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PolyMet Mine Hearing Brings Clash Of Interests

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) - A House committee opened hearings Tuesday on a plan to open a copper-nickel mine on northern Minnesota's Iron Range.

The range sits atop the world's second largest copper, and third largest nickel, deposit in the world.

But the possibility of pollution from the mines brought a big crowd to the hearing, where industry representatives said mining companies are taking every possible environmental precaution.

"We believe that Minnesota has a reputation for getting things done right and getting them done right the first time," Frank Ongaro, Jr., of Mining Minnesota, said at the hearing. "We can be a model for the rest of the country and the world and move forward with responsible mining."

The PolyMet mining company is planning a $600 million open pit mine that it says will employ at least 300 workers for at least 20 years.

But a Canadian copper-mine disaster last August gave more ammunition to critics.

They say possible catastrophic damage to land and water isn't worth the risk.

"We in Minnesota do not want, cannot afford, this kind of a scene in our precious north-northern Minnesota forests and lakes," Betsy Daub, of Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, said at the hearing.

A frustrated Iron Range mayor said critics use copper and nickel every day, from somewhere else.

"If you look around the room," Hoyt Lakes mayor Mark Skelton said, "we want all them toys, we want our iPads, we want our cell phones and we want our computers!"

PolyMet is waiting for results of an environmental review, due this spring.

State officials say they will make a decision within 150 days after that.

EMERGENCY COMPONENT - LOCAL

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