PRM, public records, and PolyMet

December 24, 2013

On December 7, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) released its Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) for the proposed NorthMet mining project. If approved, NorthMet would be an open-pit, copper-sulfide mine in northern Minnesota operated by the Canada-based PolyMet Mining Corporation.

The NorthMet SDEIS includes hundreds of pages of data compiled by the DNR, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Forest Service. Data contained in the report relates to air and water quality issues, as well as to potential mercury levels and wetland impacts.

The NorthMet project has generated much discussion and debate in Minnesota, largely due to the nature of its proposed operations. NorthMet would be distinct from the taconite (or “ferrous”) mining common in the state, and would be the first nonferrous or “sulfide” mine to be located in Minnesota. The project would utilize both conventional “open-pit” excavation, as well as various water-based and mechanical processes to separate metallic sulfide minerals from non-ore tailings.

At the end of NorthMet’s proposed twenty-year period of operation, its mining pits would be filled with water and subject to a monitoring and treatment regimen to deal with left-over pollutants. According to the SDEIS, the project’s “west pit” would require water monitoring and treatment for up to 200 years. Water situated at the plant site (where processing operations would occur) would require up to 500 years of treatment.

Documents sought
Public Record Media (PRM) has been seeking information about proposed mining operations in the state – including NorthMet – through a series of public record requests.

On November 21, PRM sent requests to the DNR and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. PRM also sought documents from several federal agencies, including the Forest Service, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Department of the Interior.

PRM’s requests have focused on correspondence related to various mining proposals, and have sought to examine both the proposals themselves, as well as the regulatory processes that they are subject to. PRM has requested both internal agency correspondence, as well as “outward-facing” communications with representative of several mining companies.

Production schedule
As of the date of this writing, PRM has been contacted by both Minnesota agencies, as well as by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers. So far, discussions have focused on how to begin searches for responsive documents, as well as on timelines for production.

PRM has been working with the agencies to help refine its various requests, in order to quickly locate pertinent records inside each entity, and also to help avoid unnecessary or duplicative work.

At present, the DNR expects to have documents available for inspection in January. The Minnesota Pollution Control agency anticipates that a review of its document cache could occur shortly after the first of the year. Other agencies are estimating that document production will occur by early February.

Draft documents available
In its effort to provide public access to information about Minnesota mining operations, PRM has been in contact with other organizations that have previously filed record requests on the topic, and has agreed to host their data collections.

PRM recently received a series of documents from the Minnesota Environmental Advocacy Center (MCEA) that include preliminary versions of the NorthMet SDEIS, as well as certain data that went into the creation of those preliminary reports.  MCEA obtained the documents through requests made under the Minnesota Data Practices Act. The first batch of records is archived here. More data will be added in coming days.

Watch PRM’s blog and twitter feed (@PRM_Media) for document summaries and ongoing updates on our request process.