A monthslong review and more fierce debate over copper-nickel mining expected.
PolyMet Mining Corp. has formally applied for a permit to mine copper and nickel in northeast Minnesota, the first of its kind in state history and a key turning point in the long fight to establish a new but environmentally risky kind of mining in the region.
The 15,000-page application launches another extensive state review and is likely to set off a fierce new round of debate — this time over design of the mine, the loss of thousands of acres of wetlands, and how PolyMet would treat contaminated water decades after the operation closes.
The application also addresses a critical question that has hung over the project for years: How much money PolyMet will offer as financial insurance against future pollution and reclamation costs. It’s proposing $12 million for the first year of construction, $44 million for the second, and $197 million for the third. That reflects the progressively greater costs of the project’s expanding footprint, plus long-term water treatment when it becomes necessary, company officials said.
Over the mine’s proposed 20-year life, the company said, the total amount of “financial assurance’’ would cover the cost of reclamation, including a sophisticated water treatment system that could operate for many decades to remove pollutants from runoff and groundwater even after the mine has closed.
Jon Cherry, PolyMet’s chief executive, said the plan “demonstrates in detail the numerous steps we would take to ensure the mine operates in an environmentally responsible and safe manner, meets the high standards and expectations we and others have set for the project, and that there will be funds set aside to ensure that taxpayer dollars will not be needed for reclamation.”
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