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PolyMet Receives Final Permit

Updated: March 22, 2019 06:49 PM

PolyMet says it has received the final permit needed for its planned copper-nickel mine in northeastern Minnesota.

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The mining company said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued its Record of Decision and Section 404 wetlands permit for the project on Friday.

"We're so excited that this is the first copper-nickel mine that's fully permitted in the history in that State of Minnesota," said CEO Jon Cherry in a phone interview Friday morning. "Now that we have the permits in hand, we can go through the final parts of the project financing, so that we can have the resources to go ahead and build the project."

The permit deals with how PolyMet will mitigate the project's effects on wetlands. The Corps says the project will impact 500 fewer acres of wetlands compared with PolyMet's original proposal.

"Our employees, shareholders, Iron Rangers, labor and business partners all share in this historic achievement," Cherry, said in a news release. "They have steadfastly believed in, worked tirelessly toward and provided unwavering support for this project for so long."

Environmentalists had voiced concerns the project would create a permanent pollution source in nearby waters. John Doberstein with Duluth for Clean Water says they were not surprised by the news, but still disappointed. 

"You've got DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr who oversaw the DNR permits. He's now advocating against this type of mining, saying it's too dangerous just in a different watershed and we're also very concerned about EPA comments being surpressed with the MPCA comments," said Doberstein.

He says they also have questions about the Glencore corporation. Friday, Polymet also entered into an extension agreement with them and say their immediate goal is to address the Glencore debt.

"Is this a corporation that we should be inviting into Minnesota to trust with our water with our future tax dollars and with our environment," said he added.

As for the project, Cherry says they've already started prep work.

"We've done some asbestos abatament work at the existing plant site. We ahve done some geo-techinical investigations. We've installed some monitoring wells," said Cherry.

"This has been a very carefully weighed decision," Col. Sam Calkins, commander of the St. Paul District, said in a statement. "Our regulatory staff have worked extensively with the federal and state resources agencies, federally recognized Tribes, environmental organizations and the applicant. We are confident that we have identified an appropriately balanced alternative and proffered a permit that will allow access to an important mineral resource, while maximizing protection to natural resources including wetlands."

Minnesota regulators issued the other key permits for the project last year, but the mine still faces court challenges that could hold it up.

Appeals are still a real possibility, but Polymet says they don't anticipate that any of those legal challenges will effect their ability to obtain construction financing, or otherwise continue to move the project forward.   

A timeline will be determined once they are further into the the financing process. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2019 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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