Confused About Mining Near the Boundary Waters

     I am a bit confused with the Iron Range Resources decision to give 4 million dollars for a new mining project near the Boundary Waters yet they have a program for restoring land previously destroyed by the effects of mining.  It does seem like a way for theIRR to keep their organization healthy if not thriving but reminds me of that saying "stealing from Peter to give to Paul."  Somehow it just doesn’t seem right.

     According to their website, "Today, the agency’s efforts are more varied than ever. While business development and mining are still key, the agency is also focused on areas like workforce, community development, mineland reclamation and tourism."

     I don’t understand how they can focus on mineland reclamation and tourism by supporting a mining project that could be detrimental to tourism.  Please review the information and explain this to me and to your friends.  If you don’t think mining is the right action then please make your thoughts known to the folks who count.

Watch the film Precious Waters- 

 Mineland Reclamation

Northeastern Minnesota’s land is one of its most valuable resources – today and tomorrow.
The agency’s Mineland Reclamation program helps make today’s iron ore mining lands usable for future generations, both for recreation and economic development.
The program was established by the Minnesota Legislature in 1977 to "provide for the reclamation, restoration or reforestation of minelands not otherwise provided for by the state law for the purpose of reclaiming and enhancing those areas of northeastern Minnesota adversely affected by (the) mining (of) taconite and iron ore" (Minnesota Statutes 298.223 1977).
How mine lands change their look
Each year, local communities, regional Mineland Reclamation committees, local units of government and the Inspector of Mines submit applications for reclamation projects. The Laurentian Vision Partnership reviews and ranks all applications. Then, the division reviews and prioritizes the projects, followed by submission to the Commissioner for inclusion in the final budget approval process. Many times, Mineland Reclamation forms new partnerships between units of government and private industry to complete a project. These partnerships leverage the work our funds can accomplish.
The first step in a mineland reclamation project is to change mining landscapes in ways that make them better suited to other uses. The goal is to eliminate dangerous areas, establish vegetation and reforestation, repair and prevent erosion and dust problems, create recreational areas and restore wildlife habitats.
Mineland reclamation activities include:
  • reshaping and revegetating mine pit walls and stockpiles
  • eliminating safety issues around abandoned mine areas
  • capping old underground mine openings
  • establishing wildlife habitat
  • building public boat accesses at mine pit lakes
  • stocking fish in mine pit lakes
  • constructing campgrounds, hiking trails and other recreation areas
  • environmental education of local residents
  • converting minelands into commercial and residential sites
  • promoting tourism
Did you know?
Mineland Reclamation grows up to 83,000 tree seedlings each year in environmentally controlled "growth chambers." These seedlings are planted on public lands in the Taconite Assistance Area.
State board gets potential stake in PolyMet mining project
by Bob Kelleher, Minnesota Public Radio
December 17, 2010
Eveleth, Minn. — A state agency could become part owner of a controversial copper-nickel mine proposed in northern Minnesota.
The state’s Iron Range Resources agency has approved a loan package that gives it an opportunity to purchase PolyMet stock.
Environmentalists are blasting the arrangement for giving the state a financial interest in a project that’s still under review by state agencies.
The deal provides PolyMet mining a $4 million loan that allows the company to purchase two pieces of privately owned land. The company would then trade that land to the U.S. Forest Service for other property the company hopes to mine.
The loan deal is mostly conventional, giving the Iron Range Resources agency, a 5 percent interest on the loan, and putting up the land as collateral. But the deal also includes stock warrants — which give the agency the right to purchase up to 400,000 shares of PolyMet stock at $2.50 a share.
That’s only slightly higher than where the stock has been trading this week, and below the stock’s five-year average price. If the company’s share price rises above $2.50, Iron Range Resources would make a profit.
The deal comes at a time when the state Department of Natural Resources is overseeing environmental studies still underway on the PolyMet project. Operating permits will have to come from agencies including the Department and the state Pollution Control Agency.
Environmental groups strongly oppose the mine. Copper nickel mining has a track record of leaving sulfuric acid pollution, and the Polymet site is close to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
With permits still pending the Iron Range Resources deal doesn’t look right, said Scott Strand, executive director of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.
Strand said allowing the agency to own part of the mine creates an inherent conflict. He wonders what would happen if the regulator’s actions affect the cost structure of the company.
"That would impact that state’s bottom line, and I think that’s problematic," he said.
Paula Maccabee, staff attorney with the group WaterLegacy, said the Iron Range loan package raises red flags.
"The PolyMet company doesn’t need the money," Maccabee said. "They’ve told as much to the local folks. What they’re using the potential investment for is to create a conflict of interest. If the state is an investor in the PolyMet project, it’s going to taint the potential objectivity in regulatory review."
Maccabee said it’s inappropriate for the Iron Range Resources to be involved in this process.
PolyMet President and CEO Joe Scipioni said it’s a good business deal, and doesn’t affect the DNR’s work on the company’s environmental reviews.
"It really doesn’t change the environmental aspects of it," Scipioni said. "We’re going through all of the permitting and environmental review. Whether you do something with this or whether it doesn’t happen, that’s not going to change it. It’s just a good business deal for both sides, so we did it."
An official with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency referred a question about a potential conflict of interest to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, saying the DNR is the lead agency for the environmental review. A DNR official Thursday referred questions to Iron Range Resources. Late Friday afternoon, spokesman Steven Colvin responded in an email: "DNR staff became aware of the loan through media reports and it has not had an effect on our work in preparing the supplemental draft EIS [Environmental Impact Statement]."
IRR Commissioner Sandy Layman, whose term ends this month, said she sees no conflict of interest because the agency is involved in development, and is not a regulatory agency.
"I think there would be a conflict if one agency both regulated and promoted a project, but in this case they’re entirely separate agencies with different missions," Layman said.
State Sen. Dave Tomassoni, DFL-Chisolm, who chairs the IRR, said the stock warrants make no difference in the environmental studies, since they wouldn’t be cashed unless the reviews are complete and the company is in business.
In the context of state finances, the dollars involved are relatively small. Even if Polymet’s stock soars to $10 a share, the state’s profit would be $3 million, which is about one one-hundredth of a percent of the state’s two-year budget.
PolyMet, meanwhile continues work on its draft environmental studies, and expects to complete them in the summer.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated from the original version. It now includes a response from both the MPCA and the DNR.