PolyMet’s Permit Applications Demonstrate Risk to Minnesota Waters


The Mount Polley dam break shows what is at stake in PolyMet’s permit application.

MINNEAPOLIS – PolyMet submitted its first three state permit applications today in its effort to open Minnesota’s first ever sulfide mine near Hoyt Lakes, Minnesota.

Each of the permit applications will be thoroughly reviewed, but Minnesotans might be especially troubled to learn about PolyMet’s application for a Dam Safety Permit.

PolyMet proposes to re-use a leaky 40 year-old dam left behind by previous tenant LTV Steel to hold back their tailings pond. The proposal makes clear that they plan to proceed without implementing any of the lessons learned from a pair of recent high-profile dam collapses.  In 2015 a dam collapse at the Samarco mine in Brazil killed 17 workers and caused an estimated $50 billion in damage.  The more recent Mount Polley dam failure in British Columbia devastated a massive watershed, and caused independent experts hired by the government to propose eliminating the type of tailings disposal that PolyMet is now proposing.

“PolyMet’s proposal is too risky for Minnesota and the Lake Superior watershed where it lies,” stated Kathryn Hoffman, Interim Legal Director of Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy. “After refusing to consider the best available technology for disposing of mine waste, PolyMet is pushing forward with their plan to use a decades old leaky dam to hold back millions of gallons of potentially hazardous waste material.”

Minnesota has experienced several dam failures and near misses in the last several years. Between May 2013 and April 2014, the tailings dam and pipeline at the Minorca Taconite mine in Virginia failed three times, releasing 1.7 million gallons of mine waste into adjacent wetlands. ArcelorMittal was fined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for inadequately maintaining the pipeline and tailings dike. In February 2012, a thousand foot crack developed in the Hibbing Taconite tailings dam, requiring emergency work to buttress the dam. And in February 2015, the pumps failed at the very tailings basin that PolyMet proposes to use, releasing an estimated 144,000 gallons of potentially polluted water.

“Before we, as a state, rubber stamp these permit applications, we should really decide if the best available practices are being employed,” said Hoffman. “If the best they can propose is to re-use a 40-year old tailings dam that everyone involved agrees is already leaking, it may be time to take a hard look in the mirror and ask if this type of mining is really right for Minnesota.”

MORE INFO: For more information, or to set up an interview with any of the leaders of the Mining Truth coalition, please contact Nate Dybvig at 651.230.3018 or nate@conservationminnesota.org.