Gov Dayton comes out for PolyMet

Dayton goes from undecided to supportive of the region’s first proposed copper-nickel venture, remains opposed to Twin Metals

by Tom Coombe -

In its quest to build the region’s first copper-nickel mine, PolyMet has a surprising new ally: Gov. Mark Dayton.
The state’s chief executive remains opposed to the Twin Metals Minnesota project near Ely, but Dayton appears to be “all-in” on the PolyMet initiative between Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes.
In an interview published earlier this week by the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Dayton said of the project “Nothing of that magnitude is risk free but I think it’s a risk worth taking and I support the project.”
Those were the strongest comments Dayton has made in support of PolyMet, which plans to use the old LTV mine site at Hoyt Lakes and employ over 350 people.
Until now, Dayton had largely been on the fence and had said he was “genuinely undecided.”
Dayton’s remarks came as PolyMet inches closer to environmental permitting, and as it faces lawsuits from environmental groups aimed at derailing the project.
PolyMet plans to use the former LTV site as a processing facility and mine copper, nickel, palladium and other precious metals.
Proposed nearly 20 years ago, the project has been bogged down in environmental review, but PolyMet has cleared several hurdles and is moving closer to permitting.
Supporters say the project will usher in a new era of mining in northeastern Minnesota and PolyMet is supported by most regional elected officials.
Environmental groups are pushing back, however, and contend that the project runs the risk of pollution and perpetual, expensive clean-up.
The project remains under review by several agencies, and Dayton’s remarks are independent of that process.
In the same interview, Dayton pledged not to interfere with the permitting process.
Dayton said he is comfortable that environmental protections will be sufficient to allow PolyMet to proceed, indicating “They’ll be controversial but that’s where I come down on the side of jobs and environmental protection. I think we’ve found a way to make them compatible.”
Despite the shift on PolyMet, Dayton continues to be highly skeptical of the Twin Metals project near Ely.
In early-2016, Dayton blocked Twin Metals from accessing state lands for exploratory drilling, a move that stymied the project, angered local officials and led to an unprecedented joint meeting with the Ely City Council.
Dayton has called Twin Metals’ plan for an underground mine “fanciful” and contends the project comes with too much risk to the neighboring Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Explaining his divergence on the two projects, Dayton called PolyMet’s structure and location “very different from Twin Metals. It’s a very different watershed.”