A copper, nickel and precious metals mine proposed for Minnesota and well within the Lake Superior watershed is one step closer to reality. A land exchange with the U.S. Forest Service to facilitate development of the mine was recently approved. Development of the proposed mine has been extremely contentious.
The Forest Service will exchange 6,650 acres of federal land for 6690 acres of non-federal land scattered throughout the region. The Forest Service believed an open pit mine was not permissible on its federal land. PolyMet argued its subsurface mineral rights gave it the ability to mine.
The mine will benefit from what Polymet says is the largest known undeveloped deposit of copper, nickel and precious metals in the world. The company says the mine will have a substantial positive economic impact, including employment for 360 people and annual generation of $515 million in wages, benefits and spending in St. Louis County, where the community of Hoyt Lakes is located. Polymet cites a figure of $20 billion in economic benefits over the 20 year permit period for the mine. The company says it controls 100% of the “NorthMet” ore body, which is located in the 1.1 billion year old Mid-Continent Rift. PolyMet will utilize an open pit method for mining.
A statement on the PolyMet website notes the company’s environmental commitment:
The mine and processing facilities will comply with all applicable state and federal standards designed to protect Minnesota’s water, air, and other natural resources at the project site, which is 175 river miles upstream from Lake Superior. The plant and mine site are not in the Rainy River Watershed that includes the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW).
Friends of the Boundary Waters does not support the exchange and says the company should meet all federal and state requirements before a land exchange takes place. The organization says serious environmental factors come into play, including perpetual wastewater treatment, even after the mine has closed. Friends of the Boundary Waters says the taxpayers of Minnesota should not be made to pay for such ongoing costs, as the mine may close at any time, due to market conditions or other factors beyond control of the company. Others argue that Minnesota taxpayers are paying for the environmental liabilities associated with a number of mines across the state, even though the mines closed long ago. They argue that while environmental liabilities persist, profits from these mines accrued to shareholders outside the Minnesota region and have vanished, just like the mines which produced these profits.