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“Fool Me Twice” author Shawn Otto explains importance of science

Shawn Otto, speaking to Ely Tuesday Group on April 8, 2014, explained the importance of science in our lives and the political decision-making process. As he wrote in his book “Fool Me Twice,” Mr. Otto suggests our politicians debate important issues facing us and all of mankind, including energy, education, water, the environment, health, climate change, and scientific integrity. It would be difficult not to reach the same conclusion as he, that “Leaving these challenges unaddressed takes from Americans the full measure of health, wonder, freedom, and prosperity we might otherwise secure with the help of science and exposes our lands, waters, and bodies to disease and destruction.” Mr. Otto felt so strongly about the importance of science in National discourse that he created the website for American Science Debate www.ScienceDebate.org and has started a drive to get politicians to sign a pledge to debate “The 14 Top Science Questions Facing America.”

Pro-Mining meeting in Ely, MN featuring James Skurla and Tommy Rukavina

Approximately 35 pro-mining advocates met Wed. March 5, 2014 at Amici’s in Ely, MN to promote and discuss the benefits of mining in Minnesota. The main speaker was James Skurla from the University of Minnesota Duluth who presented his report on The Economic Impact of Ferrous and Non-Ferrous Mining.  Unfortunately, the title of his talk is a misnomer.  Mr. Skurla quickly points out that his study was not a cost benefits analysis, but that this type of economic study is useful none the less.  And, he is correct a benefits analysis is useful when comparing multiple projects.  This however is a Benefits analysis only with no other competing projects or alternative options for comparison.  A true Cost/Benefits analysis of hard  rock mining can be seen here: Dr. Power’s Cost/Benefits analysis of hard rock mining.

There were four speakers at this event, sponsored by Up North Jobs, Ely Echo, & Mining Minnesota.  James Skurla, Tommy Rukavina, Jay Maki, and Bill Erzar.  Due to the length of the overall program each speaker will be presented here in order of appearance at the meeting.

James Skurla, U of M Duluth

Representative Tommy Rukavian

Ely Resident Jay Maki

Ely Resident Bill Erzar

The facts presented by these individuals is definately not in question.  The declining population, declining school enrollment, and non optimal economic conditions in Ely is well understood by all.  The fact that the Taconite industry has contributed GREATLY to the state and local communities specifically is WITHOUT doubt.

The solution to Ely’s problems is or should be up for debate and we would agree with Bill Erzar that it would be best if we all worked together to do so.  The belief that Non-Ferrous mining in this region could be the panacea for all ills and will be done in an environmentally safe manner is an unproven  unscientific belief and should be open for discussion.  We all should demand  the mining companies PR and promises be proven scientifically beyond all reasonable doubt.  Designing and building a project based on belief, hoping to patch any errors as we go, is a certain recipe for disaster especially in Non-Ferrous mining.

Ely Citizens Discuss the Polymet Copper Sulfide Ore Project Feb. 24, 2014

Aaron Klemz, Communications Director for Friends of the Boundary Waters, led a lively community discussion in Ely, MN about the Polymet Copper Sulfide Ore mining project, February 24, 2014. As with any community discussion, especially an emotionally charged issue like sulfide mining, it is sometimes difficult to effectively distinguish facts from beliefs, especially long and strongly held beliefs that now have become facts for some. However, in this meeting Aaron shows why he is the Communications Director by artfully and respectfully staying on point by directing discussion toward meaningful issues we should all know about if we are to make proper decisions regarding the Polymet Project. Thanks Aaron!

Polymet 101 or The essentials of Copper Sulfide Mining Revisited-A Summary Todate

Published in the Zenith City Weekly, Vol. 8 Issue 114 on Feb. 11, 2014 by Anne Stewart
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Compare the Polymet 101 Summary with what we knew in 2008 VCC Panel Discusion

Anne Stewart
Zenith City Weekly

After PolyMet released its latest plans on December 6, an estimated 3,650 people attended public hearings in Duluth, St. Paul, and Aurora, to comment on the 2,200–page Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS).

The Canadian–owned company produced the SDEIS with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the US Army Corps of Engineers, and the US Forest Service, after the Environmental Protection Agency rejected the first plan in 2010 for unsatisfactory water quality, wetlands impact, and failure to address clean–up costs once the mine closes.

The company is seeking permits to build a mine with three open pits, the deepest reaching 696 feet, on 16,700 acres at the former LTV site near Hoyt Lakes. The project includes refurbishing LTV’s processing plant and building a “hydrometallurgical facility” for extracting nickel, cobalt, and other precious metals.

PolyMet would process 73,068 tons of rock per day—225 million tons of ore and 308 million tons of waste rock over the life of the project. “Tailings,” a slurry of fine–particle waste suspended in water, would be deposited on top of LTV’s old tailings basin.

A coalition of the Bois Forte, Grand Portage, and Fond du Lac Chippewa Bands, the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, and the 1854 Treaty Authority was invited to be a cooperating agency in the preparation of the SDEIS.

In their response, included as Appendix C, the Bands address 18 areas of concern and reiterate their rights under the 1854 Treaty of La Pointe to access ceded land for hunting, fishing, and ricing.

The Bands questioned predictive models for the amount of pollutants to be released, because the models were based on data from other sites, not on current water data from the project site and surrounding area.

The interaction of water flow between the mine and wetlands was also a concern. The company commissioned an aboveground survey, but didn’t study the type of rock or structure beneath the wetlands.

In the SDEIS, the Canisteo pit on the Mesabi Range is used as an “analogous model,” but the Bands pointed out that PolyMet’s pits would be twice as deep. “Thus the effect on surrounding aquifer would be greater” because the pits will reach twice as far into the bedrock, increasing the potential for groundwater pollution.

Then a DNR internal memo surfaced, dated December 13, suggesting the DNR knew all along that the modeling data were inaccurate and many of the mine’s water quality projections are tied to this data.

“This validates tribal science. Their concerns deserve a second look,” says Paula Maccabee, an environmental lawyer who first obtained the DNR memo and has been one of PolyMet’s most vocal critics. “What’s going to win here, science or politics?”

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA) impaired waters list includes streams within the PolyMet drainage area and identifies mercury in fish as the problem. In 2009, this became the subject of a “TMDL,” or “Total Maximum Daily Load,” which involves studying an impaired body of water, setting goals to remediate it, and then setting the maximum contaminants allowable to meet the goal.

The Fond du Lac Band, one of the TMDL participants, has accused the MPCA of effectively withdrawing from the study and “grinding it to a halt.” The MPCA maintains that the TMDL is “on hold,” because “modeling used was not sufficient to give the right answer” as to which contaminants are contributing to the high levels of mercury in fish tissue. Regarding the TMDL, the SDEIS says further study needs to be completed before “consideration can be given to permit conditions for individual projects.”

PolyMet’s potential contaminants include arsenic, manganese, sulfate, and heavy metals, such as lead. Contamination could continue for as long as 200 years at the mine site and 500 years at the plant site.

During operations, mine pit water will be treated with chemical precipitation, which involves introducing a chemical specific to each contaminant that causes it to drop out of the solution, or “precipitate.” The water will then be piped to the tailings basin, which will serve as a source of water for production along with water drawn from Colby Lake.

Process water will be recirculated and finally go through reverse osmosis, which uses a combination of electricity and a semi–permeable membrane to filter the water before it is discharged into nearby creeks.

The waste from water treatment will be hauled offsite to a landfill. Hydrometallurgical residue will be deposited on–site. When the mine closes, the residue will be covered with tailings, soil, and “if necessary” with a clay barrier and polyethylene liner. The words “if necessary” appear often in the SDEIS.

The tailings basin and pit lake will have a containment system of dikes, dams, ditches, pumps, and pipes to collect water and return it to the tailings basin, one side of which is in bedrock that PolyMet maintains will not fracture because of the rock type.

Twenty years after closure, the west pit is predicted to overflow. Overflow water will be redirected back into the west pit and—”if necessary”—the mine site’s wastewater treatment facility would be upgraded to a reverse osmosis system.

Another form of on–site water treatment will be constructed wetlands, which remove heavy metals, but require monitoring indefinitely. Who will perform this monitoring is not addressed in the SDEIS.

Jennifer Saran, Director of Environmental Permitting and Compliance for PolyMet, says they can contract with a company that specializes in long–term monitoring. Details will be included in the reclamation plan submitted for closure.

Funding for long–term maintenance will be addressed in the “financial assurances”—PolyMet’s plan to pay for ongoing expenses after closure—but this, too, may not be addressed until closure nears.

According to the SDEIS, water treatment will continue “as long as…monitoring shows treatment is required.” Saran says the company hopes to transfer to a “passive, non–mechanical” system, in which mine site water will be directed by gravity to a permanent filtering system and then into the Partridge River.

Costs for closure and maintenance are $320 million for the first 20 years and $3.5 to $6 million per year for the next two to five centuries, equaling several billion dollars. Even if costs decrease and there is no inflation, PolyMet is making a long–term promise.

Glencore, a Swiss commodities company with a controlling stock interest in PolyMet, is the major financer of the mining company, which has no current income. If PolyMet goes out of business, it’s unclear whether Glencore would have any legal responsibility for long–term pollution control costs.

According to Paula Maccabee, “It’s an open question whether Glencore’s strategic partnership would be enough to create legal responsibility.”

While it makes sense to build a new mine at the site of a defunct one, PolyMet’s tailings will be deposited on top of the old LTV tailings basin, which has been leaking for years. In 2010, the site owner, Cliffs Erie, was ordered to collect and discharge the water.

PolyMet would incorporate the current discharge into its own containment and treatment system. Once Cliffs Erie’s discharge permits are transferred to PolyMet, PolyMet becomes responsible for the site.

However, PolyMet doesn’t yet own the land it wants to mine. PolyMet owns the underlying mineral leases, but the US Forest Service owns the surface rights. A land exchange between PolyMet and the Forest Service is crucial for the project to become a reality.

Some of the land PolyMet plans to exchange was purchased by PolyMet with mortgages from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, an agency created by the legislature to diversify the Iron Range economy and make it less dependent on mining.

The primary purpose of this land exchange, rather than a direct sale, is explicitly to sidestep the Weeks Act, which was enacted in 1911 to preserve waterways and prohibits the use or sale of land purchased under the Act for surface mining.

The land exchange trades 6,650 acres of Forest Service land for 6,722.5 acres from PolyMet. The largest parcel the Forest Service would receive is 4615.5 acres at Hay Lake near Biwabic. The rest are smaller tracts in the Superior National Forest.

The SDEIS describes these parcels as having low potential for minerals, although one of the tracts in Lake County is “subject to mineral reservation that includes the right to sink, cave, disturb or remove surface material.” All but one parcel has the mineral rights severed from the surface rights.

The land PolyMet would receive in exchange encompasses 53 percent of the “One Hundred Mile Swamp,” approximately 3,028 acres rated by the DNR as high in biodiversity.

When asked if the Weeks Act prohibition on mining will transfer to the acquired properties, Liz Schleif of the US Forest Service said yes, but titles still needed to be examined. Like much of the SDEIS, final details have not yet been determined.

In 2012, the Labovitz School of Business and Economics at the University of Minnesota Duluth conducted a study of “The Economic Impact of Ferrous and Non–Ferrous Mining on the State of Minnesota and the Arrowhead Region, including Douglas County, Wisconsin.”

Funded in large part by the mining industry, the results showed entirely positive economic outcomes from 20 years of mining jobs and associated economic activity. The study did not address potential effects on logging, recreation, tourism, or independent manufacturers and businesses.

It’s even possible that PolyMet will continue operations beyond the 20 years posited in the SDEIS. Future proposals now in the planning stages, such as Twin Metals and Tech Cominco, could eventually take over PolyMet’s processing plant, or PolyMet might identify and mine other locations itself.

Additional concerns noted in the SDEIS and/or among the comments of many participants in the Duluth, Aurora, and St. Paul public hearings include:

•Mining and other development have left only 18 narrow wildlife corridors on the Iron Range. The loss of a wetland corridor makes it particularly hard for aquatic species to migrate.
•Draw–down and reduction in water quality of Colby Lake, which is Hoyt Lakes’ source of drinking water.
•Contamination of nearby wells.
•The impact of sulfate discharge on wild rice.
•Mercury levels in humans and wildlife.
•Tailings basin failure due to unforeseen weather events, human error, or simply giving out due to age.
•”Amphibole fibers,” similar to asbestos and causes similar health concerns. Worker safety is not addressed in the SDEIS.
•Migrating waterfowl feeding in the pit lake, which will have a high acid content.
If the SDEIS is approved, PolyMet will then apply to various agencies for 15 or more permits, including the right to withdraw water from Colby Lake and a permit to mine (DNR); for the management, treatment, and/or discharge of water and air emissions (MPCA); and for on–site sewage disposal and an on–site water supply (Minnesota Department of Health).

The SDEIS process includes a public comment period, which is currently open until 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 13. Anyone may comment, but agency representatives ask that comments be specific to the SDEIS. The best approach is to select one area and provide specific, relevant experiences or data. Opinions without specific reference to the issues raised in the SDEIS will not be given serious weight.

The SDEIS can be viewed online or downloaded at www.dnr.state.mn.us/input/environmentalreview/polymet/index.html.

Comments may be emailed to NorthMetSDEIS.dnr@state.mn.us. Email submissions should include a full name and mailing address. Written comments may also be submitted to:

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

Anne Stewart is a freelance writer who lives near Ely. Canoeing, camping, and snowshoeing are high on her activity list. She has, in the past, given testimony questioning the wisdom of non–ferrous mining in northeastern Minnesota. Her writing has appeared in Boundary Waters Journal, Ely Summer & Winter Times, www.elyminnesota.com/blog and other local venues. In 2007, she published a children’s book, I Saw a Moose Today. Her website is AnneStewart.info.

“They (Polymet?) have the reputation of getting it right the first time!”

That statement is an exact quote from Minnesota Mining’s Frank Ongaro, made during a panel discussion at Vermilion Community College in 2008. That was before the dramatic failure of Polymet and its DEIS(Draft Environmental Impact Statement), which the EPA gave the worst rating possible.

If Polymet has an inkling of what they are doing why haven’t they been able to prove in the six years since 2008 that they truly can protect the environment in Northeastern Minnesota. The issues are the same today as they were in 2008 and Polymet is the reason.

This video points out how wrong Polymet is, how strongly the mining industry relies on high-pressure tactics and why we should never believe a pitch man or salesman when it’s obvious they are trying to sell us something. Polymet relied heavily on the fast-talking Frank Ongaro in 2008; now they are turning to the top pitchman in the stable, Polymet CEO John Cherry. Why should we believe him? We shouldn’t. The facts are that Polymet DID NOT get it right the first time! And they haven’t gotten it right this time.

In 2008, Ongaro mentioned “a lot of new technology … and advanced technology.” Of course he didn’t give details, just indicated there would be a lot of MAGIC happening with Polymet. Polymet’s magic has caused the delays in their project that they so vehemently decry. They have done very little to prove they will protect Northeastern Minnesota and Lake Superior, yet they continue to beg (with their Hollywood-style TV ads) us to believe they have something magical that no copper mining company has EVER achieved: environmental success, a non-polluting process.

Glencore the Beast – You should know about Glencore!

Glencore, a Swiss commodities company with a controlling stock interest in PolyMet, is the major financier of the mining company, which has no current income. Some say that it’s unclear whether Glencore would have any legal responsibility for long–term pollution control costs. However, it is quite clear that Glencore would not under any circumstances accept that type of liability, it’s not there STYLE or history.

Would you trust your valuable resources to Glencore? Check out the founder of Glencore, Marc Rich. This political intrigue and chicanery is more House of Cards than the TV series could hope to be, sorry Kevin.

Political Mayhem regarding Copper Mining for a region of Minnesota better known for clean air, beautiful lakes and recreational forests.

If you have even briefly studied the issues surrounding sulfide ore mining, an extremely toxic inefficient mining process at best, one wonders what politicians are thinking when they waffle about suggesting the environment will be protected while they mine, log and lease the hell out of these lands. Maybe the Smothers Brothers said it best in this short skit from the Craig Ferguson Show, The Smothers Brothers on Politics called “I Am a Pilot.”

Coming soon, we will revisit a panel discussion from 2008 held at Vermilion Community College here in Ely. Panelists were Nancy Schultz, Bob Tammen, Gary Glass and Mining Minnesota’s Frank Ongaro. Even in 2008 most of the substantive issues against mining in the Arrowhead were known and discussed. And, all of the pat answers we hear today from the pro mining side were presented. So, let’s go back to 2008 and see what sulfide mining promised and let’s see how they have performed so far. Spoiler alert…they failed.

DNR hold Listening Sessions about Polymet’s SDEIS across the Range

Their just isn't enough lipstick in the world for that pig.

Their just isn’t enough lipstick in the world for that pig.

Dill’s Solution to the Water Threat of Sulfide Ore Mining in the Duluth Complex

No Copper Mining in Duluth Complex

Dill’s Pickle & Solution

The late Jackpine Bob Cary, respected Ely elder, still speaks to us. Will we listen?

Sulfide Mining is a spitten mess.

Environmentally, “We,re a spitten mess!”

In 2002, Bob Cary spoke at Vermilion Community College. He was one of about 20 speakers in a series called “Speaking of Wilderness” sponsored by the Sigurd Olson Listening Point Foundation.  Mining, fishing, canoeing, Knife Lake, local Native American elders, the Ojibwa language (which he studied in his later years and could speak, as best a white man can), and what we are doing to the environment, were all covered. His conclusion that ‘We’re a spittin mess!” could only be argued against by a Tea Party Republican or an Iron Range Mining activist.  What would Jackpine Bob Cary have to say about Sulfide Ore mining in the Arrowhead region of Minnesota.  I doubt that it would be any different, “We’re a spittin mess.

Watch and listen to this Ely elder.