January 18, 2014
An estimated 1300-1500 people were in attendance in Duluth on January 16 for the first of three state public hearings on the PolyMet company’s proposed NorthMet mine near Hoyt Lakes, Minnesota.
Representatives from the Minnesota DNR, the US Forest Service, and the US Army Corps of Engineers were in attendance. The audience also included current and former elected officials, union members, nonprofit groups, and interested citizens generally. Speakers were selected at random and allowed a three-minute period in which to make comments.
Public comments on SDEIS
The formal purpose of the hearing was to record into the permanent public record citizen comments on the NorthMet Supplemental Draft EIS. An EIS must be found to be adequate before a project can be considered for permitting.
While proponents and opponents of the project alike expressed a general desire for both clean water and jobs, project supporters indicated a faith in the regulatory agencies and contemporary industrial technologies. “I’m pleased to stand in solid support of PolyMet and the people who have worked so hard and spent $50 million or more trying to satisfy the demands required of a project like this,” said William Whiteside of Hibbing. “I’m very confident that the water quality issues will have been addressed.”
“It’s 2014. We’ve had many years for mining technology to increase,” said Joe Baltich of Ely, who also stated his belief that if mining is to be conducted, the United States, Minnesota, the Iron Range and Ely “should be leading that charge.” Joe Begich of Eveleth made comments in favor of the project as well. “From what I can follow, this company is planning to do it the right way,” he said. Norm Voornees of the Ironworkers Local 512 discussed the decent living iron mining has afforded he and his family, and noted that he had toured the proposed facility.
Criticism of project, SDEIS
David Kane of Biwabik noted that he had initially been “pro-mining,” but after researching copper/sulfide mining (the type at issue in the NorthMet project), he “changed sides.” “I don’t think it’s wise to mine toxic materials on top of an aquifer,” he said.
Project opponents pointed to what they deemed to be inadequacies in the SDEIS, a trigger for additional agency review. Elli King of Finland stated her belief that the “means of controlling sulfates are dubious and incomplete in the EIS.” Citing the Financial Assurance section of the SDEIS, David Freeman stated his belief that the cost of water treatment is “unknowable,” rendering the SDEIS inadequate. He offered as context the recent chemical spill in West Virginia, the Deepwater Horizon spill, and the ongoing situation with Japan’s Fukushima nuclear facility.
Hillary Peterson stated that, by law, a project “must be maintenance free at closure,” and that the SDEIS is therefore inadequate. Tyler Nord of Duluth stated that the Land Exchange portion of the SDEIS should be rejected. Nord also requested more information in the SDEIS on what would happen in the event of pump failure at a tailings pond during a flood (citing the increasing frequency of “100 year floods” in the region).
Public comment period continues
All comments provided will be recorded and placed in the permanent public record. The public comment period is scheduled to continue through March 13, although a request for an extension of the period is currently under review. The next public hearing is in Aurora on January 22, followed by a January 28 hearing in Saint Paul. Comments can be made by anyone online, by letter, or at one of the two remaining hearings.
Agency communications to be posted
PRM continues its FOIA work to provide an enhanced opportunity for public review of agency communications related to the proposed project. PRM is currently receiving documents from two state and two federal agencies, and is waiting for documents from the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior.
For a transcript of the hearing, interested citizens and organizations may call Doug Bruner, US Army Corps of Engineers, at 800-290-5847. PRM will post the transcript on this website upon receipt.