Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


PolyMet is not Mount Polley

Regarding the Community Voices piece “Mount Polley and PolyMet: What happened in Canada must not happen here“:

Duluth for Clean Water is using Mount Polley as a scare tactic in comparison to PolyMet’s plans in northeast Minnesota. It is the same old tactic that the anti-mining groups have been using since the outset concerning copper nickel mining in northeast Minnesota. They will find what they determine the most horrific consequence and then only give you the details that suit their narrative.

Quesnel Lake is not a toxic waste pit, as they claim. Eight days after the dam breach, a water drinking ban was lifted by the British Columbia government at the same time it also declared that the fish in Quesnel Lake were safe to eat. Now jump ahead  four years and nothing has changed in that regard. The water is still safe to drink and the fish are also still safe to eat. The Indigenous communities have chosen of their own accord not to take part in the salmon fishing season even though there is no proof of contamination. The waters and fish downstream are checked repeatedly by the government to make sure that neither is contaminated.

We on the pro-mining side do not have blind faith in government agencies. If anything, we are more cautious about what they say and do. The environmental process has taken over a decade to complete and when deficiencies have been found by the government agencies PolyMet has made the required corrections to move forward in the process.

This is currently the longest environmental process in the history of Minnesota. Everyone wants to get this right — from the MPCA to PolyMet to the people who live here. The PolyMet dam will be constructed on top of a dam that has existed at the former LTV mining site for 50-plus years. New containment walls going down to bedrock will be constructed to contain seepage, which in turn will go back into the basin. The slope on LTV’s basin will only be 13 percent, where Mount Polley’s was 77 percent. This gives PolyMet’s a more stable platform, plus it is designed to handle a 20-inch catastrophic rainfall event without topping. This design is sound and will contain the discharge from the mine.

The due diligence has been done by PolyMet, Minnesota DNR, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and many others to make sure this is done right the first time. The permits are going to be issued and the mine will move forward bringing not only good paying environmentally sound jobs to northeast Minnesota but benefiting all of Minnesota in the end.

Michael A. Cole is the CEO of Minnesota Miners.

Comments (21)

  1. Submitted by C.A. Arneson on 03/02/2018 - 04:49 pm.


    Are you referring to pro-water folks and anti-water folks? By your logic that is how I should also write. Which would make your organization anti-water.

    Particularly when taconite companies are not in compliance with water quality standards. When taconite mines continue to operate on expired permits. And when, if agencies do attempt to hold the taconite industry accountable, the industry continues to operate on variances, which negates accountability.

    What about our waters? Do Minnesotans not have a right to say they want industry to clean up the mess they make? Any industry. 3M. Why is mining off limits?

    Why do Minnesotans not have a right to be concerned about sulfide mining in the most water-intensive region in the state? When it has not been done successfully in a comparable water-rich environment, climate, scope, and ore body anywhere in the nation. Why do you state Minnesotans are wrong to doubt the veracity of what the industry claims, when we can find falsehoods in PolyMet’s EIS for ourselves? When we can see for ourselves that the taconite mining industry in Minnesota has been bailed out and subsidized, yet not held accountable.

    Why would we not be concerned when the taconite industry has claimed it cannot use reverse osmosis because it is not technically or economically feasible for the industry to use. Mesabi Nugget’s Variance Application makes for an interesting read. By Appeal Number/2080B545774B609585257AFE0051BF1E/$File/Variance APP Exhibit 2…1.03.pdf

    As do the following three quotes (with the sources linked beneath each one):

    Larry Sutherland, head of U.S. Steel’s Minnesota mining operations in Keewatin and Mountain Iron, which employ some 1,700 miners, said adding reverse osmosis treatment to remove sulfate at Keetac’s wastewater system could cost $200 million, a price tag that would be prohibitive for the plant to remain competitive in the global iron ore market.

    U.S. Steel’s general manager of environmental affairs, Tishie Woodwell, said in an interview that the huge flows and heavy mineral concentration in the wastewater mean “some technologies just simply don’t work.” For example, back in 2009 the company proposed building an expensive reverse osmosis water treatment system, hired a consultant to study the idea, and dropped it because the consultant said it would create huge quantities of a briny waste product which there is currently no way to treat.

    The Iron Mining Association of Minnesota said it was “disappointed” by the PCA’s announcement, saying that state officials had “acknowledged that while there is currently no easy or cost-effective method of treatment to meet their proposed wild rice sulfate standard, affected entities could apply for variances until they find a better solution.”

    Yet your organization tells us that sulfide mining will not pollute Minnesota’s waters. Even though taconite tailings leachate–contaminated water was used for reverse osmosis in PolyMet’s “Successful Water Treatment Pilot Plant.” Who is lying?

    • Submitted by Mike Cole on 03/03/2018 - 02:39 pm.


      I am pro water and do not want anything to happen to the water here because I actually live here. The funny thing is that your comment has nothing to do with my letter concerning the inaccuracies portrayed by Duluth for Clean Water comparing PolyMet & Mt. Polley. Due to you not responding to any of those you must think I am right otherwise why would you go on a rambling commentary concerning the sulfate/sulfide standard that was struck down by an administrative law judge already. None of your points are relevant to my letter or to the greater topic of PolyMet & Mt. Polley. The original article from Duluth for Clean Water only contained cherry picked information that supported their narrative and did not follow through with the actual facts at the end.
      I truly believe that after over a decade of studies and research that the PolyMet project will operate in an environmentally safe manner while providing 100’s of jobs and revitalizing the communities of Northeast Minnesota.
      Why don’t you take care of the 6 impaired streams just listed by the MPCA this past week on the Northshore, or the E coli contaminated beaches in Duluth each summer, or maybe the raw sewage discharge into Lake Superior every time there is a heavy rain.

      • Submitted by Tim McCarthy on 03/03/2018 - 11:39 pm.


        “Why don’t you take care of the 6 impaired streams just listed by the MPCA this past week on the Northshore, or the E coli contaminated beaches in Duluth each summer, or maybe the raw sewage discharge into Lake Superior every time there is a heavy rain.”
        Maybe folks can do both. Why do you wish to add more pollution?
        I truly believe that since a mine of this type has NEVER operated in an environmentally safe manner, it shouldn’t happen.

        • Submitted by Mike Cole on 03/04/2018 - 06:32 am.


          Your assertion that a mine of this type has Never operated in environmentally safe matter is just another falsehood perpetuated by the anti mining crowd. The following mines have. Stillwater Mine in Montana has been in operation since the 1980’s no history of pollution, the Flambeau Mine in Wisconsin operated in the 1990’s and then closed. No history of pollution during or after production ceased and finally the Eagle Mine in the UP of Michigan currently in production and expansion of the mine no history of pollution.

          Oh and finally they do not do both. They are singularly fixated on copper nickel mining while pollution is occurring in their backyard.

          • Submitted by Tim McCarthy on 03/05/2018 - 02:02 pm.

            They use

            Reverse osmosis at the Stillwater mine?
            As has been shown, the Flambeau mine DID pollute.
            Where is your concern for all the other unemployed people in Minnesota? Until they get jobs, the miners can wait.

          • Submitted by richard owens on 03/07/2018 - 08:33 am.


            “Your assertion that a mine of this type has Never operated in environmentally safe matter is just another falsehood perpetuated by the anti mining crowd. ”

            Tim McCarthy is right.
            The examples you gave are still polluting. Flambeau was only open a few years and its groundwater mess is perpetual.

            “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” ― Upton Sinclair

            (Maybe that’s the problem with mining spokespeople and the truth.)

      • Submitted by C.A. Arneson on 03/04/2018 - 09:17 am.

        Still waiting for an answer

        There was no need to comment on the Duluth for Clean Water comparison between PolyMet and Mount Polley. They made their case. You stated yours. Tad conceited on your part to think that I agreed with you.

        I had a different agenda. My reason for responding to your letter was your unequivocal position that Minnesotans must agree that permitting PolyMet would be good for Minnesota, and your claim that PolyMet would be “done right.” My response had everything to do with your letter.

        There is nothing more pertinent than PolyMet’s proposed use of reverse osmosis; permitting PolyMet is directly tied to its use. And reverse osmosis is necessary for more than sulfates. Without PolyMet’s claim that it could successfully use reverse osmosis there would be no permit.

        So, you never answered my question. Who is lying? The taconite industry that says it cannot use reverse osmosis. Or PolyMet that claims it could use reverse osmosis for sulfide mining, but then uses taconite tailings leachate-contaminated water for its “Successful Water Treatment Plant.”

        An administrative law judge upheld Minnesota’s wild rice sulfate standard limiting sulfate in wild rice waters to 10 parts per million. Now those intent on using our waters for a cesspool have introduced legislation that, if passed, would annihilate protection for our waters and essentially give polluters a free pass. HF 3280, introduced by Lueck, Fabian, Heintzeman, Swedzinski, and Layman, is “a bill for an act relating to environment; establishing findings and authorizing listing of wild-rice waters; nullifying and restricting the application of certain water quality standards; amending Laws 2015, First Special Session chapter 4, article 4, section 136, as amended.”

        Nice to hear we are both pro-water. However, I am not willing to risk our waters for any industry. Certainly not when it is clear that sulfide mining would pollute our waters “indefinitely.”

        A professional geologist stated it best, after hearing claims that modern technology would save the day, would “enable Polymet to become the first copper-nickel sulfide mine in the history of the planet to operate, close and not create water pollution.” He stated, “But none of those technologies – reverse osmosis, slurry wall construction, seepage capture and pump-back systems and wetland treatment – have ever been successfully applied at the SCALE that is proposed at Polymet. If Polymet and their consultants actually have an EFFECTIVE technology to mitigate acid mine drainage and IF they have the technology to eliminate seepage from tailings basins like they claim, they should abandon their mining proposal and market their new and extremely valuable intellectual property. After all, no other company on earth regardless of size – BHP, Rio Tinto, Glencore, Vale, US Steel – has been able to accomplish what Polymet claims it will accomplish. Polymet should convert from a junior mining company to a tech startup and kick back and watch the royalty checks stream in.”

        Oh, and by the way Michael, my home address is Ely.

        • Submitted by Mike Cole on 03/04/2018 - 04:58 pm.

          Still waiting

          You are trying to tell me that you are against HF 3280.This is a bill totally written to make sure that the MPCA does not make the same mistakes they did when they tried to enact their sulfate/sulfide rule. A rule that was based on faulty science and data. If anything you would think you would want this to be enacted so that when they come up with their new and improved rule it will be done right this time. Or is it that since a new rule done the right way may not support your narrative. I for one want to make sure it is done right.

          As to PolyMet marketing their technology instead of mining. What makes you think they aren’t going to do that along with mining. The MNDNR & MPCA both agree that it can be done otherwise we wouldn’t be at this point in the permitting process. In the end the permits are going to be issued and PolyMet will mine in an environmentally safe manner.

          • Submitted by Elanne Palcich on 03/04/2018 - 09:06 pm.

            The MNDNR and MPCA

            have moved the PolyMet permitting process forward for political reasons only. You can believe that this process is based upon science and that PolyMet would be the first ever to mine sulfide ores without polluting the water and environment , if you want to. However, this conclusion makes no sense when the EIS states that water from the plant site would need to be treated for at least 500 years.
            I understand when people want jobs so desperately that wishful thinking overrides common sense.
            Therefore I place the responsibility for the environmental harm to our water, air, and land that would result from sulfide mining in Minnesota’s wetlands and waterways squarely on the shoulders of our politicians and our politically controlled agency heads. They have no business promising such jobs when they fully understand the ramifications of such mining–for those of us living here now and far into the future.
            As citizens, we also have the responsibility to be fully informed and to demand integrity from those we elect to represent us. It is only in this way that we will all be able to create a better future.

          • Submitted by C.A. Arneson on 03/05/2018 - 04:17 pm.

            Still waiting for an answer

            So, you never answered my question. Who is lying? The taconite industry that says it cannot use reverse osmosis. Or PolyMet that claims it could use reverse osmosis for sulfide mining, but then uses taconite tailings leachate-contaminated water for its “Successful Water Treatment Plant.”

  2. Submitted by Mike Cole on 03/05/2018 - 12:08 pm.


    They said the same thing about the Dunka Pit that they would have to treat the water forever because of the acid drainage. Guess what they were wrong. The water treatment plant has not been operating for almost 20 years. The ecosystem surrounding the area is treating the runoff all by itself without any man made help. This is without any of the precautions that PolyMet will have in place before they even mine. So I do believe the science and trust the MNDNR and MPCA. The anti mining groups you to say trust the science to until it didn’t give them the outcome that they wanted.

    • Submitted by Tim McCarthy on 03/05/2018 - 02:14 pm.

      The Dunka pit

      Is hardly clean.
      It is still leeching and water quality downstream does not meet standards. The owner has been fined.

    • Submitted by Elanne Palcich on 03/05/2018 - 08:14 pm.

      Dunka Pit

      This is from the Timberjay, Oct. 7, 2015, Mining vs water, Dunka site exposes breakdown in mine regulation: ” Cliffs has complied with its permit, yet its discharges don’t comply with water quality standards. In fact, the mine’s discharge regularly fails to meet water quality standards for several contaminants, including nickel, sulfates, and hardness, often by significant amounts.

      These two seemingly incongruous facts are at the heart of what former state regulator Bruce Johnson sees as a fundamental breakdown in Minnesota’s regulatory process as it pertains to metallic mining. Cliffs can both violate water quality rules at Dunka and simultaneously meet the terms of its wastewater permit for Dunka, issued by the MPCA in 2000, because the permit includes no effluent limits in most cases. For most of the mine’s discharge, Cliffs’ permit only requires that the company monitor the pollution and file monthly reports with the MPCA.”

      I repeat: the permitting of PolyMet is a political process, not one based on science. If this process was based on science, this mine would not be permitted. The politicians want this mine permitted before the 2018 elections, to avoid the current controversy that is splitting the Democratic party.

      You can believe what you want about sulfide mining, but the real facts are out there if you choose to do some research. And please don’t come back with some statement regarding the amount of research that I have personally done on this subject, because it can be traced back to 2005. Also don’t come back with PolyMet has the facts–because PolyMet has every reason in the world to give us propaganda, get permitted, and make money off our land. PolyMet is not planning a mine in order to provide jobs for northern Minnesotans. It has other interests in “mined.”

    • Submitted by C.A. Arneson on 03/06/2018 - 12:52 am.

      Dunka’s water treatment plant has been shut down for decades (and not because it was not needed). Read the rest of the story.,12329

      Water standards and compliance are only as good as the permits that are written. Dunka does not meet water quality standards because its permit is missing effluent limits; the company only has to monitor.

      At Dunka, a taconite mine, Duluth Complex material overlay the iron-ore along one end of the mine; the low-grade sulfide-bearing rock was removed. It was subsequently stockpiled, to this day the source of toxic discharges. If permitted, PolyMet would be a massive copper-nickel sulfide mine, with correspondingly massive pollution. And according to its EIS, PolyMet’s permit would also be missing limits for important water quality standards.

  3. Submitted by Mike Cole on 03/06/2018 - 06:14 pm.


    I like to use actually data and scientific research other than a article ouit of a biased anti mining newspaper.

    Try reading these instead.

    • Submitted by Elanne Palcich on 03/07/2018 - 07:42 pm.

      Thanks for sending

      The youtube link is great.

      It shows the scale of mining–from which anyone with common sense could deduce that there will be massive destruction of the land, as well as pollution. It also shows the clean water resources and beauty of the environment that would be lost to mining. The green area on the map, indicating the Duluth Complex, shows the extent of sulfide mineralization and potential for destruction of the ecological integrity and surface resources of this entire region.

      A picture is worth a thousand words.

    • Submitted by C.A. Arneson on 03/10/2018 - 12:43 am.


      The last permit issued by the MPCA for the Dunka Mine was on August 3, 2000. It expired on June 30, 2005. The permit (NPDEIS/SDS permit MN0042579) contained a variance for discharges that are acutely toxic to aquatic life. Under the permit, if a discharge exceeded the variance limits, the MPCA could have required a long-closed water treatment plant to resume operations. Discharge monitoring reports show numerous violations, yet the treatment plant has not resumed operations. Call the MPCA and ask them for a copy of the discharge monitoring reports.

      I saw the ITRC link years ago; Paul Eger, DNR Land and Minerals, wrote “Dunka Mine Minnesota” in 2010. At the time, I sent the link to a scientist I knew, who had worked for the agencies including at Dunka, and was told “Dunka Mine Minnesota” was flawed, that it had not been peer reviewed.

      However (since you brought it up), if you had taken a closer look you would have seen it also indicates Dunka is polluting—which backs up what was written in the Timberjay. Not exactly what you were trying to prove, I know.

      Eger wrote: “All the wetlands at the Dunka Mine have been effective at removing metals, but some are not always effective at achieving compliance with permit limits. Annual average metal removal has ranged around 60%–90% for nickel, 70%–90% for copper, 70%–90% for cobalt, and 50%–75% for zinc.” Kind of like your doctor saying he removed 60%-90% of your cancerous tumor.

      Dunka’s permit has been expired for thirteen years; it has a variance. There were no limits for mercury, sulfates, specific conductivity, or hardness. Nor were limits based on chronic standards for copper, cobalt, nickel and zinc, all of which exceed state water standards.

      Unnamed Creek is a 7Q10 water, meaning it cannot be used for dilution because of low flowage. Testing is supposed to be done at the discharge source, at the end of the pipe. Instead the agencies allowed testing at the end of the creek, at Birch Lake, using the length of the creek for dilution to lower the numbers.

      Eger also stated: “Additional data is needed on the LTV systems to determine whether these systems can meet water quality standards throughout the year.” They were not doing so.

      I suggest a different paper concerning Dunka; Kim Lapakko, DNR Land and Minerals, wrote “Scaling Laboratory Sulfate Release Rates to Operational Waste Rock Piles.” It can be found online as a PDF. In it Lapakko states the following, “The lower field sulfate release rates estimated for the winter months actually yielded higher sulfate concentrations in the receiving stream due to lower input flows of unimpacted water.”

      If no one is willing or able to fix the problem at Dunka, a tiny taconite mine by industry standards, it is delusional to think PolyMet can mine safely for the health of our waters or for the health of the people who live here.

      Another telling statement by Eger speaks to how decisions are made. At Dunka, the cost of an expensive water treatment plant was compared to the cost of passive wetland treatment, and the mining company was allowed to choose the least expensive route. Eger stated, “With an annual savings of $198,000, LTV will recover the cost of the wetland treatment systems in about six to seven years.” Apparently we get to pay for the rest.

  4. Submitted by Mike Cole on 03/10/2018 - 09:39 am.

    Sudbury Ontario

    Glad to see you haven’t changed your attempts to use mining areas that have been in production since the 1880’s. This is the tried and true tactic of the anti mining crowd. As everyone knows there were NO restrictions on how mining was done until the 1970’s. So trying to compare an area which had been production for almost 100 years is disingenuous at best and at worst an outright scare tactic. Why don’t you compare PolyMet to something more recent like the Stillwater Mine in Montana which has been in production since the 1980’s without any pollution violations. We are not going to give it up because it will be done in an environmentally safe manner and provide years of good paying mining jobs. Speaking of which the latest numbers from the Bureau Economic Analysis shows that each mining or logging job contributes $447,603 to the value added GDP whereas each leisure/hospitality job only contributes $47,986. The average mining job in Minnesota pays $81,000, mining support services pay $68,000 a year while tourism jobs pay only $27,000.

    • Submitted by C.A. Arneson on 03/12/2018 - 01:25 am.

      Tactics of the anti-water crowd

      Pseudo-science. Pseudo-facts.

      The Stillwater mine is a disingenuous and dishonest comparison to the proposed PolyMet mine. Stillwater produces approximately 1,800 tons per day; PolyMet’s proposed production would entail 32,000 tons per day. Stillwater’s sulfide ore body “contains levels of carbonate minerals in quantities sufficient to characterize the waste material as non-acid generating.”

      As for the economic benefits of mining, in 2016, the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis indicated that Minnesota has a $335 billion economy, with mining contributing $2.2 billion (less than 1 percent).

      Aug. 11, 2017, when the public comment period opened for PolyMet’s water appropriation permit, the total annual water appropriations number for PolyMet was 6,175 million gallons, entitling PolyMet to annually pollute 6.2 billion gallons of our water for 20 years.

      Minnesota’s waters are worth more than the token amount mining companies pay for polluting them at $8 per million gallons (total dollar amount capped). Bottled water – at $1 per 16-ounce bottle – is $8 per gallon.

      One acre-foot of water (an acre of water one foot deep) or 325,851 gallons bottled and sold would fetch $2.6 million. Start-up costs for a bottling operation run $100,000 to $200,000. Northeastern Minnesota could bottle the equivalent of PolyMet’s water appropriations, 6.2 billion gallons (6,175 million gallons) per year, sell it within the Lake Superior basin of Minnesota under a catchy label – in glass bottles with deposit – and gross $49.3 billion ($49,270 million) annually.

      $49.3 billion annually would amount to $986 billion over 20 years – just shy of a trillion dollars.

  5. Submitted by Mike Cole on 03/12/2018 - 02:43 pm.

    Anti everything crowd.

    The anti mining crowd always yells show me a mine that hasn’t polluted so we do and what do we hear. No not that one because of this that or the other thing. You wonder why we grow tired of talking to you. There never will be a right answer for any of you just like Steve Piragis when he was asked if it could be 100% guaranteed would you support it and he said NO. So really I am not sure why I am wasting my time and energy trying to convince you that it can be done safely because it will never make a difference in your mind. So you will going your merry little way trying to choke what little life is left in NE MN. While I will do everything in my power to make sure you do not accomplish that and the people up here have something to look forward to in the future. Good Day.

Leave a Reply