Inside the DECC Thursday, the final opportunity for people to sound off in person about what could be Minnesota's first copper-nickel mine.
The Department of Natural Resources estimates 800 people attended the public comment hearing on permits PolyMet needs to open their proposed NorthMet project on the Iron Range.
It's a project that's been more than a decade in the making, but before any decision is made on issuing permits, the DNR and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency will sift through public comments.
The DNR will make the decision on whether to issue PolyMet's draft permit to mine. The MPCA will decide on their air quality and water quality permits, and their 401 wetlands certification.
"I also trust our state's regulatory agencies have done their job to analyze the project accurately and fairly," said Lory Fedo, President of the Hibbing Area Chamber of Commerce, during Thursday's public comment hearing.
"We need to get away from scientists that are leading us down a scorched path," said Virgil Sohm of Tower, on his opposition to the project.
The agencies will review the comments given during Thursday's hearing, along with all others submitted throughout the comment period. In order to influence the final permit, the DNR says a comment must raise a specific issue.
"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 Barb Naramore, Assistant Commissioner for the Minnesota DNR.
Naramore wouldn't speculate on how long it will be before a decision on permitting is made. The last time the DNR held a public comment period for PolyMet's Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS), they had 52,000 comments to consider.
The DNR's comment period on the draft permit to mine ends March 6. You can find more information here.
The MPCA's comment period ends March 16. You can find more information here.
Security was tight ahead of Thursday's hearing. Signs on the doors warned attendees they would be patted down before entering. A large force of Duluth Police and DNR officers were there, as well.
The heightened security was partly because of how controversial the PolyMet proposal has been and, DECC officials say, because of a recent Enbridge hearing at the DECC that got out of control.
There were 500 people at that event. DECC officials were prepared to seat more than 2,000 for Thursday's PolyMet hearing.