The PolyMet NorthMet sulfide mine would need more than 20 permits from Minnesota State agencies – primarily from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) – prior to constructing PolyMet’s proposed open-pit copper-nickel mine, processing plant, tailings waste storage facility and hydrometallurgical waste storage facility.

PolyMet applied for a number of state permits in 2016. PolyMet applications and agency permitting documents can be viewed here for the DNR permit to minehere for MPCA pollution permits and here for DNR water appropriation and waste dam permits.

The DNR has not yet determined whether the PolyMet permit to mine complies with state law. It is likely that the DNR will not specify requirements in a separate, enforceable permit to mine, but will either accept or require additional modification of the 4,194 pages of permit to mine application and appendices submitted by PolyMet on December 13, 2017.

WaterLegacy Opposes PolyMet Draft Permits Released for Public Comment by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR)

PolyMet Water Appropriations Permits 

WaterLegacy opposed the draft PolyMet Water Appropriation permits released for public comment in August 2017.

A few important facts:  

  • The DNR draft PolyMet water appropriation permits would allow PolyMet to appropriate 6.175 billion gallons of water per year. 
  • PolyMet would be allowed to appropriate about 85% of public water used by Duluth, Proctor & Hermantown combined. 
  • PolyMet would take 10 times as much water from Partridge River Headwaters as in FEIS. (More water than watershed contains.)
  • PolyMet would pay only $8 per million gallons appropriated.
 
WaterLegacy’s comments concluded:
 

“WaterLegacy believes that proceeding with draft PolyMet water appropriation permits is premature and inconsistent with Minnesota law. The DNR must first conduct an analysis of the impacts on water supply, groundwater, surface water and use of Great Lakes waters based on the appropriations proposed in the draft PolyMet permits, which far exceed appropriations previously described in the NorthMet FEIS. 

“The DNR must also set conditions to protect upper Partridge River elevation, average and low flows. Then the DNR must require PolyMet to demonstrate that it can and will comply with conditions to protect the Partridge River Headwaters, the streamflow conditions proposed to maintain Embarrass River creeks and Second Creek within ±20% of existing flows, and with PolyMet’s promised 90% rate of contaminated groundwater seepage collection at the NorthMet tailings basin and Category 1 waste rock stockpile.

“The DNR must further analyze whether the magnitude of PolyMet’s water appropriations are in fact “necessary” or are only preferred by PolyMet in order to externalize its costs to the greatest extent possible. Finally, before deciding whether to grant PolyMet water appropriation permits, the DNR must determine what permit conditions, monitoring and reporting requirements, public review mechanisms and permit term limits could be sufficient to ensure that PolyMet, even if it has the capacity to meet conditions that protect Minnesota water resources, will in fact choose to do so during operations, reclamation and long-term closure.”

 
 

PolyMet “Dam Safety” Permits

WaterLegacy opposed the draft PolyMet “Dam Safety” permits that would contain tailings waste and hydrometallurgical waste at the PolyMet processing site released for public comment in September 2017.

Associated Press coverage in the Star Tribune on September 27, 2017 summarized:

“Paula Maccabee, an attorney for WaterLegacy, said her preliminary review of the permit documents indicates neither the DNR nor PolyMet have adequately assessed the risks to people or water quality from a catastrophic dam failure and release of toxic wastes. . .

“The DNR should have required analysis of whether failure there could contaminate downstream waters, including drinking water for the nearby town of Hoyt Lakes, she said. . .

“[T]he 2014 Mount Polley mine disaster in Canada, where a sudden tailings dam collapse caused a massive spill into pristine waterways, [serves] as an example of how catastrophic dam failures are possible and why more time is needed to study the draft permits.”

WaterLegacy’s Comments emphasized deficiencies in the draft PolyMet dam permits:

“1. PolyMet has not performed studies of the potential hazards that would result from dam failure at its proposed Flotation Tailings Basin (FTB) or Hydrometallurgical Residue Facility (HRF) dams. PolyMet has also failed to complete materials studies related to the risk of failure of the FTB dam and has used unfounded assumptions in place of analysis of the risk of failure of the HRF dam.

“2. Draft PolyMet Dam Safety permits defer regulatory decisions that should be contained in permits and fail to provide conditions, final design requirements or specific contingencies needed to regulate construction, maintenance, operation and abandonment of the FTB and HRF dams to protect public health, safety, welfare and the environment.

“3. Draft FTB and HRF Dam Safety permits, along with the PolyMet documents incorporated by reference in the draft permits fail to provide adequate factors of safety, to comply with Minnesota rules or to address well-founded concerns, including those of DNR’s consultants, regarding fundamental design of PolyMet waste facilities.”

READ WaterLegacy’s October 16, 2017 Comments Opposing PolyMet Draft Dam Safety Permits HERE. The exhibits to these comments can be requested from paula@waterlegacy.org.

 
 

 

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