water-legacy-petition-to-epa.pdf

      • Submitted by Richard O'Neil on 08/29/2015 - 01:17 pm.

        What is Polymet afraid of? Or, what are they trying to hide?

  2. Submitted by Michael Hess on 08/28/2015 - 11:45 pm.

    Alternative access?

    Maybe they can get there some other way? Air options?

  3. Submitted by Joe Musich on 08/29/2015 - 12:32 am.

    I guess transparency …

    Is not of a concern of Duluth Metals etal. Every step of the way to this coming disaster has been a struggle against greed and stupidity. The part that really is infuriating is the jobs argument. No reality in that “selling point” if the long term keeping the water clean expenses is calculated into the entire expense. Cooper Nickel mining should die a quick death. It is only the use by corporate international interests stoking the fires that keeps the debate burning. What the discussion needs is FDR’s garden hose.

  4. Submitted by David LaPorte on 08/29/2015 - 07:31 am.

    Taking our land by suppressing the truth

    The more I read about PolyMet, the less I trust them. The property owner (the United States Forest Service) has enthusiastically approved the collection of this data. PolyMet is blocking it, not because it’s their land, but because they control access to that land. What are they trying to hide? Why should we turn our environmental heritage over to a company who is trying to suppress the truth, even though they don’t yet know what the data will show?
    There is little evidence that Paul Glaser is a tool of the radical left. He is a Senior Research Associate in the Earth Sciences Department in the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota, which is owned by the State of Minnesota. The Earth Science Department has been involved in scientific research, education and community service for more than 125 years. Glaser’s research project also has the ringing endorsement of the United States Forest Service, a division of the US Department of Agriculture, a Federal agency, who feels that Glaser’s “peatland research is important to the management of water quality and vegetation on the Forest and in the state of Minnesota.”
    Yes, it’s funded by the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, but that nonprofit has a 40-year history of ethical work, there’s no evidence that Glaser is their stooge and, if there was, the Forest Service would never have endorsed his study. Who else would fund an environmental study? Certainly not the mining industry.
    As an academic researcher, Glaser’s data will be subject to anonymous peer review along with intense scrutiny by his own departmental colleagues, who value their reputation. He’d be called out on any biased work. PolyMet is free to monitor his work to ensure that it is unbiased. They can also refute his findings, but they don’t even know if they’ll be unfavorable. PolyMet seems to think that it would be better not to know.
    Trying to take our land by suppressing research on our own land because they might not like the outcome is unacceptable.

  5. Submitted by Mary Tome on 08/29/2015 - 08:19 am.

    Another visit?

    According to his comments on the 2009 DEIS for Poly Met, Paul Glaser visited the site in 2006 and 2009. He then wrote up a 10 page report/comment for MCEA. He commented on the 2014 SDEIS also, again for MCEA.

    In both reports, Glaser has stated his concerns with the project and his objection to the wetland mitigations plans.

    Poly Met has no obligation to allow Glaser access at this time.

    MCEA & Paul Glaser have had their opportunities to comment on this project and they can wait, like the rest of us for the final EIS.

    • Submitted by David LaPorte on 08/29/2015 - 01:23 pm.

      An easy choice

      This isn’t about trusting the opinions of Glaser & the MCEA.

      The US Forest Service, which owns the land on our behalf, thinks that the study is important. PolyMet, who wants to take the land, claims that it isn’t. I trust the US Forest Service to act in the public’s best interests. I don’t trust PolyMet at all, particularly after this attempt to suppress the truth.

  6. Submitted by Bill Kahn on 08/29/2015 - 09:41 am.

    Obstructing scientific work establishing baseline conditions for the PolyMet project surely adds to the reasons for denying approval; if the guy articulating this position is not corrected or fired, PolyMet cannot be taken as an honest actor in pursuing a permit.

  7. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 08/29/2015 - 10:24 am.

    Does PolyMet and its advocates realize how much like grade schoolers they sound and are behaving?

  8. Submitted by Alfred Sullivan on 08/29/2015 - 11:11 am.

    Very poor “optics”

    Sure looks petty on the part of Poly Met. They are denying access just because they can. I don’t see how that can win them any friends in the court of public opinion. They must feel they have something to hide.

  9. Submitted by Bill Willy on 08/29/2015 - 06:55 pm.

    Don’t let the revolving door hitya on your way in

    Which experienced miner will Polymet hire next? Dave Tomassoni?

    Executive Profile: Bradley H. Moore

    Executive Vice President of Environmental and Governmental Affairs, Polymet Mining Corp.

    Age 54

    Total Calculated Compensation $388,300 as of Fiscal Year 2015

    Mr. Bradley H. Moore, also known as Brad, has been an Executive Vice President of Environmental & Governmental Affairs at Polymet Mining Corp. since January 24, 2011. Mr. Moore joined PolyMet Mining in 2011.

    He is also a Member of the senior executive leadership team, contributing to the overall strategic direction of Polymet Mining Corp. He is responsible for Polymet’s effort to complete environmental review and obtain permits necessary for construction and operation of the NorthMet copper-nickel-precious metals project located in the established Mesabi mining district in northeastern Minnesota.

    He has nearly 30 years experience in environmental regulation, review and government positions.

    *** He served as Commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency from 2006 to 2008, and as

    *** Assistant Commissioner for Operations of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources from January 1999 to August 2006.

    *** Prior to that, he worked in leadership and policy analyst positions with the MDNR and the Minnesota Department of Public Service (now the Department of Commerce).

    In December 2008, Mr. Moore joined Barr Engineering as Senior Advisor, Public and Governmental Affairs where he advised several companies, including PolyMet, on environmental strategy.

    He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., and a Master of Arts degree in Public Affairs from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

    http://www.bloomberg.com/research/stocks/people/person.asp?personId=118744769&ticker=POM:CN

    Maybe Brad wrote this for Polymet’s web site. If he didn’t, it’s a safe bet he edited and approved it (people don’t get paid $7,500 a week to do nothing . . . Do they?):

    “PolyMet Mining is committed to building the project to strict standards, meeting or exceeding all applicable state and federal environmental regulations, ensuring a safe work environment, and protecting Minnesota’s beauty and natural resources.”

    http://www.polymetmining.com/about/overview/

    Yes indeed. Brad wants all Minnesotans to know Polymet is all about strict standards that meet or exceed all (“applicable”) environmental regulations (which must include those laid out in the Clean Water Act, right?), and that the they are DEEPLY committed to protecting Minnesota’s beauty and natural resources.

    Which is why Brad just had to keep Paul Glaser off that road.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 08/31/2015 - 08:18 am.

      A friend of mine in a position to know…

      …said this about Mr. Moore and his broad and deep involvement with the DNR:

      “He knows where the bodies are buried.”

  10. Submitted by Alfred Sullivan on 08/30/2015 - 12:25 pm.

    Surprises me

    I worked reasonably closely with Brad back when he was with the DNR and when he made the transition to the MPCA. This is not the Brad I knew. And I just don’t see how this position helps Poly Met which is fighting a battle in the court of public opinion.

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 08/30/2015 - 08:41 pm.

      Easy

      Money makes the world go ’round. Your old buddy wasn’t making mid six figures from the government, and a new lake house, maybe a winter place down south, sounded nice. Some people have morals, others do not.

  11. Submitted by joe smith on 08/30/2015 - 02:15 pm.

    Thank you for the profile on Brad Moore, he sounds very qualified to lead Polymet through this ever changing permitting process. Being on the inside of MPCA and DNR will help him understand the anti-natural resources prejudice that exists and how the goal posts will constantly be moving to make getting permits as hard as possible. He will also understand that 3rd party groups with a stated goal to block mining at all costs and with no ability to grant permits (MCEA) has an agenda and playing their game will only delay an already 3 decades old process.
    Delay, delay, delay is the Greenies best play because once Polymet meets the standards set to get permits, suing the EPA, MPCA, and DNR or frivolous lawsuits is their only tactic left to stop mining. Hopefully Brad stays one step ahead of groups like MCEA that only have “no mining” as their purpose as opposed to other groups who have permitting authority and are looking to see if Polymet is meeting set standards.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 08/31/2015 - 07:55 am.

      “anti-natural resources prejudice”

      Quite to the contrary, Joe, those who decry this mining project LOVE Minnesota’s natural resources.

      They are against despoiling those natural resources. They’re even against taking a significant risk to those resources. Take a look at where sulfide mining has been done before. It ain’t pretty.

      It seems what you probably mean is they don’t see our minerals and metals natural resources as money in the ground, wasting away until someone digs them up.

    • Submitted by colin kline on 09/01/2015 - 04:29 pm.

      Yes delay delay

      Once the damage is done there is no going back

  12. Submitted by Rod Loper on 08/31/2015 - 08:18 am.

    Ahh

    Polymet is removing its velvet gloves early. Thanks for showing us how they hired a PCA and DNR
    insider to keep the agency scientists in line. Prof Glaser’s data in any form would be inconvenient for
    the process underway.

    Since Polymet is playing hardball now, how many union jobs are we talking about in this mine?

    There are no “set standards” any more to meet. Agencies and iron range politicians have variances
    ready to go.

  13. Submitted by Bill Willy on 09/08/2015 - 03:52 pm.

    O-Bog or M-Fen: Which would you say it is?

    Since reading this article I came across this document:

    Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement March 2014

    Report on wetland components of the EIS – Paul H. Glaser, Ph.D.

    http://www.mncenter.org/Portals/0/5%20-%20legal/polymet/Northmet-wetlandimpactsmemo_FINAL_3-3-14.pdf

    Being reluctant to display my near-infinite ignorance on the topics dicussed therein, I’ll just say it very much appears that Paul Glaser knows what he’s talking about, while the interpretation of the type of mine site wetlands involved (and their “hydrological characteristics”) of his Polymet “wetland expert counterparts” seems at least a little “confused,” if not downright wrong and, as a result, inaccurate and misleading when it comes the murky quesitons related to how the water and “possible contaminents” from the mine would flow and impact the immediately surrounding and “hydrologically extended” environment.

    It’s a pretty thick read (for a non-wetlands scientist) but comprehensible enough to catch the basic drift (I think). Here, for example, is the very first headline of Dr. Glaser’s response:

    “1. Distinguishing ombrotophic bogs from minerotrophic fens”

    From what I can gather from the first 10 or 12 pages, it seems Polymet would much prefer the affected wetlands be seen as an “ombrotophic bog” category (which they kept saying it is in their Environmental Impact Statement), while the wetlands research professor from the University of Minnesota’s Department of Earth Sciences (that Polymet doesn’t want using their road) keeps pointing out that it’s much more likely they are mistaken, and that the majority of the area is in fact a “minerotrophic fen.”

    Polymet wants it to be an o-bog because the potential for widespread pollution would be lower because, it seems, there’s less water movement than there is in an m-fen.

    Or something like that. Point being, Dr. Glaser’s response to Polymet’s statements regarding the watershed adds at least a little light to the question of, “Why would Polymet want to keep this guy and his testing equipment out of the wetland in which they want to dig their hole?”

    He definitely raises some good scientific questions related to the water system and the way it flows and would carry or “conduct” pollutants to the streams and rivers it feeds (south AND north), not to mention some equally gnarly questions related to how Polymet proposes to “restore” the wetland to its “original state” after they’re done mining… More than a few tricky to “re-create flora and fauna species” situations and other mind-boggling “natural systems” involved (when you get right down to whatever actually happens in that part of our environment we label a “wetland”).

    I’m a simplistic person, I admit. But nothing either Polymet or Paul Glaser had to say about the wetlands in question does anything to change my mind about whatever Polymet is proposing or claiming they can do as being anything other than impossible… I’d say the main thing the document provides is one more example of the way in which they’re just making (and re-making) it up as they go along, with their primary objective being to tell everyone what they want or need to hear in order to give them their (sacred) permit to mine, extract, make billions tearing the place up and polluting the hell out of it before vanishing into bankruptcy (which won’t be a long trip for them once the ore’s been dug up because it’s the place they, Polymet, “the mining exploration company,” has actually always been).

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