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12-2290 U.S. v. Moore, appealed from Southern District of Iowa, Arnold, J.

PolyMet review: Water treatment needed long term

Wastewater from Minnesota’s proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine would have to be treated indefinitely to prevent pollutants from escaping, according to a final environmental review released Friday.

The highly anticipated 3,500-page document also says developers would have to put up money to make sure that all cleanup costs are covered for as long as necessary after the mine closes. The exact amount and form of those financial assurances would be determined during the permitting process.

Answering a concern often raised by critics, the document also says mine runoff would not reach the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness or Voyageurs National Park.

The Final Environmental Impact Statement lays out the effects of the proposed mine and how the company plans to comply with environmental regulations at what would be the state’s first copper-nickel mining and processing operation. The release of the report by the Department of Natural Resources starts a 30-day public comment period that runs through Dec. 14. The DNR will rule by early next year if the study is adequate. The company can then start applying for about two dozen local, state and federal permits.

The report was compiled by the DNR, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to survey the effects if it allows the copper and nickel mining, which differs from the taconite mining Minnesota is known for. Because of the complexity involved, the state agency issued 23 fact sheets to help the public decode the technical jargon.

Gov. Mark Dayton has said the ultimate call his administration will make on a “permit to mine” will be the biggest and toughest decision of his two terms. The project has caused divisions within his Democratic Party, splitting those who see its job potential and those who worry about environmental damage.

In advance of Friday’s release, Dayton traveled to mines in South Dakota and Michigan to assess how those were undertaken and where they succeeded or fell short.

PolyMet has proposed extracting the minerals from an open-pit mine and reusing a former LTV Steel Mining Co. processing plant in Hoyt Lakes that it bought from Cleveland Cliffs. The company predicts it will remove 553 million tons of rock over the 20-year life of the mine.

PolyMet’s president and CEO, Jon Cherry, said in a statement before the report’s release that it was a “huge milestone.” He described the decade-long review as detailed and thorough.

The company added that the study “demonstrates that PolyMet can mine and process copper, nickel and platinum group metals in a manner that complies with the law, protects the environment and creates hundreds of high-paying jobs.”

Environmentalists have objected to the project because the metals are locked in sulfide-bearing minerals that can leach sulfuric acid and other pollutants when exposed to air and water, a particular concern given its proximity to the treasured and protected BWCA. The Mining Truth coalition issued a statement saying their members plan to review the document closely and will deliver a fuller response next week, but that they suspect that it doesn’t adequately address their biggest concerns.

One of their questions is whether PolyMet can provide sufficient financial assurances for a proper cleanup if the company goes bankrupt.

Dayton has said he plans to seek legislative approval to hire an outside law firm to carefully review the company’s finances ahead of his decision.

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