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Minnesota DNR approves permits for proposed PolyMet NorthMet project

ST. PAUL, MN -The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced Thursday its approval for several major permits for the PolyMet mining project on the Iron Range.

They include the permit to mine, six water appropriation permits, two dam safety permits, a public waters work permit, and an endangered species takings permit for the NorthMet project.

“It’s safe to say that no project in the history of the DNR has been more thoroughly evaluated,” said the commissioner of the Minnesota DNR Tom Landwehr.

The permit to mine includes a financial assurance plan and wetland replacement plan.

Landwehr said, “Finacial assurance is a package of financial instruments that are available to the state to pay for any cleanup, reclamation, and long-term water treatment should the company fail to comply with the permit.”

Here’s how it works. The assurance package is a dollar amount that increases as risk goes up.

Right now, the state has received 74-million  dollars from PolyMet for the construction phase.

When mining begins, that number grows to $588-million. At peak mining, PolyMet will be on the hook for more than $1-billion.

“It is intended to ensure that taxpayers are not on the hook for closure of the site,” said Landwehr.

Even with a billion dollars in assurance money, there’s still a hint of concern from the DNR.

“Yes, there will be an environmental impact,” said Landwehr, “Our job is to ensure that those environmental impacts are within state standards, and where required, they are mitigated. So I think to the extent that we can analyze a project review the engineering, identify potential challenges, we’ve identified that the risks are going to be very small,” he said.

Thursday’s announcement means PolyMet has completed its decision-making process on the permit applications.

The project still requires water and air quality permits from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and wetlands permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, in addition to other local permits and approvals.

PolyMet President and CEO Jon Cherry issued the following statement after the permits were issued:

“We look forward to building and operating a modern mine and developing the minerals that sustain and enhance our modern world. Responsibly developing these strategic minerals in compliance with these permits while protecting Minnesota’s natural resources is our top priority as we move forward.”

Cherry went on to say the permit “is a victory for Iron Range families who have steadfastly supported us and who depend on and will benefit from the hundreds of jobs that construction and operations will create and support for years to come. This certainty will also allow the company to move forward with financing and final engineering designs.”

PolyMet is looking to be the first to have a copper and nickel mine, in addition to platinum, palladium, gold, and cobalt, on the Iron Range.

Environmentalists have opposed the mine for fear it could pollute pristine waters.

PolyMet says it can operate the proposed mine near Hoyt Lakes and Babbitt without harming the environment while creating hundreds of badly needed jobs on Minnesota’s Iron Range.

PolyMet says this mine will have a 20-year lifespan,  contribute $500-million annually to the state’s economy, and employ 360 full-time employees in addition to hundreds of construction jobs.

More information on the mining project can be found here.

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You can watch the DNR news conference regarding the permit issuance below.

This is a breaking story, and we will have more details as they become available.

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Kevin Jacobsen

News Director

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