Permit approvals for PolyMet open a new chapter in an old struggle.
HOYT LAKES, Minn. – For years, residents of this struggling mining town have clung to the hope that their old way of life would return. But even so, when state regulators finally approved permits late last month for Minnesota’s first copper-nickel mine, the news hit like a thunderbolt.
“You could feel it,” said Toni Thuringer, co-owner of the Haven Bar and Grill, who described a buzz that ran through patrons dining in the restaurant and elbowing up to the bar. “It’s just so cool because it’s been so long since we’ve had that feeling around here.”
In Iron Range towns left for dead by the mining industry’s last bust in the 1980s, the sudden realization that, after years of contentious debate, PolyMet Mining Corp. might actually open its $1 billion mine has fueled rousing talk.
“It’s like the whole town breathed a sigh of relief,” said Babbitt Mayor Andrea Zupancich. “ ‘Finally!’ ” The ripples began flowing on Oct. 31, when the state Department of Natural Resources announced approval of six critical permits, including PolyMet’s permit to mine and approval of a $1 billion “financial assurance” plan to protect against future pollution problems.
The mine is still not quite a done deal: Some water, wetland and air permits are still outstanding, and there are pending legal challenges by environmental groups, with more likely to come.
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