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State opens public comment period for PolyMet proposed copper mine

A comprehensive environmental analysis of Minnesota's first proposed copper-nickel mine has been released for public review and input.

This begins a critical phase of the environmental review process for PolyMet Mining Inc.'s revised NorthMet copper-nickel mining project and proposed land exchange. State and federal agencies are seeking public review and input on a document called the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS).

The proposed mining project has been substantially revised since a 2009 Draft EIS, and the SDEIS includes information on those changes, the land exchange, and additional and revised analyses of potential project impacts. Publication of the SDEIS provides the first opportunity for the public to review and comment on the revised project, located in northeastern Minnesota near Hoyt Lakes and Babbitt.

"I am inviting Minnesotans to participate in the environmental review process by reviewing the document and providing thoughtful, informed input on the environmental analysis during the public comment period," said Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr. "The DNR and other agencies have used their most objective and best scientific expertise to review this project. Now we need all interested parties to give us their comments."

The SDEIS is now available on the DNR's website (, and review copies are available at select libraries and public offices around the state. Public meetings will be held in January in Duluth, Aurora and St. Paul.

The 2,200-page document is an intensive, scientific examination of environmental, social and economic aspects of the project. This includes in-depth analyses of potential impacts on wetlands, air and water quality, and wildlife. The document describes proposals to reduce impacts through project modifications, mitigation and alternative actions.

The SDEIS also examines how the company would address mine-site reclamation and provides information on the financial assurances needed during and after mine operation. The document thoroughly analyzes the proposed land exchange between the company and the U.S. Forest Service that would be needed for PolyMet to implement its mining proposal.

Prepared by the DNR, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), known collectively as the co-lead agencies, the document details more than 3 years of scientific study and analysis of the project. It is an updated and revised analysis of the 2009 Draft EIS.

The SDEIS will be published in the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board Monitor on Monday, Dec. 9 and in the Federal Register on Friday, Dec. 13. A 90-day public comment period will begin on Dec. 14 and end on March 13.

The public can review and comment on the SDEIS through the DNR website at The website also includes an executive summary, and a series of fact sheets and documents designed to help the public understand the proposed project.

The proposed NorthMet mine project would be located in the St. Louis River watershed on the eastern edge of the Mesabi Iron Range, about 6 miles south of Babbitt and about 1 mile south of the existing iron-ore Northshore Mine. Processing of the ore would take place at a former industrial site, the LTV steel plant in Hoyt Lakes. Neither the proposed mine nor the processing facility is in the watershed containing the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

The total project area would include the open pit mine, a processing plant, tailings basin and an existing 7-mile-long railroad corridor for the transportation of ore between the mine and the processing plant.

PolyMet's proposed project remains in the "environmental review" phase. This is the extensive process used to identify and analyze the potential environmental, social and economic impacts of the proposed project. Public input on the SDEIS is an important component of this phase.

Environmental review is not the approval phase of the project, which occurs during the permitting process.

At the state level, if the DNR determines the EIS is adequate, the next phase - the permitting process - would evaluate if the project can comply with all applicable environmental regulations and would set out the required measures that would need to be taken to avoid, minimize or mitigate impacts and provide the required financial assurance. The permitting phase also involves opportunities for public review of draft permits.

Similar to the state, the USFS issues a record of decision that completes its environmental review, and is followed by permitting and implementation. Unlike the other two co-leads, the USACE issues a record of decision that both completes its environmental review and renders its permit decision. For PolyMet's proposal, this involves wetlands permitting for the USACE, while the USFS is focused on the proposed land exchange transaction process.

How to comment on the SDEIS

Public comments on the SDEIS can be submitted electronically at or by mail to:

Lisa Fay, EIS Project Manager

MDNR Division of Ecological and Water Resources

Environmental Review Unit

500 Lafayette Road, Box 25

St. Paul, MN 55155-4025

During the 90-day comment period, the co-lead agencies will hold public information and input meetings in Duluth, Aurora and St. Paul where the public can comment in person. The meetings are listed below.

Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014

DECC - Duluth Entertainment Convention Center

350 Harbor Drive, Duluth, MN 55802

5 p.m. - open house

6:45-10 p.m. formal presentation and public comment period

Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014

Mesabi East High School

601 1st St W, Aurora, MN 55705

5 p.m. - open house

6:45-10 p.m. formal presentation and public comment period

Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014

Saint Paul RiverCentre

175 West Kellogg Blvd, Saint Paul, MN 55102

5 p.m. - open house

6:45-10 p.m. formal presentation and public comment period

In the event of a weather-related postponement of one or more of the public meetings, the DNR will make a public announcement.

The public meetings, co-hosted by DNR, USACE and USFS, will include informational stations and representatives from state and federal agencies. At the public meetings, participants can submit comments in writing, present them verbally or have their oral comments transcribed by a stenographer.

Public review copies of the SDEIS are available at the following locations: the DNR/MPCA Library, 520 Lafayette Road, St. Paul; the DNR Regional Office at 1201 East Highway 2, Grand Rapids; the DNR-Division of Lands and Minerals Regional Office at 1525 Third Avenue East, Hibbing; the Hoyt Lakes Public Library at 206 Kennedy Memorial Drive, Hoyt Lakes; the Babbitt Public Library at 71 South Drive, Babbitt; the Duluth Public Library, 520 West Superior Street, Duluth; and the Minneapolis Public Library, 300 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis.

All written comments become a part of the Final EIS record and are public information. Written comments will be accepted until 4:30 p.m. on March 13, 2014.

Following the public comment period, the DNR and co-lead agencies will review all comments, respond to substantive comments, adjust the SDEIS if needed, and ultimately publish a Final EIS for public review.