Eye on Mining: Exclusive interview with PolyMet CEO and President

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HOYT LAKES, MN —¬†After nearly 15 years and thousands of public comments PolyMet is making preparations to start construction on Minnesota’s first copper-nickel mine.

“During this upcoming construction season we’ll be in a position to be ready to begin the project,” said Jon Cherry, President and CEO of PolyMet.

“2019 should be when we break ground and get going.”

Cherry has been at the forefront of this project for the last six and a half years and he said it hasn’t been without obstacles.

“The challenge has been the length of time that it’s taken to get to this point.”

PolyMet began the initial environmental review back in 2004.

“The rules the state of Minnesota has and the federal government has for mining are very high, they’re designed to protect the environment. So we wanted to make sure we took our time to design a plan and project that would meet or exceed those standards.”

As the first copper-nickle mine to receive all state permits, PolyMet is setting a precedent for what could be a new addition to Minnesota’s long history of mining.

“So it has taken a long time to go through that process but the fact that we have almost all of our permits now demonstrates that our project does do that,” said Cherry.

With state permits in hand Cherry said the company is now preparing for construction.

“We’re doing two things right now. We have a lot of engineering work to do, so now that the permits have been issued, we can work on our final engineering that will help us. Now that we know what those terms and conditions of the permits are, we can finish our engineering to make sure we match that completely. Then once we have that all very well-detailed, then we can finish the project financing then we have the money and the plans, and then we can begin to build the project.”

The estimated price tag of the mine is set at $945 million.

Those opposed to the project have called the company’s financing into question and whether they’ll have enough cash to get it done.

Cherry said the demand for the metals is there and he’s confident in the project financing.

“We’ve got a great project with a lot of metal out there in the ground, with a lot of needs and use for that metal. The demand for the metals we produce is going to continue to increase in the future and we see ourselves being a big supplier of the supply gap that’s coming.”

So what does all of this mean for Minnesota?

According to a study done by the UMD Labovitz School of Business and Economics, each year of the project’s life it will bring in $515 million of economic impact for St. Louis County alone.

“That’s the economic equivalent of a Superbowl coming to town each year for the next 20 years for St. Louis County. So it’s a big deal.”

While the economics are appealing to some, critics of the project still feel it’s a dangerous industry to bring to Minnesota.

Cherry said he hears the concerns, but assures that PolyMet has done its due diligence.

“There’s a set of rules, we followed the rules, we used the best science that’s available and we went through a very lengthy process with the regulators, whose responsibility it is to make sure we do it right, and we got to the finish line on that. So we’re excited to get started.”

While PolyMet has received state permits it still needs the Section 404 Wetland Permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. That permit covers mitigation and replacement of wetlands that will be affected by a project.

CBS 3 Duluth Staff

CBS 3 Duluth Staff

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