The headwaters of the St Louis watershed detailed for this certification are designated Outstanding Resource Value Waters (ORVWs). Lake Superior downstream is a restricted Outstanding International Resource… Read more “PolyMet draft 401 Certification comments due March 16, 2018”
Creative expression is an essential ingredient in all of our lives and it stems from a love of beauty in all its forms. Without this where… Read more “Comment on Polymet’s Permit to Mine in NE MN”
Comments submitted to the DNR on September 7, 2017
RE: “NorthMet Water Appropriation”
The guarantees are clear. The proposed North Met Project will mine tens of millions to over a billion gallons of water every year sent downstream, 10 percent of this untreated, to the Lake Superior Basin. This permit will allow the mine to pump billions of gallons of water from its site into streams in the St Louis watershed at the extreme headwaters of the St Lawrence Seaway in the Lake Superior Basin.
Even after closure, for an undetermined amount of time, the amount of water released from the mine naturally and otherwise will be in the millions of gallons annually, treated and untreated. Filters from “treated” water will be concentrated into a toxic sludge left behind in tailings ponds; and the water from this proposed copper-sulfide mine will need ongoing treatment perhaps forever. Effects from this toxic pollution will span centuries if not thousands of years.
Average annual water required for mine operations has been estimated at 275 gpm, or between 20-810 gpm (SDEIS report), which translates from 10,512,000 gallons of water per year to as much as 425,736,000 annually. This has been revised into the billions since then, for this permit. Greater than 90% of this water would be captured and treated using reverse osmosis, a process that poses its own risks, including demineralization (2006 by the World Health Organization’s report in Geneva, Nutrients in Drinking Water, Chapter 12), leaving anywhere from 1,0512,000 gallons to over 42.5 million gallons of untreated water that will be sent downstream from the plant (each year). This water appropriation permit will allow even more.
The Uplands in the Arrowhead of Northern Minnesota include varied and complex aquifers connected along pathways underground that have not been charted and cannot be known. This fact, coupled with the extreme weather variables of our times, should give anyone pause. For instance, there can be no guarantee that the earthen tailings ponds holding toxic waste sludge from Polymet’s proposed copper mine could withstand a 1000-year flood of the sort that inundated Houston Texas this year, in August 2017.
What cleanup would be possible of toxic buildup in streambeds and the inevitable contamination of flora, fauna and fungus over hundreds of years resulting from copper mining in this water-dependent, varied and complex ecosystem of the Arrowhead? The St Louis watershed is uniquely positioned and vulnerable to the toxic effects of a copper sulfide mine.
Water, one of the greatest solvents, can be guaranteed to seek its level through paths of least resistance, many unknown. The water in the St Louis watershed of the Laurentian Divide has been seeking its level over tens of thousands of years to the Hudson Bay Basin, the Mississippi River Basin and the Lake Superior Basin of the Great Lakes, through glacial waters of Lake Agassiz, other glacial lakes and the Laurentide Ice Shield. Just as naturally, the waste rock and toxic waste ponds from this proposed open pit mine will leach into the ground water; and through rains, ground water seepage, and faults in the bedrock find its way downstream, a guaranteed outcome that cannot be controlled or predicted accurately.
Polymet, admittedly, needs a water permit in order to pollute and mine these vital waters; but loss and degradation of these waters will only be the beginning. Since the proposed mine site is an important and complex recharge area, artesian wells could be depressurized and other ground water resources diverted or diminished unexpectedly. Tourism will suffer from the related activities of a large mining operation near the BWCA in Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes where blasting, processing, transportation of products and supplies, road construction and repair will be ongoing while the mine operates. Wetlands like the 100-Mile Swamp between Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes will ultimately be lost.
A copper mine, then, will change the surrounding landscape, since mining activities know no boundaries. The dimensions of this mine could change as deposits are discovered and, through precedent, threaten one of the most pristine water-dependent ecosystems, one of the wildest and most beautiful places in the world, the BWCA. There will be no end, once begun, and this will change the meaning of “north woods” as we know it. The Rainy River Watershed and throughout the big stony of the Arrowhead, where copper leases abound, the whole of St Louis, Cook and Lake counties could essentially be affected.
On a balance sheet, what is the price of real wealth, clean water, air, naturally fertile soil, insects, birds, mammals and all manner of life that support the health of this planet? What price freshwater? Are there truly any acceptable limits to the pollution and draining of the St Louis watershed?
Who, essentially, will profit in the long term by putting these freshwater resources at risk in order to permit this private for-profit enterprise, the NorthMet Project? It will certainly not be the air quality and the peace, environmental health, the integrity of this wilderness. What will be left if we allow any and all lands, no matter the cost, to be developed for the profit of a finite term at the degradation of the infinite?
I close here with my formal objection to this water appropriation permit. I make this objection on the grounds that this permit will allow mining operations in a water-dependent ecosystem that knows no equal, a wilderness that will be changed forever by copper mining. Mining and pollution of millions of gallons of water each year is not in the best interest of those who live in NE MN, those who live downstream, or those who depend on potable water, the wilderness, for its beauty, its wildlife, flora and fauna, its sustenance. We will all be less for having lost this gem by defaulting on our responsibility to raise the standards of protection for our freshwater.
Anita Suzanne Tillemans
The state of Minnesota made a mistake in the late 1800’s by permitting a mine at the Hill of Three Waters in what is now known as the Hull Rust Mine. By diverting the attention away from the actual fountainhead of the Mississippi so that mines could be established, and declaring the “official” head at Lake Itasca, a 2 mile square lake in the far west of the state, this made mining possible on the Iron Range; and has been a primary cause of pollution in the great Mississippi River and its wetlands at the source. It has also set precedent for more mining in the highlands of the Laurentian Divide, the primary recharge source for three great rivers of the world, that of the Mississippi River, Rainy River and the St Louis River (extreme headwaters of the Great Lakes and the St Lawrence Seaway). Now we stand to see another precedent set, one for copper mining.
DNR approval of the FEIS for NorthMet in March 2016, and subsequent opening for Polymet to proceed with applications for permits has opened the potential of a floodgate of pollution from copper mining in one of the most water rich and water dependent ecosystems in the North American continent, at the headwaters of three great rivers …. There is, literally, no other place like it- because of this.
If these permits are approved, allowing for a reduction in air and water quality and destruction of wetlands just south and along the border of the BWCAW, it will open the door to United States Forest Service approval of the land exchange, an exchange that Polymet cannot do without.
If the USFS approves the land exchange, this would be forfeiting its authority to mining interests over lands that were set aside for protection. The Forest Service would be trading, not only lands, but a trust that these ecosystems would be protected from exploitation for generations to come.
Polymet will be mining water resources, destroying wetlands, by their own admission; and, in effect, degrading natural resources, flora and fauna, with its lease to continuously extract metals in an open-pit mine. They will be requiring permits to do all of this, including permits to take endangered species on lands that the Forest Service was given in trust.
In addition, this would help establish precedent that could facilitate more land exchanges of this type. By trading these lands, USFS would, essentially, be demonstrating a lack of will in exercising its authority and create a barter system that conflicts with the role as steward. It would allow exploitation and cannot be reconciled with this public trust … water being their most sacred trust.
The entire state and beyond would pay the price.
May sanity prevail.