Shutdown clouds northern MN mining controversy

Polymet's projection of its mine by Year 11 of operation. Polymet

PolyMet’s projection of its mine by Year 11 of operation. PolyMet

Northern MN mining controversy remains in the news here. We had a steady go of it a couple weeks ago. Then the government shut down and yet the debate continues.

A Star Tribune report late last week showed that the mining company PolyMet has acknowledged that its proposed mine’s tailings pond would require 500 years of treatment to ensure that pollution does not escape its Hoyt Lakes site into the Lake Superior watershed. Critics call this akin to perpetual water treatment, seeing as 500 years is an unfathomable amount of time in planning terms.

The news was gleaned from analysis submitted in advance of the expected November release of PolyMet’s Environmental Impact Statement, a widely anticipated document that will begin the final permitting for the proposed project. PolyMet plans to mine copper, nickel and other elements near the site of the former LTV Steel iron mine on the eastern Mesabi Iron Range.

This means the environmental discussion will probably center around the interesting question, “How can anyone ensure proper water treatment for 500 years when the mining plan is for 20 years?” I’m sure there will be a lively chat as this northern MN mining controversy rages on, unencumbered by relevant data or perceptible changes in opinion.

Meantime, the federal government shut down, affecting several of the cooperating agencies participating in the EIS process for PolyMet. So that late November date for the EIS release? Yeah, that’s in flux. If we’re shut down for much longer, or if the federal political self-immolation worsens, we will certainly be pushed into the New Year for this key step in the unfolding of northern Minnesota’s mining future.

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