DeLorean needed to decipher the Governor’s decision on PolyMet

After over 10 years of permitting battles, it appears the final decision from the state of Minnesota is near. Following thousands of public comments, reams of data and projections and public meetings attended by the busload, it all seemingly comes down to one man’s decision.
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton has announced he will make two mine visits before he issues his decision on whether the PolyMet project is approved by the state.
Dayton will go to a mine site in South Dakota on Oct. 27 that was recommended by project opponents. The Gilt Edge Mine near Lead, SD is a former open pit operation that, according to the EPA, has about 150 million gallons of acidic heavy-metal-laden water in three open pits and millions of cubic yards of acid-generating waste rock.
On Friday, Oct. 30 Dayton will head to Michigan to visit the Eagle Mine in Michigan. This operating copper and nickel mine was recommended by project supporters. The Eagle Mine is a modern underground nickel and copper mine in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
A mine permit was issued for the Eagle Mine in 2007, but it took seven years for the state to get through a lawsuit from those opposing the project. The Eagle Mine uses a processing facility, Humboldt Mill, which was originally constructed in 1954 as a joint venture that included Cleveland Cliffs.
The governor is not going alone on this road trip, he’ll be accompanied by some of his staff and two from the DNR, including the commissioner, Tom Landwehr.
But in the end the decision on PolyMet will come down to one man, Mark Dayton. Oh, he’ll have plenty of resources to draw upon from studies that would take him weeks to read, to public comments that seem endless. But as he has made clear, the decision is his.
The agency in charge of the process, the DNR, will be the one signing the documents. Landwehr has said in the past that while the agency will be making the decision, the governor will play a major role in that decision.
Will Dayton simply follow the lead of the agency that has conducted the studies, meetings and research into whether we will see Minnesota’s first copper-nickel mine? Or will he ignore the science and strike out a path on his own, perhaps guided by his perception of public opinion?
And following his decision, who will be the first to file paperwork in court to protest it? Will it be another seven or 10 years before we know the final answer?
Both sides on this debate might as well be flipping coins on what Dayton will decide. His decision to visit two mine sites can be seen as trying to please everyone but in the end there will be one side very unhappy.
If you’re looking for a crystal ball into what the future holds in regards to Dayton’s dilemma, we’ll give you two guesses.
One is that Dayton looks to the Range delegation and the strong support from city and county officials for PolyMet. This would lead to an approval and allow the anti-mining groups to do what they do best, file a lawsuit.
Or, Dayton could duplicate his decision to stop the moose collaring program. This flew in the face of a $1.2 million study and the scientists working on the project. Landwehr, who has become an astute politician, responded that the agency was disappointed with the governor’s decision but that he supported it. Only in politics would that answer make sense.
Maybe there’s a third outcome that hasn’t been revealed yet. At this point we might as well be guessing Powerball numbers. Unless Marty McFly can leap further than Oct. 21, 2015, land in Hoyt Lakes to hoverboard through the plant and let us know if 400 people are working there, your guess is as good as ours.
We support the governor’s decision to go on tour and take a look at two mining facilities. Whether we support the governor’s decision on PolyMet remains to be seen. We’ll be waiting in the DeLorean.