Category Archives: Uncategorized

Taking Action on PolyMet to Protect the Boundary Waters

This summer, news broke about the potential for the PolyMet NorthMet sulfide-ore copper mining project to impact the Boundary Waters due to lack of understanding of whether polluted waters would flow south or north. The threat from PolyMet would add to that already posed by the proposed Twin Metals mine on the wilderness edge, creating the potential for large cumulative impact. The Timberjay originally reported that, “The [Peter Mitchell mine] pits, which sit about a mile north of the proposed PolyMet mine, currently discharge in several directions. Upon closure [of the Peter Mitchell mine], however, all of the discharge is slated to enter Birch Lake, part of the Kawishiwi River, a major BWCAW watershed.”

Despite receiving official objections about the adequacy of the water model from Tribal authorities, led by the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC), the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) did little to respond to the possibility that PolyMet’s contaminated water could flow north and in much larger amounts than previously thought. A December Timberjay article highlights GLIFWC’s continued concerns and shows that the DNR provides no data to support the position that large, northward flows of contaminated groundwater aren’t a concern.

In our efforts to protect the Boundary Waters, we are joining with other local groups to share concerns about the PolyMet project. For more information about the potential impact from PolyMet to the Boundary Waters and the inherent impossibility of guaranteeing a sulfide-ore copper mine free of environmental impacts,, please see the articles linked below.

Tribes: FEIS water model still flawed, Timberjay (December 2015)
Agency: PolyMet discharge would flow north to BWCA, Timberjay (August 2015)
PolyMet mine water could flow northward, toward BWCA, Star Tribune (September 2015)

To take action on this issue, you can add your comment here. The suggested comment is included below.

I oppose the proposed PolyMet NorthMet copper-nickel sulfide mine. The PolyMet Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) is inadequate under both federal and state standards; I object to the U.S. Forest Service proposal to exchange Superior National Forest land for the PolyMet proposal; and I oppose issuing any federal permit allowing PolyMet to destroy wetlands and impair water quality.

The PolyMet FEIS is inadequate under federal and state laws and regulations because:
– It fails to evaluate pollution risks to drinking water, fish, wild rice and human health using realistic assumptions about how much polluted seepage will be captured and treated during operations, reclamation, and closure.
– It fails to analyze health risks and impacts on children, workers and communities who rely on fish and wild rice for subsistence, including risks from asbestos-like particles and methylmercury.
– It does not evaluate the impacts of polluted seepage north of the mine site on the 100 Mile Swamp and the Rainy River (Boundary Waters area) Basin.
– It fails to adequately consider alternatives to minimize environmental harm, reduce polluted seepage from unlined permanent waste facilities, mitigate wetlands destruction, and reduce the threat of catastrophic dam failure.

I strongly object to the proposed NorthMet Mining Project Land Exchange in the Superior National Forest because:
– It conflicts with federal policy to protect wetlands, resulting in direct destruction of 913 acres of wetlands and destruction or impairment of up to 8,264 acres of wetlands.
– It would degrade surface and groundwater, violating the Superior National Forest plan and state, federal and tribal water quality standards.
– It would harm endangered, threatened and species of concern, including the northern goshawk, great gray owl, lynx and moose.
– It is not in the public interest, would impair tribal resources, and would result in an uncalculated loss of ecological services.

I oppose any federal Clean Water Act permit for PolyMet discharge and wetlands destruction because:
– PolyMet discharge of pollutants and wetlands destruction and impairment would degrade surface and groundwater and violate federal, state and tribal water quality standards.
– PolyMet discharge of pollutants and wetlands destruction and impairment would have adverse impacts on municipal water supplies, aquatic life, wildlife, human health and welfare, environmental justice and special aquatic sites.
– The PolyMet proposal does not adequately consider alternatives to reduce harm to wetlands and water quality and is not the Least Environmentally Damaging Practicable Alternative.
– The PolyMet proposal fails to quantify or provide mitigation for indirect loss of up to 8,264 acres of wetlands, and provides wholly inadequate mitigation for direct destruction of 913 acres of wetlands within the Lake Superior Basin.

I request the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reject the PolyMet FEIS as inadequate; the U.S. Forest Service reject the proposed exchange of Superior National Forest lands for the PolyMet project; and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency veto and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deny any Section 404 permit that would allow PolyMet polluted discharge and wetlands destruction.

I object to the land exchange under the Forest Service Rules found at 36 CFR 218; the responsible official for that decision is Superior National Forest Supervisor Brenda Halter. I submitted comments on the PolyMet SDEIS and/or I reject any claim that the objection process can be limited to people who commented prior to the draft land exchange Record of Decision. I will provide a signature to verify my identity upon request.

I request a specific response to my comments.

International Joint Commission Action Alert

On Friday, August 15, at 9:00 AM the International Lake of the Woods Basin Water Quality Plan of Study Team will hold a public meeting at the Vermilion Community College Theater in Ely to take comments on the Draft Water Quality Plan of Study (“POS”). The International Joint Commission (“IJC”), which is a body created by the governments of Canada and the United States to advise on issues affecting the boundary waters from coast to coast, ordered the preparation of the POS. Please attend the meeting and provide comments on the POS to the Study Team. The Study Team intends to create the best-possible POS, and views thoughtful public comments and criticism to be essential.

The POS proposes many research and information-gathering projects to deal with three major challenges to the water quality in the Rainy River-Lake of the Woods Basin: (1) nutrient enrichment and harmful algal blooms; (2) aquatic invasive species; (3) surface and groundwater contamination, including heavy metals and other contaminants. Our concerns about the impact of sulfide-ore mining in the watershed of the Boundary Waters Wilderness relate to item 3.

We have provided below a link to the POS. Part 3.4 of the POS, beginning at page 72, deals with contamination. We suggest that you consider the following issues in preparing comments:

–Copper nickel mining in sulfide ores is proposed along and under the South Kawishiwi River and Birch Lake, and in other areas within the Superior National Forest in the Rainy Headwaters (most of the U.S.-side watershed of the Boundary Waters Wilderness–including the extensive potential mining areas south and southeast of Ely–lies within the Rainy Headwaters). At least nine different projects are in various stages of exploration and other work preliminary to mining.

–Time is of the essence. Mining company activity is already having an impact within the Rainy Headwaters. Exploratory drilling activity, including the clearing of forested drill sites and associated road-building, has impacted groundwater and the terrestrial landscape that sustains groundwater. Withdrawal of surface waters for use in drilling impacts aquatic ecosystems.

— At various points, with respect to mining the POS refers to monitoring; safeguards; and treatment, mitigation, and reclamation technology. It is important that the study team avoid the implication that mining is an acceptable activity as long as monitoring, safeguards, and the rest meet some as-yet-undetermined standard. The study team and the work forwarded to policy-makers should acknowledge the possibility that sulfide-ore mining, even if performed to the highest standards in all respects, is an inherently dangerous activity that should not be allowed in the Basin. The recent Mount Polley Mine tailings basin disaster is a case in point.

–The POS should include a recommendation that the IJC ask the United States Forest Service (in the Department of Agriculture) and the United States Bureau of Land Management (in the Department of the Interior) to conduct broad environmental analysis, in the form of a programmatic environmental impact statement, on the impact that multiple copper/nickel sulfide-ore mines in the watershed of the Boundary Waters Wilderness in the U.S. would have on water in the Rainy River Basin. The POS should also ask the IJC to seek similar environmental analysis from the appropriate provincial and Canadian governmental entities.

–Major mining projects require vast amounts of electricity. The POS should consider the impact of additional power plants in the region.

–The POS uses the word “balance” to describe the work of the “Annual Mining Effects Science Workshop” (p. 79). The concept of “balance” is perilous. Accuracy and effectiveness are far more important than balance. All legitimately interested organizations and persons should have an opportunity to provide information, but the team should not fall into the trap of assigning equal value to all information presented. Not all “science” is of equal merit; experience and judgment must be used to consider the quality and completeness of the work, and the underlying motivation of the presenter.

–The POS should emphasize action based on its work. The POS should not just dispassionately report to the IJC the results of the projects; it should include a mechanism for specific recommendations to the IJC.

In addition to attending the public meeting, please consider submitting written comments as follows:

Online, at the Study’s website: ijc.org/en_/LWBWQPOS

In writing, to the Lake of the Woods Basin Water Quality Plan of Study Team:

Canadian Section Office
International Joint Commission
234 Laurier Ave. W.
22nd Floor
Ottawa, ON
Canada K1P 6K6

United States Section Office
International Joint Commission
2000 L Street NW, Suite 615
Washington, DC
USA 20440

Link to Study: ijc.org/en_/LWBWQPOS

Catastrophic Tailings Spill at Mount Polley Mine

This was posted on Mining Watch Canada’s website and is posted here with permission.  It is well worth the read. Vist their website at http://www.miningwatch.ca

On August 5, approximately 10 billion litres of wastewater and 5 billion litres of solid tailings waste escaped the impoundment at Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley mine in the interior of British Columbia. The creek that received the brunt of the flow was completely obliterated, some of the waste backed up into Polley Lake and some the wastes and debris from the torrent continued downstream into Quesnel Lake. A local state of emergency was called and a precautionary ban was put on using surface and groundwater in the area. The following is our effort to synthesize the many reports and commentaries that have come out during the first four days following the spill, and to answer some of the questions we’ve been getting from media and the public. For background, we’ve relied on a 2011 report jointly commissioned by the Xatsul and T’exelc First Nations and Imperial Metals, the company’s website, and a 2004 technical report.

Hazeltine Creek after the spill (photo by Chris Blake).

Hazeltine Creek following the spill (photo by Chris Blake).

What are tailings and what was in the impoundment?

Tailings are the wastes left over from the crushing, grinding, and processing of mineral ores. Because low-grade large-scale mines like Mount Polley are mining ores where the sought-after minerals (gold and copper in this case) are less than 1% of the ore, a lot of waste is created from processing the 20,000 tonnes of ore that went through the Mount Polley mill each day. During processing, the ground rock is mixed with water and reagents to remove the gold and copper, and the remaining slurry (mix of water and sandy or muddy solids) is pumped to the tailings impoundment for disposal. (See also our Mine Waste Primer.)

The Mount Polley tailings impoundment is no “pond” – it is nearly 2 square kilometres with a perimeter of 5 kilometres. As Iain McKechnie pointed out with this image on Twitter, that’s almost the size of Vancouver’s Stanley Park.

Tailings often contain residual minerals including lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, and selenium, that can be toxic if released to the environment. If a substance in the tailings is included in the toxic substances listed under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, mine operators must report the amount of these substances in the tailings to a publicly available database – the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI). (Prior to a legal challenge by MiningWatch, Great Lakes United, and Ecojustice, the mining industry was exempt from reporting.)

Below is a table with the toxics contained in the Mount Polley tailings from the last five years of reporting (this differs from earlier reported amounts, which included substances contained in waste rock as well as tailings). The extent to which these substances pose a threat to the environment depends on the geochemistry of the tailings and the surrounding conditions.

Substances in Mount Polley tailings as reported to the NPRI (in tonnes)

Substance

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

Total

Nickel

48

73

56

63

71

311

Lead

105

59

40

36

38

278

Arsenic

81

137

84

84

83

472

Zinc

273

701

453

420

403

2250

Copper

9,016

9,044

7,570

6,723

6,392

38745

Vanadium

1,045

1,474

1,357

1,637

1,557

7070

Cadmium

2

2

1

2 1 8.6
Cobalt

105

139

129

142

138

653

Phosphorus

7,784

11,374

9,735

10,056

10,405

49354

Antimony

35

3.6

2.8

3.5

3.6

48.5

Manganese

3,231

7,444

4,733

4,733

4,119

24260

Mercury

0.5

0.7 0.5 0.4 0.6 2.6
Selenium

0.01

0.01 6.8 8.2 9.0 24

Tailings also include reagents used in processing the ore. Reagents used at Mount Polley include xanthates, which are known to be toxic to aquatic organisms, but the company estimates that most of the residual xanthates leave the site with the mineral concentrate. Testing of processing chemicals in tailings and effluent is not currently required by Environment Canada or the B.C. government.

What are the effects of the spill?

The most obvious impact of the spill is the destruction of the 10 kilometre-long Hazeltine Creek watershed. A small tributary to Quesnel Lake, the creek has been completely buried in tailings and a huge swath of trees mowed down. According to the B.C. Fisheries database, Hazeltine Creek provided habitat for chinook, coho, and sockeye salmon, rainbow trout, and a number of other fish species. If it is even possible to restore the habitat for these species, it will require removing the tailings from the creek bed, re-establishing a natural creek bottom, getting vegetation to regrow along the shore and keeping the water and sediments clean enough to support a healthy ecological community.

While much of the tailings remain in the Hazeltine Creek watershed, some of the solids went into Polley Lake and Quesnel Lake, both of which are important recreational fishing areas with high quality water that are used as a drinking water sources by local residents.

Initial testing of Quesnel Lake by the B.C. government has not shown any impairment to the use of the lake as drinking water or for aquatic life according to established standards. This may be thanks to the lake’s large size and outflow that would have diluted and dispersed any contaminants from the wastewater. Much of the contaminant load from the spill will be in the sediments, which will settle out of the water column and not be captured in surface water samples. These are very preliminary findings and until the tailings upstream are stabilised, contaminant loading to the lake will continue. It is very difficult to know what the medium or long-term repercussions for Polley Lake, Quesnel Lake and aquatic communities further downstream will be. Fish – and in particular salmon – are extremely sensitive to several of the substances listed above, and much more work is needed to evaluate the risks.

The spill has had significant emotional and psychological impacts with the shock and grief of witnessing this kind of disaster and the uncertain future of a cherished watershed. Chief Bev Sellars of the Xatsull First Nation told the media that many members of her band were in tears when they learned of Monday’s release. “Because they know the destruction that’s going to happen from this breach. It’s just a real sad day.”

The local community is also stressed by the immediate loss of the 300 jobs at the mine and the uncertainty about when or if the mine will reopen.

The financial costs of cleaning up the spill will be considerable and are estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Mining companies are required to post financial assurances with the province for routine clean up costs at the end of a mine’s operating life; unfortantely these costs are not made public. A report by University of Victoria Environmental Law Clinic indicates that these amounts may not be sufficient for routine mine closure – let alone a major disaster like this. Imperial Metals admitted that its insurance is not likely to cover all the costs with the President stating: “I made the commitment, to the best of my ability. If it’s $400 million, then we are going to have to get mines generating to make that money to do the cleanup. We don’t have $400 million in the bank, so we’ll have to make that to do it.”

If Imperial does not fund the clean-up citizens will be left with the financial, environmental and social costs of the spill.

What could have caused the failure?

Tailings in an impoundment like the one at Mount Polley remain saturated so they have little to hold them together, and a breach in the impoundment means the water and solids flow together out of the impoundment and then downstream. It does not require a large breach to start this process, so Imperial Metals’ statement that the portion of the impoundment that failed is relatively small compared to the total length of the dam is totally irrelevant.

Catastrophic (sudden and severe) failure is an inherent risk of large tailings dams. The risks increase with the size and height of the impoundment and the amount of water relative to the solids kept in the impoundment. As Andrew Nikiforuk points out, as we exploit lower and lower concentrations of minerals, tailings impoundments are growing larger and larger and more and more risky.

In addition to the water from processing the ore, large tailings facilities also accumulate rainwater. If it does not evaporate, excess water must be released to maintain the impoundment, usually following treatment to remove contaminants such as heavy metals and suspended solids. Excess water that flows over the top of an impoundment is extremely dangerous as it can erode the impoundment wall, creating a gully that increases rapidly in size as ever more waste flows out of it. The weight of excess water also increases the pressure on the impoundment walls and destabilise them if there are any weaknesses.

Impoundments are built to the Canadian Dam Association’s standards and are, in theory, supposed to withstand extreme weather and seismic events. The Mount Polley impoundment was built in 1997, and it was evaluated and deemed secure by Amec consultants in 2004 before it was put back into use after the mine was closed for several years. There is no indication that any extreme weather or seismic activity contributed to the failure.

There are several lines of evidence that indicate that Imperial Metals amplified the inherent risks of a tailings impoundment by storing a large volume of water and allowing the water level to go beyond the modest one-metre buffer demanded by its provincial permit. The CBC reportedthat the B.C. Ministry of Environment gave five warnings to the company about the amount of water in the impoundment. The Minister of Energy and Mines disputed this statement, noting that there was only one incident in May of this year and that it was dealt with quickly by the company pumping excess water into a mined out pit.

The engineering firm responsible for the initial construction and oversight of the impoundment up to 2011 issued a statement saying that it also cautioned the company and BC that the embankments and impoundment were “getting large and it is extremely important that they be monitored, constructed and operated properly to prevent problems in the future”.

A former mine employee spoke to the media, stating that the water was being kept too high and there were previous breaches to the impoundment. If high water was a reoccurring problem and regulators gave the company a series of warnings rather than taking stronger measures, a serious failure of the regulatory system occurred.

Imperial requested a discharge permit to release more water from the impoundment in 2009 but did not provide a satisfactory plan to do so. Another application to discharge was being processed at the time of the spill. The 2011 report jointly commissioned by neighbouring First Nations and Imperial focussed on the discharge issue and provided a number of recommendations to Imperial about how to proceed. From the available information it seems clear that Imperial continued building the impoundment walls higher rather than dealing with the water. The former employee also noted a failure to increase the width of the base of the impoundment to stabilize it as the height increased.

In his critical editorial in the Northern Miner, John Cumming, made a point of noting that Imperial Metals is a member of Canada’s mining establishment not some rogue fly by night operation. It’s also a member of the Mining Association of Canada and has been implementing the Association’s Tailings Management Program as part of the Towards Sustainable Mining Initiative. MiningWatch has repeatedly asserted that such voluntary management approaches are inadequate to deal with the risks associated with mining.

Mining engineer and I Think Mining blogger Jack Caldwell summed up his observations of  the available evidence this way: “I suspect it failed because there was too much water in the dam, the corner gave way, an upstream slide occurred, and the disaster ensued. They are saying nobody could have anticipated this. Rubbish. It was entirely predictable given the facts.”

Could this happen at other sites?

This is the largest tailings spill in Canadian history but certainly not the first. Just last year, on October 31, 670 million litres of coal slurry spilled from an impoundment at the Obed coal mine into the Athabasca River near Hinton, Alberta. The Coalition Québec meilleure mine hasdocumented many smaller recent spills in that province.

Whenever we have the combination of an inherently risky waste management option, combined with lax government and a company that pushes the risk boundaries, we are likely to have another failure.

The other crucial issue about tailings impoundments is that they remain on the landscape forever. As Water Matters’ Bill Donahue pointed outto the CBC, impoundments may be portrayed as a final solution, but they are not. If left on the landscape forever, the likelihood of failure eventually approaches certainty.

What are the alternatives to tailings impoundments?

Disposing tailings slurry into an impoundment is not the only way to manage the millions of tonnes of waste generated by modern-day mining. Some mines, mostly underground mines extracting smaller volumes of ore, backfill exploited areas with tailings – a safe and sound option. Drying tailings or turning them to a paste that then hardens and dries are two other options. All these options add costs to mining operations, and so are not favoured by corporate interests focussed on the bottom line. They also have their own technical challenges. See our Mine Waste Primer for more.

An option that must also be considered is simply not mining a particular deposit. Where ecological and social risks are high and the economics don’t allow for a more secure longer-term solution, not mining remains the only guaranteed way to keep tailings out of streams, rivers, and lakes.

Addtional Links

Video: Helicopter Fly Over by Global News (2 min)

Video: Helicopter Fly Over by Cariboo Regional District (37 min)

BC Ministry of Environment Incident Page

Union of BC Indian Chiefs Statement

Adventure Stories of the North

Many adventurers have gotten their start or have close ties to Ely area and the BWCA. Come hear their stories and how the wilderness has inspired their feats.  All presentations are free and open to the public.

Don’t miss this exciting series every Thursday night this August.
6:30 PM
Vermilion Community College Theater

August 7:  Lindsey Lee–Circumnavigating Lake Superior
August 14:  Paul Schurke and Dave Freeman–Rio Roosevelt Expedition
August 21:  Suellen Sack and Outward Bound Staff–Adventure Stories
August 28:  Tyler Fish–Catlin Arctic Survey

Hiring Part-Time Bookkeeper/Admin Assistant

Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness is growing and we need more help.  We are currently looking for a part-time Bookkeeper and Administrative Assistant in Ely.

The ideal candidate should have basic bookkeeping skills, be familiar with Quickbooks and capable of accurate data entry in our donor management software.

We expect this position to work 3-5 hours per week, with the potential for increased duties/hours in the future.

Please call 218-365-7808 or email us at sustainely@nmworg.org if you are interested.

PolyMet Action Alert 1/7/2014

CITIZEN COMMENTS ON POLYMET SUPPLEMENTAL DRAFT ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT (SDEIS)

Public Comments and Request for Extension of Comment Period

Citizens may comment on the PolyMet SDEIS to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in writing during the current 90-day comment period, which ends March 13, 2014, and at three public meetings to be held in January 2014.  Information about submitting written comments and about the meeting dates and locations is set forth below.

NMW and many other organizations and individuals view the 90-day comment period as insufficient.  The co-lead agencies (DNR, US Forest Service, and US Army Corps of Engineers) took more than three years to prepare the SDEIS, which is over 2100 pages in length.  Ninety days is insufficient time for the public to study, analyze, and comment on such a complex document.  Accordingly, please write to the co-lead agencies to request that the comment period be extended to 180 days; guidance for making such a request is set forth below.

Suggestions for Comments:  Tell the State of Minnesota That (1) The SDEIS is Inadequate, and (2) This Destructive Project Must Not Proceed

NMW suggests that you tell the DNR that because of

(i)  the widespread and severe environmental damage inherent in the PolyMet project, and

(ii) the failure of the SDEIS to include a cost/benefit analysis and specific provisions regarding amounts and sources of financial assurance,

the only appropriate decision is to select the No-Action Alternative in the SDEIS.   The PolyMet project should not be allowed to proceed.

IN YOUR COMMENTS, PLEASE EMPHASIZE THE FOLLOWING:

The Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement is Inadequate

Economic Impacts

  • The SDEIS contains no cost/benefit analysis of the PolyMet mine.
  • The SDEIS does not say whether wages paid to mine employees will stay in Minnesota or whether they will go primarily to transient employees who will spend only a fraction of their income in Minnesota.  The SDEIS does not discuss the impact of the loss of jobs when the price of copper declines and mining becomes unprofitable, although it acknowledges that such job loss is inevitable: “Mining-related employment is volatile and fluctuates from year to year due to the market price of commodities being extracted.”  SDEIS, 4-325—4-326. The SDEIS fails to assess the cost of unemployment benefits and other social services, increased crime rates, and other societal costs associated with volatility in employment.
  • The model used to calculate the alleged economic benefits of the mine does not take into account the costs to the environment; the displacement of other economic activity, including among other things tribal rights to hunt, fish, and gather under the 1854 Treaty; the infrastructure, government, and social service costs resulting from the mining; and the consequences of the unpredictable influx and outflow of mine employees.
  • What would be the costs for public infrastructure, lost opportunities to engage in other economic activities incompatible with mining, depressed real estate values, lost recreational opportunities, social upheaval, and perpetual clean-up that the public would be required to bear?

Permanent Water Pollution

  • PolyMet admits that water pollution by sulfuric acid and heavy metals will last for at least 500 years.
  • Not all of the polluted water will be captured for treatment.
    • Annually, 11 million gallons of polluted seepage from the tailings basin will enter     groundwater without being treated.
    • Annually, 5 million gallons of polluted seepage from the mine site will enter groundwater without being treated.
    • The SDEIS fails to adequately assess the long-term impacts of the pollution resulting from the release of this untreated water.
    • The computer model used by PolyMet may understate the actual pollution impact, because it has been shown to be inaccurate in representing current conditions for water quality around the mine site.

Absence of Planning for Inevitable Accidents and Failures

  • The SDEIS fails to provide contingency plans for the kinds of failures and mishaps that routinely occur in mining operations.  During operations, at least 6.2 million gallons of polluted water would need to be treated every day.  Pipeline spills, accidental releases, failure of water collection and treatment infrastructure, and tailings basins failures are virtual certainties. And because the provisions regarding financial assurance are so plainly inadequate (see below), the SDEIS does not tell us how the costs of responding to such failures will be covered.
  • The SDEIS provides no details on the impacts to water quality, wildlife, or human health if the water treatment system ceases operations at some time during the 500+ years during which the polluted water is being discharged.

The Mine Plan Requires an Absurd and Unachievable Level of Monitoring and Maintenance for Many Centuries

  • Minnesota Rules 6132.3200 requires that the site must be maintenance-free at closure, but the PolyMet mining plan calls for at least 500 years of active water treatment.
  • 526 acres of land, covered by more than 167 million tons of waste rock, would be covered by a plastic sheet and surrounded by a system that would supposedly collect contaminated seepage. All would require monitoring and maintenance constantly for hundreds of years to fix leaks, repair perforations, and remove deep-rooted plants.
  • A mining pit “lake” would require pumping to prevent the toxic brew of acid and heavy metals  from spilling into the nearby Partridge River, and a tailings basin pond would require pumping to prevent spillage into tributaries of the Embarrass River.
  • The polluted water collection system, which includes miles of pipes, would require monitoring and maintenance for centuries.

Financial Assurance is Inadequate and Not Credible; The Taxpayers Could Be Left with Enormous Clean-Up Costs; Polluted, Devastated Water and Land; and Economic Disaster

The SDEIS contains no credible information about the actual cost of monitoring, maintaining, and replacing the equipment needed to treat polluted water for 500 years or more.  It provides no details about the nature or guarantees of a financial assurance scheme that would remain viable for 500 years, yet it does acknowledge, disturbingly, the possibility of events such as “unanticipated liabilities” and “failure or limitations on the ability of third parties to pay.”  It does not attempt to explain how a corporate entity could realistically be held accountable over such an absurdly long period of time.

  • Finally, even though the SDEIS admits that water pollution will last for a minimum of 500 years, its financial assurance section is an exercise in generalities.  The actual cost of water treatment, monitoring, maintenance, repair, and reclamation is completely unknowable.  The SDEIS says that PolyMet estimates initial closure costs of up to $200 million, with post-closure monitoring and maintenance costs of up to $6 million annually.  The Grand Portage Band of Ojibway concluded that PolyMet’s numbers are vastly below the actual amounts required.  The Grand Portage Band calculates that the minimum amount that should be set aside for financial assurance at the outset, assuming a 3% return on the amount, is $90.5 billion.

PLEASE SEND YOUR COMMENTS TO THE DNR:

By e-mail:                                                    By regular mail:
NorthMetSDEIS.dnr@state.mn.us              Lisa Fay, EIS Project Manager
 Include your name and legal mailing         DNR Division of Ecological and Water Resources
 address with your e-mailed comments     Environmental Review Unit
                                                                    500 Lafayette Road, Box 25
                                                                    St. Paul, MN 55155-4025

 

ATTEND A PUBLIC MEETING IN JANUARY 2014

Thursday, January 16
Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center–DECC
350 Harbor Dr.
Duluth, MN 55802
Wednesday, January 22
Mesabi East High School
601 N. 1st St.
Aurora, MN 55705
Thursday, January 28
St. Paul RiverCentre
175 W. Kellogg Blvd
St. Paul, MN 55102

Schedule for all three public meetings:

5:00 PM Open House

6:45 – 10:00 PM formal presentation and public comment period

REQUEST AN EXTENSION OF THE COMMENT PERIOD TO 180 DAYS:

Below is a sample letter prepared by the non-profit organization Water Legacy that asks that the comment period be extended to 180 days.  The letter and a link for submitting such a letter by e-mail are available on Water Legacy’s website:  http://www.waterlegacy.org/. On the home page, scroll down to the link entitled  Ask for an Extended Public Comment Period…

Lisa Fay, EIS Project Manager
DNR Division of Ecological and Water Resources
Environmental Review Unit
500 Lafayette Road, Box 25
St. Paul, MN 55155-4025

 

Douglas W. Bruner
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
180 Fifth Street East, Suite 700
St. Paul, MN 55101-1638
 
Tim Dabney
Deputy Forest Supervisor
Superior National Forest
8901 Grand Avenue Place
Duluth, MN 55808

Dear Ms. Fay, Mr. Bruner, Mr. Dabney:

I’m writing to request that you increase the length of the comment period for the PolyMet NorthMet Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) from 90 days to 180 days. Please listen to the community – there is too much at stake to rush this.

Please also consider rescheduling the public meetings proposed for January 2014 so that they take place later in the comment period. At the very least, please provide an additional public meeting toward the end of the extended comment period in May 2014. PolyMet and the agencies have had more than seven years to put together the PolyMet SDEIS. Yet, you are expecting the public to read everything and be ready to speak up about the project after just a few weeks, just after the winter holidays. This isn’t fair or reasonable.

Here are some reasons why we need more time to comment and to prepare for public meetings:

* The SDEIS is too long. The SDEIS is 2,169 pages long. It is neither clear nor concise. In places, it is internally inconsistent. In others, it only makes sense after reading additional technical documents.

* The SDEIS is not written so that members of the public can understand it. The SDEIS is confusing and repeats the same information over and over without providing the basis for its conclusions. It’s going to take a lot of work just to make sense of what it is saying.

* The SDEIS doesn’t explain some of the most important issues. The SDEIS does not explain why other alternatives that could reduce pollution and impacts on wetlands weren’t analyzed. No data is provided to support the level of financial assurance proposed.

* The SDEIS is often one-sided. Well-documented tribal “Major Differences of Opinion” call into question many of the main points in the SDEIS, like claims that mine pits, waste rock piles, and tailings heaps won’t seep pollution; that mining won’t dry out wetlands; and that mercury contamination of fish and other toxic chemicals won’t increase.

* The SDEIS doesn’t allow members of the public to find or check on the references claimed to support the SDEIS conclusions. The SDEIS has a long list of references, but they were not made available to the public. How can we tell if the conclusions in the SDEIS make sense?

* The SDEIS comment period and public meetings come at the worst possible time. Release of the SDEIS right before the winter holidays and scheduling public meetings in January (when bad weather is likely) seem designed to make it hard for us to both review the documents and to travel to hearings.

The PolyMet NorthMet sulfide mine proposal is very controversial, and there is a lot of mistrust about whether government decision-makers are really interested either in the science or the financial risk of the proposal, let alone what the public has to say.

Extending the SDEIS comment period to 180 days and setting public meetings later in the comment period would go a long way to reassure us that the PolyMet sulfide mine project will receive a fair evaluation and that opinions of Minnesota citizens, not just the interest of foreign corporations, will matter when the government makes its decisions.

Action Alert

The U.S. Forest Service is currently taking comments on the scope of environmental review for the Twin Metals hydrogeological well-drilling program. Twin Metals proposes to drill more than 100 wells in the South Kawishiwi area to assess area hydrogeology in preparation for mining.

Please tell the Forest Service:
The well-drilling program is spread across lands of many different types of ownership and jurisdiction; although only 13 wells are subject to U.S. Forest Service approval at this time, all will have impacts on the local environment.

  • The impacts of all well-drilling across all jurisdictions must be considered together in one document;

Several federal environmental reviews have been or are being conducted by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for mining related activities in this area. These include the recent Hard Rock Prospecting Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), an Environmental Assessment (EA) for BLM mineral lease renewals, and an Environmental Assessment A for bulk sampling. In addition, many prospecting and drilling activities are being conducted under the jurisdiction of the State of Minnesota, most of which have been subject to no environmental review at all.

  • All of these actions are connected, and their cumulative environmental impacts must be considered together in one document.

Drilling and traffic noise will affect the wilderness experience within the BWCAW, and will affect recreational experiences over a large area within the Superior National Forest. Noise due to the hydrogeological drilling project will add to noise that has already been permitted by the Forest Service and the State for exploratory drilling projects. Wilderness visitors and guides have already noticed the increase in noise.

  • The additive impacts of various mining-related activities must be considered together in one document.

Any sulfide-ore mining that will drain to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness presents an unacceptable risk to the nation’s most popular wilderness area and the irreplaceable waters, forest, wildlife, and tranquility that make it what it is. Although we agree that a hydrogeological study must be done prior to permitting a mine,

  • no additional mining-related activities should be approved until an ecological risk assessment is prepared. The federal government should assess the alternative of excluding any sulfide mining from the Boundary Waters watershed.

Moose have disappeared from much of their former range in Minnesota, and their numbers are dwindling rapidly. Many biologists believe that moose will disappear from Minnesota in a matter of years if actions to help them are not taken immediately. The increase in noise, new roads, traffic, and human activity accompanying prospecting, well-drilling, and mining will severely impact moose habitat and will affect the viability of moose in Minnesota.

In addition to wildlife species considered in the Hardrock Mining EIS, the Forest Service must consider the impacts of mine prospecting and hydrogeological assessment activities on moose and moose habitat.

How to submit comments:
Submit your comments to the Forest Service by November 21, 2013. Note that all comments will become part of the public record, including names and addresses. Use any of the following methods:

  • On line: Submit electronic comments using the Forest Service’s on-line form at: https://cara.ecosystem-management.org/Public/CommentInput?project=40756
  • E-mail: E-mail comments to: comments-eastern-superior-kawishiwi@fs.fed.us
  • U.S. Mail: Mailed comments should include your name, address, and the reference “Twin Metals MN Hydrogeologic Study.”

Address comments to: Forest Supervisor Brenda Halter
Attn: TMM Hydrogeologic Study Comments
Superior National Forest
8901 Grand Ave. Place
Duluth, MN 55808

  • In person: Oral or written comments may be submitted at the Forest Supervisor’s Office at 8901 Grand Ave. Place, Duluth, MN 55808 during normal business hours (8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday).
  • By telephone: Call the project leader at (218) 626-4382, or by FAX at (218) 626-4398.