Political Matters: Comment on PolyMet's plan
Thursday, January 09 2014
Written by Mordecai Specktor,
Average user rating    (0 vote)
Share this!

Comment on PolyMet’s plan

You can download a copy of the new environmental review of the proposed NorthMet copper-nickel mining project at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website (dnr.state.mn.us ). It’s a big file, 136 megabytes and the DNR warns that it “could take time to download.”

In late December, I talked with Betsy Daub, policy director for Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness (friends-bwca.org), a group that has been trying to raise public awareness about the environmental dangers from sulfide mining.

I asked Daub if she had read every word of the 2,169-page revised environmental impact statement (EIS).

“Not yet every word, but a good portion of it already,” she replied, regarding the document assembled by the Minnesota DNR, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Forest Service.

As I noted in my column last month, the government agencies and PolyMet Mining – the Toronto, Canada-based firm that wants to mine for copper, nickel and precious metals at a site near Babbit – went back to the drawing board, after the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found the October 2009 EIS deficient.

Is the refurbished 2013 EIS an improvement over the old model?

“There are some areas of this new design that are improvements,” Daub said, “but overall, what we have is a mine plan that still leaves the Minnesota public with 500 years, at least, of mining pollution. And that doesn’t seem like a good deal to us.”

Daub added, “We’re very concerned that we haven’t yet seen a mine plan that is something that makes sense, that protects Minnesota’s waters for the long term, that does right by our precious water resources.”

She allowed that the new EIS contains some “improvements, modifications such as putting the most reactive waste rock back in the pits” and covering the debris with water, in order to limit the chemical reaction that causes pollution. The original plan would have left the sulfide ore waste on the surface, she pointed out.

If you don’t have time to read the entire supplemental draft EIS, there is an executive summary that run 58 pages. And the Minnesota Indian bands – Fond du Lac, Bois Forte and Grand Portage – that are “cooperating agencies” in the NorthMet environmental review process, along with the 1854 Treaty Authority, have a 218-page document that expresses their concerns. For example, the tribal cooperating agencies, through scientists with the GreatLakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC), dispute the information the SDEIS employs to calculate water flows from the proposed mining site.

A 2012 letter from GLIFWC, which is included in Appendix C of the SDEIS, argues that the “hydrologic models for the PolyMet mine site have been calibrated to targets that under-represent true baseflow. Models should be calibrated to a strong set of observational data. Construction of the site’s basic hydrologic model to unrealistically low baseflows has ramifications for all the flow and contaminant modeling at the site.”

“The heart and soul of this mine plan is this water modeling,” Daub said, regarding the tribal contentions. “You never get a pure model that’s 100 percent accurate – but what you hope you get is something that’s in the ballpark, that at least gives you information that is useful.” She noted that the tribal cooperating agencies and GLIFWC are concerned that the assumptions underlying the waterflow modeling are inaccurate.

Daub mentioned, as an example, that the NorthMet SDEIS minimizes the off-site pollution resulting from “cracks or fractures in the bedrock that underlies both the mine site and the tailings basin.” The EPA challenged this aspect of the environmental review, according to Daub.

The concern is that mine drainage could seep into cracks in the bedrock and travel far from the mine complex. Contaminated mine waste water could “percolate into groundwater, and in that area of Minnesota, groundwater and surface water readily mix … That can have human health impacts, wildlife and aquatic species impacts.”

As the 2012 letter from GLIFWC scientists concluded: “Modeling efforts that are based on faulty initial assumptions and not on field observations will not be able to reasonably predict impacts.”

There will be a series of public hearings in January on the NorthMet supplemental draft EIS. The hearings will be held in Duluth (Jan. 16), Aurora (Jan. 22) and St. Paul (Jan. 28). Details are available on the Minnesota DNR website. Comments also can be submitted by e-mail and letter through March 13.

“While this is a really dense technical document, people can make an important contribution without being a scientist or an expert,” Daub said, regarding the SDEIS. “In fact, the DNR and the agencies need to hear from the public to make the best possible decisions.”

Readers, it’s time to step.

Users' Comments (0)

No comment posted

Add your comment

Fatal error: Call to undefined function _getNoticeCopyright() in /home/content/70/12981770/html/mambots/content/maxcommentbot.php(418) : eval()'d code on line 14