Public sounds off on PolyMet at Aurora hearing - KBJR 6 Your Weather Authority: News, Weather & Sports

Public sounds off on PolyMet at Aurora hearing

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AURORA, MN -

Wednesday night may have been one of the last chances for the public to sound off on the proposed Polymet copper-nickel mine, during a meeting in Aurora.

There was an overwhelming show of support for PolyMet at the Iron Range hearing.

It was the first of two public comment hearings, which will likely be the last before state agencies decide whether to give the company the permits they need to open Minnesota's first copper-nickel mine.

Up for discussion were three permits and a wetland certification process.

The DNR is responsible for issuing one.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is responsible for the others.

All must be approved before PolyMet can open.

Before that decision is made, the agencies are holding joint hearings to see what people think.

The first was Wednesday night at Mesabi East High School.

The DNR estimates about 450 people were there tonight.

Speakers were randomly chosen to give comments.

What they said will be considered by the state agencies, along with all the other comments made during this comment period, before any decision is made.

At the meeting, the majority of attendees supported Polymet.

"It's been a long time coming, hasn't it rangers?" said Rep. Jason Metsa of Virginia.

But Wednesday night, a smaller group of speakers pointed to the potential for damage to the environment, and questioned whether PolyMet's financial assurances would guarantee taxpayers wouldn't be on the hook.

"Well when you're driving a car you get insurance in case you have some damage to pay for that. Well here you don't have insurance for PolyMet mine. So what you have is an uninsured driver going down the road there," said Chris Knopf of Friends of the Boundary Waters.

PolyMet's CEO Wednesday said their assurances meet state standards.

"I'd actually specifically disagree with that. Financial assurance is required in the law. Our proposal in the permit and what is in draft permit meets the law so there is a statute that says what you have to meet for financial assurance and we've fulfilled that obligation in the permit as it's currently drafted," said Polymet CEO Jon Cherry.

In order for any of the comments to impact the final permit, the DNR says they have to raise specific issues that haven't already been addressed.

"We think the majority of comments will be on issues that are certainly very familiar to us, but we are always open to it if someone brings up something new," said DNR Assistant Commissioner Barb Naramore.

The DNR's comment period for the draft permit to mine ends March 6th.

The comment periods for the permits through the MPCA end March 16th.

And when these comment periods end, these agencies will have their work cut out for them.

As perspective, when a comment period was held in 2014 for PolyMet's environmental review, the DNR received around 52,000 comments.

They say they consider all of them.

A second public hearing is happening Thursday at the DECC in Duluth.

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