ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — State officials released a 2,200-page environmental review for the proposed PolyMet Mining Corp. copper-nickel mine to the public on Friday and urged Minnesotans to carefully scrutinize the document.
PolyMet's proposed NorthMet mine near Babbitt and processing plant near Hoyt Lakes would be Minnesota's first copper-nickel mining operation if it wins all the necessary approvals, and it could set the pattern for environmental protections for future nonferrous mining in the northeastern part of the state.
Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr urged Minnesotans to take a "hard look" at the review and respond with comments, questions and suggestions for changes "so that we can make sure that what we think is a good document really is the best document possible."
The 90-day public comment period opens Dec. 14 and runs through March 13. The process includes public forums Jan. 16 in Duluth, Jan. 22 in Aurora and Jan. 28 in St. Paul where people can weigh in.
"We know that when the public is engaged and concerned about environmental protection, good things come from that. We welcome their concern because it helps define better protections and results for the environment," said John Linc Stine, commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
Landwehr said the hard decisions about whether and how to proceed with the project will occur after the public comment period, when PolyMet applies for around 20 major and lesser permits from state, federal and local government agencies.
PolyMet insists the project won't harm the environment and estimates it would create 360 permanent jobs and more than 600 related jobs — as well as temporary construction jobs — in an economically struggling part of the state.
Environmentalists have raised concerns because the metals are locked in sulfide-bearing minerals that can leach sulfuric acid and other pollutants when exposed to air and water. DNR officials said at a briefing for reporters the project will not produce acid drainage, but acknowledged the wastewater from the mine after it closes may require pollution controls for as long as 200 to 500 years.
"This document is complex but the choices that Minnesotans have are simple," said Aaron Klemz, spokesman for the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. "Are we going to take on 500 years of water treatment and the cost that goes along with that, and the environmental risk, in exchange for just 20 years of mining?"
The review is available at: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/input/environmentalreview/polymet/index.html