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public’s last chance to speak in front of hundreds about why they
like or loathe PolyMet’s plan to mine copper and nickel in
northeastern Minnesota went out with a bang.
than 2,100 people packed a Saint Paul RiverCentre ballroom, matching
in size but surpassing in feistiness the combined 2,000 or so people
who attended two earlier meetings in Duluth and Aurora. There were
standing ovations, boos, laughs and even a guy with a guitar and
harmonica who sang out his fears for Minnesota if the state embraces
PolyMet, which would be the state’s first copper-nickel mine.
Aimee Gourlay asked the crowd on several occasions to avoid
interrupting the speakers with applause so they could maximize their
three-minute time limit to speak. Those requests mostly went
the loudest moments came late in the evening, when former DFL Rep.
Tom Rukavina challenged mining opponents to leave their cell phones
and iPads containing the debated metals in paper bags at the door.
Mining supporters at the back of the vast room held up paper bags and
shook them in the air.
these little gadgets that you have are made from minerals," he
said. "You can export your pollution to China, or you can have
slave labor in Africa, but right here you can have good union mining
jobs in the state of Minnesota."
a plea for jobs on the Iron Range, the need for metals was a major
talking point among mining supporters, as it had been at the other
two hearings. Overall, the nature of the arguments both for and
against the proposal had not changed much. Many mining opponents
argued that allowing PolyMet to mine would put the Lake Superior
watershed too much at risk.
rest of the world is looking for fresh water, and we’re looking to
throw ours away. Don’t throw this precious gift away," said Hope
Flanagan, of Minneapolis, who began her remarks in Ojibwe and brought
dozens of people to their feet. "We’re water. We’re walking skin
hearing was part of a 90-day public comment period on the
environmental impact statement for PolyMet’s proposed mine and
processing facility. The issue could break state records in terms of
public interest. Already the Minnesota Department of Natural
Resources has received 10,000 comments, and people have until March
13 to submit them.
of the 640 people who signed up to speak were chosen at random to
take the microphone. Both the crowd and speakers were split roughly
evenly; some union members supporting the proposal wore hard hats and
neon construction vests to the hearing, and opponents sported bright
blue "protect clean water" stickers.
will have to go through all of the comments, and it’s possible some
of the comments could lead to changes or additions to the draft EIS.
"We’re collecting information, doing analyses that will
hopefully inform the 20 or so regulatory decisions that would follow
the completion of this process," said Steve Colvin, the DNR’s
deputy director of ecological and water resources. "There is
still a lot of work ahead for PolyMet before they get to mining
asked the crowd to comment specifically on ways the agency could
improve the 2,200-page environmental analysis of the project. Many
supporters thanked the agency and its federal partners for what they
called a thorough document. They asked for science to prevail over
we come to the end of the process and there’s a decision, we need to
respect that," said union organizer Jason George. "I
believe we can get this right. We can have these jobs and protect the
environment. … This is America. We can do everything."
describing potential impacts on water, wetlands and air, the
environmental study cites the 360 permanent jobs PolyMet plans to
create, along with more than 1,000 construction jobs.
not blow a chance to establish globally what good clean copper mining
looks like," said Harry Melander, president of the Minnesota
Building and Construction Trades Council. "Mining and Minnesota
has been a tradition for over 100 years. Our members benefit from it,
everyone in this room depends upon it."
poked holes in the analysis, calling part of the water modeling
inadequate and calling for more planning for accidents and
emergencies. The EIS concludes long-term water treatment will be
needed at both the mine and processing site.
is going to prevent this company from going belly up 300 years from
now, declaring bankruptcy, and saying, gee, we can’t pay the bills,
guys. What assurances are we going to have … for 500 years? Are we
insane?" asked Scott Helgeson of Bloomington.
has said it will offer financial guarantees to clean up and treat
water for as long as necessary after the company is done mining, but
opponents have argued the environmental study should offer more
publishing the final EIS, there would be another public comment
period. Then the DNR and the federal lead agencies would have to sign
off on the document before PolyMet can begin to acquire the more than
20 local, state and federal permits it will need to mine.
Morse, executive director of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership,
said the EIS is complex enough that the DNR should extend the comment
period for another 90 days, and he said the document leaves too many
the end it is the leaders of these agencies before us that will be
faced with a judgment call if this EIS is adequate," he said.
"And yes, there may be loud political voices urging you to forge
ahead and move the project to the next stage, but most Minnesotans
aren’t ready to go there."