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Published May 14, 2013, 12:30 PM

PolyMet environmental report sent to Minnesota regulators

HOYT LAKES, Minn. (AP) — A long-awaited environmental report on the first proposed copper-nickel mine for northeastern Minnesota has been released to state, federal and tribal agencies for review.

HOYT LAKES, Minn. (AP) — A long-awaited environmental report on the first proposed copper-nickel mine for northeastern Minnesota has been released to state, federal and tribal agencies for review.

The initial environmental impact statement for the PolyMet mine was released in 2009, but the federal Environmental Protection Agency called it inadequate. PolyMet announced the completion of the updated version Monday.

PolyMet wants to operate Minnesota's first copper-nickel mine — a $600 million open-pit mine near Babbitt and a processing center at the old LTV taconite mine north of Hoyt Lakes. Officials estimate the project would create about 350 jobs for more than 20 years, plus extensive spinoff business. The mine also would produce gold, platinum and palladium. Similar projects are expected to follow, including the proposed Twin Metals mine near Ely.

PolyMet has made several changes to its plan since the original report, including adding plans to treat all wastewater discharges with reverse osmosis and meet the state's sulfate standard for waters where wild rice grows.

John Cherry, president and CEO of Polymet, said those improvements demonstrate the company's commitment to build and operate the mine in a way that protects the environment.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Forest Service will now review the report, as well as the EPA and the Bois Forte, Fond du Lac and Grand Portage tribal governments. The report then will be made available for public review, probably later this summer.

Polymet spokeswoman LaTisha Gietzen said the company hopes the regulatory agencies will deem the revision adequate and publish a final environmental impact statement early in 2014 so mining permits could be issued shortly thereafter, construction could begin in the second half of 2014 and production could commence in the second half of 2015.

Environmental groups have sounded the alarm about copper-nickel mining because the metals in the deposits under northeastern Minnesota are bound up in sulfide compounds that can leach sulfuric acid and other contaminants when exposed to the elements. They fear discharges from PolyMet could reach Lake Superior while runoff from Twin Metals could spoil parts of the nearby Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

"Given PolyMet's failed first draft, Minnesotans should subject this EIS to the highest level of scrutiny," said Paul Danicic, executive director of The Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness.

Among the key issues, the group said, is whether the plan provides necessary safeguards to prevent pollution over the long term, perhaps forever, including financial assurances in case the mine closes abruptly or the company declares bankruptcy. It also should accounts for weather disasters such as the flood that hit Duluth last year, the group said.

The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy also plans to scrutinize the report when it gets the chance. If agencies don't do a good job of reviewing it now, "then it becomes very difficult to adequately regulate the facility and insure that environmental impacts are mitigated or minimized later on," said Katharine Hoffman, an attorney with the center.

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