Sand, land and land stewardship

For longer than I can remember, my family has taken the same route from our farm in southeast Minnesota to visit my grandparents in north-central Wisconsin. The first leg of the four-hour trip takes us across the Mississippi River and through the farmland, pastures and rolling, wooded hills of Trempealeau and Jackson Counties. The landmarks and scenery along every mile of the route have become deeply familiar to us over countless trips in all seasons. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | It’s a whopper: PolyMet’s myth of 99.38% tailings seepage collection

In January, the Ely Timberjay broke the story that PolyMet’s Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) had a problem; its water flow modeling was flawed. Definitely a big problem when the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) seriously underestimated the amount of water available to transport pollutants. Perhaps a show-stopping problem; the DNR is not talking. The Tribes have been saying for years that water flow numbers were wrong.The DNR’s troubles have just begun. PolyMet’s SDEIS has yet another flaw. Continue Reading

Trust me: Polymet comment period was too short

What can you do in 90 days? You can grow your fingernails about a third of an inch in 90 days. In 90 days, the average American will drink 144 cups of coffee. And if you had the time to read 25 pages a day of dense technical material, you could read the entire Polymet Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement, or SDEIS. You might just need that coffee. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | Saving our lake country

Over a century ago, on February 13, 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt signed a proclamation creating the Superior National Forest.On the 75th Anniversary of the Superior National Forest’s inception I wrote about the origins of my love for northern Minnesota in the Naturalist Magazine. I wrote about “places of deep blue waters, rugged shoreline and sunsets that envelop the soul.”“…There was one summer night, long past the time of the sun, when the water was dark but the sky was covered with a bright lacing of stars. Light from my little cabin touched the lake with a long reaching glimmer; pine stretched upward into the night sky, and from somewhere in distant reaches came that familiar haunting cry of the loon. I stepped into the water and slowly walked out toward the depths. When I was well within the cool lake I swam forward into the darkness where water and air are separated only by feeling…”Almost exactly 105 years after Roosevelt created the Superior National Forest, we are about to destroy it.If PolyMet is permitted our lake country will be gone, as we know itThe Star Tribune recently printed results from its Minnesota Poll. Continue Reading

OPINION | Important concerns remain unaddressed for PolyMet

As Minnesota precedes in evaluating PolyMet’s proposed copper-nickel mining project, a number of pressing issues still need to be resolved with respect to how much – and what kind – of financial assurance would be necessary to mitigate long-term environmental impacts. This became clear at a recent House Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance Committee hearing.Under Minnesota law, PolyMet must offer some form of “financial assurance” during the permitting stage to ensure it can cover the costs of mine closure and any ongoing treatment or environmental remediation required as a result of mining operations. The process is designed to protect taxpayers from having to shoulder those costs, and is crucial given the possible duration of associated impacts – up to 500 years, according to the project’s environmental impact statement.During the hearing, Committee members heard testimony from the DNR, PolyMet, and members of the public, many of whom were representing organizations. Attitudes toward financial assurance seemed to fall into one of three camps: those who supported the financial assurance process, those who rejected it outright, and those who didn’t feel they had enough information about the project to decide either way.Mining and construction industries representatives argued that Minnesota’s financial assurance process is sound, that the DNR should be trusted to determine an acceptable level and type of financial assurance, and that technology can prevent and mitigate environmental damage from mining activities, which would ultimately be financially beneficial for the state.On the other end of the spectrum, some representatives from environmental organizations and a few private citizens noted that no amount of money (either in the form of financial assurance or profit from the mine) could render acceptable the long-term environmental devastation that would be wrought by hard-rock mining. One testifier stated it was “patently absurd” to assume any mechanism put in place today could address costs incurred 500 years from now. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | It’s time to put PolyMet on the shelf

Take a deep breath, Minnesota public.  The Supplementary Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) for PolyMet’s proposed copper-nickel sulfide mine is available for public review through March 13, 2014. At stake is whether the state will uphold a project whose own modeling shows that the mine would require at least 500 years of water treatment after closure. Despite public astonishment and outcry, PolyMet and the agencies claim that 500 years of treatment is nothing out of the ordinary.Where is our leadership?When the only jobs that our political and business leaders can promote are those in which the workers will sacrifice the environment for future generations, then Minnesota has a deficit of responsible and ethical leadership. Is it right to put our water resources at risk, when clean water is a main requirement for survival?  Is it right to accept a project because it “minimizes risks,” when those risks will impact generations long after we are long gone.Financial AssuranceOh but,  the agencies and mining companies claim, there will be financial assurance to make sure that there is money available to treat water pollution that would peak in 500 years.So what is the cheapest amount of financial assurance that the mining company can get by with? You can bet your bottom dollar that it would be an amount negotiated to insure that Glencore-Xstrata,  the largest single investor in PolyMet,  doesn’t  threaten to back out. And after the 20 year projected life span of the mine,  who’s going to be counting anyway?  Plus, the majority of the current agency personnel will be retired in 20 years.  So who will be around to check on PolyMet in 20 years, let alone 200?Financial assurance also ignores a basic fact. Continue Reading