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PolyMet regulators need a second opinion on water flow


Will water and potential contaminants from the proposed PolyMet mine flow to the north or the south? It would seem a fundamental question, which we would expect a ten-year long environmental review would be able to answer.

But as we reported last week, there is a major disagreement over the issue among the agencies overseeing that analysis— and that’s reason enough for the Department of Natural Resources and its co-lead agencies, the U.S. Forest Service and the Army Corps of Engineers, to hit the pause button while they seek to resolve this point of contention.

The purpose of an environmental impact statement, after all, is to adequately disclose the anticipated effects of a major development project, such as a new mine. Yet, if we can’t even say for sure where any potential contaminants from the mine might flow, there’s a legitimate question about the adequacy of the EIS. That’s particular true given that an outstanding water resource like the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness could be threatened if the DNR and other co-lead agencies get it wrong.

As we reported last week, scientists at the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, or GLIFWC, say that’s exactly what’s happened. As a cooperating agency on the EIS, GLIFWC has taken its role seriously, and they’ve been raising concerns about the water model produced by Barr Engineering for several years.

While investigating this story, I was surprised to learn that none of the co-lead agencies involved had actually run the computer model, known as MODFLOW, themselves. Instead, that work was left to Barr, which has worked for PolyMet for years and likely will continue to do so if the project is approved.

Barr has a good reputation as far as I’m aware, and I don’t mean to suggest otherwise. But we are talking about science, and in the scientific community the importance of peer review is paramount— and that’s what GLIFWC has undertaken here. That’s not to say that GLIFWC is automatically right. Peer reviewers can be wrong as well.

But given the significance of the discrepancy and the seriousness of the implications, it would be irresponsible of the co-lead agencies in this instance to move forward with issuing a final EIS without having an independent third party examine the issue. The water model is foundational to the EIS, and its predictions were linked to other major findings in the study. If the model contains errors of the magnitude outlined by GLIFWC, there’s very little reason to trust the EIS’s findings.

While a pause in the process would certainly be a frustration to project supporters, there’s reason to believe a delay would make little difference given the current economic environment. If PolyMet were granted a permit today, it’s very questionable that any corporate backer would fund the project, at least in the short term. The mining and investor press is awash with stories of the falling prices and growing glut of a long list of base commodities, including copper. And Glencore, the current big-name partner on the PolyMet project, announced just last week that it was cutting its capital expenditure budget, as the commodities producer and broker tries to weather the economic fallout from the apparent bursting of China’s construction bubble.

Glencore’s stock is at record lows, and spending hundreds of millions of dollars to bring new copper capacity to market in the current environment would likely drive their stock price even lower.

That’s not to say the market won’t recover down the road. But it does mean that we have the time to get this right.

As it stands now, the co-lead agencies can’t, with good conscience, tell the public whether any contaminants from the PolyMet mine will flow north or south. Given that, how can they hope to defend a claim that the EIS adequately describes the effects? It’s a lawyer’s dream.

The co-lead agencies should resist the temptation for shortcuts. The initial suggestion by the DNR, that they could monitor water flow after the mine was operating and mitigate a possible northward contaminant flow after-the-fact, should be a non-starter. That’s how we did things 50 years ago, before Congress enacted laws like the National Environ-mental Policy Act, or NEPA. We simply created messes and then tried to figure out how to deal with them afterwards. The Colorado gold mine that sits above the Animas River near Durango is a good example of how that approach works out.

Let’s not guess about this. If there’s a major disagreement about something that truly matters, let’s take the time to find out who’s right. That’s just common sense.


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  • pschurke

    The mining industry's silence in response to the Timberjay's bombshell revelation of serious flaws in PolyMet flow modeling is deafening. The fact that the company and the agencies involved with the project's EIS have been left speechless by the unveiling of this huge fundamental error should be alarming to all of us. Even most mining proponents agree that if we can't get the science right confirming that our precious watersheds won't be damaged by non-ferrous mining, these projects should not proceed. We now know the science is flawed.

    Thursday, August 27, 2015 Report this

  • Schurke, you are a packsacker. You have never assimilated into our way of life...if fact you fight us on everything. Your opinion does not matter.

    Thursday, August 27, 2015 Report this

  • jtormoen

    Now wasn't that an interesting and educational response to Mr. Schurke's comment. Aren't you sure he is not also a "Wellstone Whacko". Much like the usual response to whatever I post ... which has and likely will amount to some sort of playground name calling.

    Oh, wait ... already there.

    Thursday, August 27, 2015 Report this

  • chessie2go

    PolyMet's draft Environmental Impact Statement received an environmentally unsatisfactory rating from the EPA. GLIFWC's new analysis shows that the preliminary Final EIS isn't any better. The problem is that sulfide mining cannot be done in Northeast Minnesota without polluting both ground and surface water. Corporate and political pressure is forcing our state regulatory agencies to ignore or cover up the true essence of the problem.

    As a citizenry, we need to decide on the value and importance of our water resources--not just for ourselves, but for future generations and for those living downstream--whether that is downstream into the BWCAW or downstream into the St. Louis River and Lake Superior--where frankly there are a lot more people living.

    GLIFWC's analysis is huge. (1) PolyMet has the potential to pollute both the BWCAW AND the Lake Superior watershed. (2) Our politically controlled agencies are not motivated to do proper scientific analysis--most likely because it would be the end of PolyMet.

    Thursday, August 27, 2015 Report this

  • Immer Treue

    The operative question is why would either of these two scenarios be accepted?

    "Will water and potential contaminants from the proposed PolyMet mine flow to the north or the south? "

    Friday, August 28, 2015 Report this

  • The waste water from the PolyMet project is designed to be contained.

    Let me educate readers. When I went to school and studied Minnesota history and the Laurentian Divide, it was said that if a drop of water landed on the top of the divide, half would go north, half south. The operative word here is the "top".

    We are not talking about raindrops here. We are

    talking about a process that takes into account the advanced technology of treating water, containing the process water.

    So, the fear mongering the environmental wackos are spewing that discharges will go directly to the watershed is pure BS. Scare tactics by the wackos.

    Friday, August 28, 2015 Report this

  • jtormoen

    Insert recent view of Animas River here

    Friday, August 28, 2015 Report this

  • snowshoe2

    Will see in the future I am sure by further studies which way the water flows.

    Like I mentioned earlier we observed Polymet taking pictures of wild rice beds on birch lake about 2 weeks ago and doing other survey work.

    If the water does not flow into Birch lake why are they doing all this work on this lake? I don't know why? They said they would be there awhile(meaning many days)

    Friday, August 28, 2015 Report this

  • shoe: It's good you are keeping an eye on affairs. Are you sure it was PolyMet photographing Birch Lake wild rice stands? Could it have been Twin Metals? Or an outside contractor for the Indians? Please let us know.

    If you find out who it was, let Marshall know. The Timberjay can inquire for a comment so we all know.

    Saturday, August 29, 2015 Report this

  • snowshoe2

    Orr your right.

    I rechecked and I misunderstood what my brother said when talking to them while on Birch lake. He talked to them more than I did. He said this morning he was positive it was Twin Mine.

    They were contracted by Twin Mines. For over a year at this time already.

    My mistake,Polymet met came up in the conversation with them and something got turned around at first in the conversation. Polymet was mentioned.

    They were Twin Mines and not Polymet. They had four trucks and were from out of town and contracted by Twin Mines.

    They were staying in Ely motel for 5 days this trip up from down south some place. They had lot of equipment.

    I do remember Twin Mines talking at a legislative hearing on TV(last winter) say he was unsure which way the Birch lake water flowed where their material pipe line crossed the river on the east-southeast side of Birch lake at that time.

    The question was from the legislature was which way the water flows. He hesitated and said I am not sure.

    Side light-fish were not biting to good that trip on the lake.

    Saturday, August 29, 2015 Report this

  • jt: Your reference to the Animas River issue is moot. It was your revered EPA that breached the containment and allowed the spill into the river.

    What? No outrage on your part critical of the EPA for polluting our environment? Why the silence?

    Or is because you know the EPA are SOB's...but they are your SOB's and you are going to back them no matter what?

    Sunday, August 30, 2015 Report this

  • snowshoe2

    The King mine has a history of decades of pollution according to various newspapers from Colorado:

    EPA was trying to fix a decade old problem but goofed in the procedure of stopping a already leaking mine and earthen barrier.

    First, there were the tailings dumped in the river, then the billions of gallons of acid mine drainage that have poured from mine adits into streams and, ultimately, into the Animas over the decades. Even after it left the region, the industry continues its abuse: Before the Gold King mine blew 3 million gallons of orange spooge into the watershed this month, it had been discharging similarly tainted water at a rate of 50 to 250 gallons per minute, or more than 100 million gallons per year, into Cement Creek.

    Sunday, August 30, 2015 Report this

  • glfan52

    Orrcounty you continue to amaze me. You spew on and on about how "packsackers" hate the locals. It appears to me that you are the one full of hate. I represent the group you despise the most, the 612er, packsacker and environmental wacko to use your words. Sorry bub I don't hate the locals but I do believe the environment is more important than the all mighty dollar that a mega corporation can bleed out of Northeastern Minnesota and leave what ever mess behind with an oops. Marshall Helmberger in my opinion is doing a great job of covering this complex and controversial issue.

    Sunday, August 30, 2015 Report this

  • Royal: Good to hear from you the environmental wacko. In reading your post, the inference is that I don't care about the environment and you think the environment is more important than the lives of the "locals". I don't know where you went to school, but in my day and age, people were considered part of the environment too. But in my mind and the minds of the true locals, people come first.

    You and your kind fight us on everything that is part of our way of life...snowmobiles and outboard motors and mechanized portages in the BWCA, logging in our forests, and now copper-nickel mining outside the BWCA. Multi-generational locals want to preserve our way of life and livelihoods, but you fight us.

    If you wrongly perceive we want dirty water and dirty air, get some counseling.

    Monday, August 31, 2015 Report this

  • snowshoe2

    Interesting news from Polymet and various Govermental agencies admitting the possibility to the below statement.

    It appears because of past mining in a 12 mile ore pit this could open up the scenario of water flowing north.

    State and federal regulators have conceded for the first time that some potentially polluted water from Minnesota’s first proposed copper-nickel mine could flow north toward the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

    Will just have to wait and see how this plays out,personally this new scenario has to be checked out and analized(sp).

    Wednesday, September 2, 2015 Report this

  • So OK. Even if there is some validity to the claim by the Indians, let's start working together to develop a contingency plan to see that it doesn't happen.

    But no, protesters just want to stop the mine period. They don't want to work together because they are selfish, fear peddlers that care only about themselves...not the people that have lived here for generations.

    Wednesday, September 2, 2015 Report this

  • jtormoen

    Insert Mount Polley mine disaster pics here.

    Wednesday, September 2, 2015 Report this

  • orrcountry,

    I am the 32 year old son of two retired mine electricians(that's right, my mom was an electrician too and a very good one). I am also a current mine employee. I fish, hunt, boat, drive snowmobiles, etc. U know, the way of life you speak of. But you sir, do NOT represent me, my steelworker parents, or the orr-country as a whole. I love the iron range, but your childish name calling makes me ashamed to call myself an Iron Ranger, and the sad thing is you are probly twice my age. And I see the same thing every day from many other shameful irresponsible rangers here who would have been just fine letting this project go through without any environmental review at all. But do the "packsackers" call them names? No, because they are adults as well as Minnesotans concerned about a Minnesota issue just like you and I. The Iron Range is not some sovereign island nation.

    Wednesday, September 2, 2015 Report this

  • Pat Hawkinson: Thanks for your comments. Let me assure you, most people don't share your attitude about me. If you are a member of the Steelworkers, a partner with the Sierra Club, I can understand your illness.

    There is counseling available to you, probably through your extortionist union, to guide you through your recovery and temper your hatred for me. Check it out. You'll be happier and so will the people around you.

    Wednesday, September 2, 2015 Report this

  • jtormoen

    Insert video of Army-McCarthy hearings, June 9,1954, here.

    Wednesday, September 2, 2015 Report this

  • Orr, or should I call you Mr. Country? Thank you so much for the laugh. I needed it. I don't even know where to start. But here goes. I don't hate you, and did not imply that I do. Sorry if you thought that. I've never met you. We may get along great in person for all I know. Maybe we could have a beer sometime and I could learn your real name? And yes I am a part of that extorsionist union that is the heart and soul of the mining industry here. They are so crooked for spending their entire summers every 3 or 4 years fighting to keep the retired miner parents of myself as well as so many others from getting their healthcare permanently gutted to maintain the ungodly salary raises of the corporate CEO's who are clearly just trying to feed their families. You see we have unions because these people at the top do not care about you, me, or anyone else who has worked for them. They only care about our labor. And as they get richer, their egos get thicker. So how am I suppose to trust them to care about our land and water? The place where I, and perhaps you, have grown up our whole lives. We got the EPA right? Well, as you have pointed out, they screw up too. All the more reason to worry. A screw up is unacceptable in this case, period. Further regarding your opinion of my union, you may wanna switch to that incompetent paper in Virginia where they "mistakingly" print scabs for hire ads and anonymous complaints in the hard copy paper itself instead of actual news such as the story be argued about here. I could keep going, but i'll let you have another word if you wish. I'm optimistic we can be buddies Orr. Lets have a beer. It's the ranger way!

    Thursday, September 3, 2015 Report this

  • Pat: Thanks for your comments. I don't happen to share your point of view based on my years of experience with the Steelworkers union and what I have learned about them from others who the union let down. Look how they refused to help those women at Eveleth Taconite. Read the story in "Class Action".

    Some unions, such as the Steelworkers, cut deals with management behind the back of the rank and file. They have agreements with management that they will give the members the impression they are supporting them, gin them up with hatred for the company and in the end, the deal they come up with was agreed upon long before the theatrics began.

    One only look at the declining membership of unions nationwide. Locally, the workers at Northshore Mining have rejected Steelworker representation two times. They are happy workers now, they make good money (sometimes even more) than their union counterparts, they aren't forced to give some union part of their paycheck and they can solve problems with their supervisor without rabble-rousers intervening. Also, before the market soured, the workers at Mesabi Nugget rejected union representation. Workers at Magnetation chose to have another union rather than the Steelworkers represent them. The nurses at the hospital in Duluth are growing increasingly unhappy with their Steelworkers representation and some are quietly looking to decertify and elect another union to represent them. You have to understand why.

    As for the Mesabi Daily News, I feel they do a good job, as evidenced by the many awards they receive from the Minnesota Newspaper Association. Results speak for themselves.

    As for retirement benefits and job protection by the Steelworkers Union, don't even get me started with the stories, some personal, about how little they care about the person. They just don't want the job eliminated because it means guaranteed extortionist dues collections. They let the victims lose their job, they protect the perpetrators (especially if they are part of the clique)and they could care less about the person losing the job. And please, don't use the old worn out saw that, "You must have done something wrong". That's always the usual cop out and gets spit out by people that are blindly loyal to the union and don't have the aptitude to sort out facts.

    I suppose I could have a beer with you, but it would have to be a Coors, a non-union beer with the best taste.

    Yours cordially, orrcountry.

    Thursday, September 3, 2015 Report this

  • C'mon Orr. Are from Orr? Or do you live out in the country? Reveal your real name if you're so proud of your anti union views. You would think someone who studied Minnesota history would understand their importance to our area. At least tell us what you do for a living if you want some credibility. You're the one who made this about unions. I was only revealing my identity and criticizing your childish namecalling. And I didn't even imply that I am on the side of the packsackers. If you think the non-union miners would make as good of a living without the union mines to keep it competitive, you are living a fantasy. You are likely the type who would love to see a right to work Minnesota, and then refuse to pay dues while still freeloading the benefits. When you imply that most people share your views, I assure you that the thousands who have been rallying in solidarity to protect their livelihood this past month do not share your view of their union.

    And amazing that paper gets awards. Half the time they can't even get it out to people and local businesses on time in the morning and they are right in town. Constant typos, lazy journalism, slanted views. I wouldn't be surprised if you are Bill Hanna-ty himself trolling around the net. Go write some cowardly anonymous onions to that award winning paper you enjoy. It fits you better.

    Thursday, September 3, 2015 Report this

  • Pat, look at yourself. Ranting and raving. Your Employee Assistance Program at your worksite should be able to provide you with psychological anger management techniques that will improve your life.

    Unions were good and necessary in their time. When I first belonged to the Steelworkers in 1970, the person was important. Now it's the far left DFL, in fact, one Steelworker Union Steward was reprimanded for supporting Dougie Johnson for Governor instead of the union thugs choice, two times, communist anti-Range Mike Freeman. Another Steelworker union Steward told me he was thoroughly disgusted with the union leadership and said the Steelworkers Union has become nothing more than the Northern Minnesota branch of the Twin Cities DFL. True story.

    I happen to like the Orchids and Onions feature of the Mesabi Daily News. Each time I submit a comment, I do sign my name.

    Have you ordered the non-union Coors beer for our meeting yet?

    By the way, where did you go to college? And please tell us what your baccalaureate degree is in, or maybe your masters. For someone as smart as you think you are, you must have some post secondary education achievements.

    Thursday, September 3, 2015 Report this

  • Orr, I am not angry. Please understand that. If you're willing to sign your name on O&O, why not here as well? It's the same thing. I have. You'll gain a wealth of respect from me despite our disagreement. And to be fair the people you are arguing with here should do the same. I apologize for bringing your education into it. Since you ask, I do have a bachelors degree from Northland College in fisheries management if that matters. Nothing special no, not related to my shift work job at the mine, and yes it is a packsacker school. I only went there for the degree. It didn't turn me into a packsacker. I can find annoyances within that crowd as much as anyone. I'd be a huge hippocrit to offer total praise for them. But I just cannot understand how you think unions are no longer neccessary, as the mining companies are trying to dismantle the contract language that took years build. Are you a retired miner? If so, you have a lot at stake. Am I suppose to believe that companies will just give it to us out of pure kindness? Unions get bad eggs in them for sure, but that's why you have elections. Vote em out, or better yet, get elected and impose your will. Why this turned into a union argument I don't know. Maybe its my fault. I didn't intend for that, and was quite surprised it went there. But if I could give you some advice. When you argue, be polite. Don't name call. That's the only reason I called you out in the first place. If your goal is to change opinions, you'll get a lot farther that way. And if you think an opinion is simply irrelevant, just ignore it. Even if it's mine(no pun intended). If I thought your opinion was irrelevant, I wouldn't be arguing with you. As far as the beer goes, I'll buy you a non-union coors if you buy me a union grain belt.

    Thursday, September 3, 2015 Report this

  • jtormoen

    Not that anybody seems to care, but I still think that the water will likely flow downhill rather than up ... which way, though, not sure yet. Just sayin

    Thursday, September 3, 2015 Report this

  • snowshoe2

    I really think Polymet and Barr Engineering who is doing much of the analysis and groundwork for both Twin Mine and Polymet don't know and and are relying on past studies that may or may not be relevant.

    Friday, September 4, 2015 Report this

  • You still out there Orr? I'm happy to continue discussing your disgust of my union. You've left me with some unanswered questions. I'd like to hear your plan for me to make union scale wages without paying union dues, because it's sounds like an awesome deal. Or maybe you think we deserve less? And just to follow up on the Doug for Gov subject. What I know is that the union asked him over and over if he was going to run for office, and he couldn't make up his mind. So I guess Dougie should have $#!+ or got off the pot. And before you go there, I am very happy, and feel fine. I hope the same for you.

    Friday, September 4, 2015 Report this

  • Pat: Does this mean you won't have an non-union Coors with me while reading the morning edition of the Mesabi Daily News while attending a Scott Walker for President rally?

    Friday, September 4, 2015 Report this

  • Orr, you probly do drink several coors first thing in the morning if that's how you spend your time. I hope you are not one of those 30% who think the current prez was not born in U.S., or even worse the 40% who think Ted Cruz was. But ya know, I really can't do anything with you if you are too afraid to reveal your name. I've told you a lot about myself, and have learned some surprising things about you. Then again, maybe I shouldn't be surprised.

    Friday, September 4, 2015 Report this

  • Pat: I suppose one would have to have a few Coors (note, Coors is capitalized. But then you are so smart and a Steelworker, you excel in trying to pound a square peg in a round hole like all the other two digit IQ Steelworkers I had to work with) if they read your posts on this thread.

    Keep writing, readers are enjoying it.

    Friday, September 4, 2015 Report this

  • Wow Orr, as you sit here touting mining, more insults to miners themselves. Its okay if you want to do it to me, but leave the rest of them alone would ya? I hope the readers enjoy reading your hippocracy. Because you are clearly revealing that your opinion is as meaningless as the ones you are attacking. I guess i'll never learn your name here, but if anybody'd like to, just head on over to the O&O section at the MDN rag where Orville signs his name and look for old worn out terms like environmental rebel rousin packsackin whacko tobaccos. He will easily be identified. Gotta run Orr. Gotta go put in a night shift of pounding square pegs into round holes at the mine with my 2 digit coworkers. I'll be sure to tell them about you and point you out to them in the MDN if one of them is willing to waste their money on that pre-soiled toilet tissue paper.

    Friday, September 4, 2015 Report this

  • I think they have crying towels and rubber duckies at non-union Wal-Mart where many, many Steelworkers shop.

    I hope you get a full 6 hours sleep on your midnight shift tonight. Most Steelworkers I worked with had foam pads, sleeping bags and alarm clocks to help them make it through their midnight shift.

    Friday, September 4, 2015 Report this

  • Pat: My wife reminded me to tell you that your last post is being considered a threat. We have recorded it, it will be sent to the St. Louis County Sheriff's department. If anything happens to me, my family, my home or my personal property, you will be the first person they will be coming to see.

    The Steelworkers have done it to me in the past, since it is run like a gangster mafia type outfit, they'll do it again. Hope you enjoy your shift.

    Friday, September 4, 2015 Report this

  • No worries Orr. We are peaceful, sane, adults. And I wish you, yours, rangers, and greater Minnesota the very best. We deserve it. I'm done now. Peace out, have fun, and please be kind. For what its worth, I agree with jtormoen regarding the flow.

    Saturday, September 5, 2015 Report this

  • Pat: And peace be with you also. Sometime in the future, I'll contact you to share with you what the Steelworkers Union did to me and the women at Eveleth Taconite. If you have an open mind, it will make you sick to your stomach...because it's that bad. When other union officers saw what was happening to me, they were told to "butt out" and don't get involved. True story.

    Saturday, September 5, 2015 Report this

  • Look forward to it. Already familiar with the Evtac story, different times. No hard feelings bro, I still respect you.

    Saturday, September 5, 2015 Report this

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    EPA letter good news for PolyMet




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    Posted: Saturday, September 5, 2015 7:20 pm

    Once again, as happens often with arguments of critics of the proposed copper/nickel/precious metals project on the Iron Range, it is hard to fathom their logic.

    Opponents of the PolyMet venture, including some in the media on and off the Iron Range, hailed a letter from the Environment Protection Agency with recommendations on the company’s Preliminary Final Environmental Impact Statement as a testimonial in agreement with their views.

    Click Here!

    Hardly. Just the opposite.

    Yes, the letter said there is “potential” for a northward flow path from the mine site’s east pit. But in life, there’s potential for anything — nothing new there.

    However, what matters in the EPA letter is that the agency said a number of very positive things about the PFEIS.

    • The PFEIS “reflects many improvements to the project, and to the clarity and completeness of the environmental review.”

    • Extensive discussions with co-lead and cooperating agencies “helped to resolve virtually all of our previous comments, and to review important questions about project modeling.”

    • The adaptive management plan of PolyMet and the co-lead agencies to address “possible” northward flow issues is “an appropriate response to the possibility.”

    PolyMet CEO/Director Jon Cherry said the EPA’s recommendations will “absolutely” be addressed and implemented.

    That should be pretty good news for everyone closely watching the PolyMet issue.

    Unless, of course, you are an opponent whose feelings will only be assuaged if the project, which will meet all environmental rules and regulations of state and federal agencies, is never built.

    They don’t give a hoot about the hundreds of direct and spin-off and construction jobs that will be created on economically stressed Iron Range.

    Pretty sad.

    Sunday, September 6, 2015 Report this

  • Happy Labor Day folks. Take a break. You've earned it.

    Monday, September 7, 2015 Report this