The first proposal for a copper-nickel mine in Minnesota, located in the St. Louis River watershed, has reached another milestone. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources confirmed this week that the preliminary final Environmental Impact Statement has been completed.
The document has now been sent to Native American tribes, and other state and federal agencies that are involved in the review. Development of this draft was delayed by work to respond to the more than 58,000 comments received from the public last winter.
“It has been a huge undertaking,” DNR commissioner Tom Landwehr told the Star Tribune. “It took us several months to characterize those comments.”
Landwehr told the Timberjay newspaper that it’s important to remember the EIS does not make any decisions about whether or not the mine will be allowed to operate.
“The EIS is an information document, not a decision document,” he said. “It’s not a foregone conclusion that having a final EIS means you have a permittable project.”
Instead, the EIS is meant to describe potential environmental effects and the mitigation measures that could reduce harm to resources such as wildlife, wetlands, and water.
There will be no major water pollution from the mine, according to the document. “With the proposed engineering controls, the water quality model predicts that the NorthMet Project Proposed Action would not cause any significant water quality impacts,” it reads.
In a blog post, Scott Strand, executive director of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, wrote that lakes, rivers, and groundwater will be protected only “so long as the company sticks around to treat the water, whether it be 200 years, 500 years, or forever. We don’t know.”
There is no opportunity for public comment at this stage. Once the cooperating agencies respond, a final version of the EIS is expected later this year, and public comments will be accepted at that time. The company would still need to apply for and receive 24 permits to operate its open pit mine, the Duluth News Tribune reports.