DNR to hold hearing Monday on permit for proposed copper nickel mine

A hearing is scheduled to be held Monday on a key permit for a project that would be the first copper nickel mine in Minnesota.

It’s known as the NorthMet project, by mining company PolyMet. The mine would be located in the headwaters of the St. Louis River, and the permit to mine calls for the company to create a dam that would store waste rock left behind after processing out metals.

The hearing will focus on whether a clay called bentonite will effectively work to create the dam.

Monday’s hearing will be held in St. Paul starting at 9:45 a.m.

The open-pit mine would be near the Iron Range town of Babbitt with the processing plant a few miles away near Hoyt Lakes. The company says the mine would create hundreds of jobs while supplying metals that the U.S. economy needs.

PolyMet has had to fight for multiple permits for the proposed mine. As previously reported in April of 2021, regulators suspended the company’s wetlands permit, which meant five major permits for the projected were then stayed or under review.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stayed the wetlands permit it issued to PolyMet so the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could review whether the mining project will negatively affect the Fond du Lac Band reservation water quality.

In December of 2021, the air permit was reaffirmed for the project by regulators, who said the company didn’t provide misleading information on its plans. That permit had gone through the state court system, including the Minnesota Supreme Court and back to the Appeals Court.

The next month, an appeals court said it wanted more analysis done on a water discharge permit for the proposed mine. According to the decision, judges believed the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) “erred by not properly considering whether the federal Clean Water Act applies to any future discharges from PolyMet’s facility to groundwater.”

However, the decision from the judges states they found “no reversible error” in regard to other aspects of the permit.

Earlier this year, an order signed by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland closed more than 350 square miles of the Superior National Forest in the Rainy River Watershed to mineral a geothermal leasing for 20 years.

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