A massive proposal to mine for copper and other metals in Northern Minnesota underwent exactly the amount of public debate at two meetings last week that government agencies had planned for: none, according to Lake Superior Mining News. Citizens wishing to speak on PolyMet Mining’s plans did their business with a stenographer in a small room, while politicians backing the plan held forth in the main hall.
This is how the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) describes the project: “PolyMet Mining, Inc. proposes to develop an open pit mine and to refurbish and modify the former LTV Steel Mining taconite ore processing facility to extract copper metal and precipitates of nickel, cobalt and precious metals near Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes in northeastern Minnesota.”
The project promises 400 jobs lasting 20 years. The impact on the environment could be more permanent.
“It would be the largest single wetlands impact that the St. Paul office has permitted,” said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project manager Jon Ahlness, according to the Tower Timberjay News. He was referring to the Corps’ St. Paul District, which covers 139,000 square miles including most of Minnesota, western Wisconsin, northeastern North Dakota, and small parts of South Dakota and Iowa.
The project has major political backing from U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, as well as state Sens. David Tomassoni and Tom Bakk and state Rep. Tom Rukavina, who gave speeches at the meetings. (Rukavina and Bakk are candidates for governor.)
PolyMet also enjoys paid help from people who have held state posts, including former state Pollution Control Agency (PCA) commissioner Brad Moore and former deputy PCA commissioner Ann Glumac.
But with that much political weight on one side, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Corps opted to hold the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) meetings without an exchange of views.
“To have a public meeting where the public doesn’t get to comment is really a boneheaded move,” Rukavina said, according to the Duluth News Tribune. The Timberjay News quoted Rukavina as telling the crowd in Aurora, “That decision was a screw-up on somebody’s part. … If I was governor, people would have been able to talk tonight.”
Alan Muller, writing at the Twin Cities Daily Planet’s Free Speech Zone, names a couple responsible parties:
More and more, agencies tend to use consultants to structure meetings to get the results they want. The consultant in this case is Mariann Johnson of MT Johnson Associates of Minneapolis. Ms. Johnson works in the field of “conflict resolution.” She didn’t want to discuss details, but said “we proposed a number of options,” and the decision was made by senior DNR leadership. Maybe the clearest explanation came from Corps. project manager Jon Ahlness: “The purpose of the meetings is for the public to give comments to the agencies, not for the public to give comments to each other.”
The public comment period on PolyMet’s EIS ends Feb. 3; mining could begin within months.