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Debate Over Polymet Mine Heats Up At Capitol

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- A controversial plan to bring more mining to the state of Minnesota is getting some attention at the State Capitol on Thursday.

Dozens of Minnesotans held a meeting to try and keep a Canadian Company, PolyMet, from operating a new sulfide mine to extract copper and nickel. The mine would be on the land between Babbit and Hoyt Lakes in northeastern Minnesota.

Opponents of the mine said it would bring too much pollution to the areas around the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Officials said it would be the first mining of its kind in Minnesota.

We have the iron range, we also have known about the copper nickel resources in the state. But the technology to extract copper from nickel has become more available in recent years, which has sparked the interest in building a new mining project.

Before that can happen, several federal agencies including the DNR have to issue a review and put into place controls for any environmental harm that live up to government standards. The public can also weigh in to the DNR until 4:30 p.m. Thursday, and record numbers of people, in the thousands, have raised concerns.

That includes the Friends of the Boundary Waters, the group at the State Capitol Thursday making a final push for the public to speak out against mining. The group said this mine would bring unsafe levels of water pollution to Minnesota.

"There's a danger to human health of mercury and metho-mercury, and then there's the risk of 20 years of mining in exchange for up to 500 years of toxic pollution," said Paula Maccabee. "We don't have any mechanism known that can ensure that that pollution could be treated for hundreds of years."

Polymet's director of communications said it is now up to the DNR to review 2,000 pages of information about the current plan and make any changes so that the company can get the permitting and needed tools to live up to envinromental standards and begin building. If all goes in favor of the mine in a timely manner, it could be operating by 2016.

One of the arguments for mining is that it creates jobs. Polymet officials said it would create 1,000 jobs for Minnesotans and millions of dollars in revenue, just like iron has. And if the DNR said this lives up to government standards, creating jobs and protecting the environment don't have to be mutually exclusive, they can both happen.

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