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POLYMET PolyMet Mine project maneuvers toward permitting With the issuance of the Final Environmental Impact Statement FEIS by federal and state agencies in the summer of 2015 and acceptance of the FEIS by the State of Minnesota in the fall the proposed PolyMet open pit mine project moves closer to obtaining the permits needed to begin operation. Despite objections by tribal technical staff that the methods used to evaluate the potential environmental impacts of the project contain major information gaps and in some cases are not based on science the FEIS received approval from the State. The U.S. Forest Service is in the process of developing a final Record of Decision ROD on the proposed exchange of land with the mining company By John Coleman GLIFWC Environmental Section Leader after receiving thousands of public comments objecting to the draft ROD released last fall. That draft ROD was based on information in the FEIS. The Army Corps of Engineers will be developing a draft ROD related to permits for filling and destruction of wetlands in the coming months. Theagenciesresponsiblefordraftingandissuingpermitsforthemineproject the Minnesota DNR and PCA theArmy Corps and the Forest Service are working with the applicant to develop draft permits for wetland fill for groundwater and surface water discharges and for discharges to the air among others. It is expected that the process of developing and issuing permits may take one to two years. Since the release of the FEIS tribal staff have met with the Forest Service and the U.S. EPA and will be meeting with the Army Corps to discuss tribal concerns that decisions are being made without an adequate scientific foundation and that some areas of impact have been overlooked during the EIS process. Tribal staff continue to urge regulatory agencies to arrange for independent analysis of the impacts from this project. So far the regulatory agencies have relied heavily on technical analysis by the project applicant and have been unwilling to undertake the requested actions. In its FEIS comments the EPA called for further analysis by the lead agen- cies of groundwater surface water and mercury impacts during the permit writing period. Such analysis would be a step in the right direction but whether the lead agencies will adequately respond to the EPAs request is unknown. GLIFWCstaffworkingincoordinationwithothertribalstaffhaveidentified a number of concerns including Unrealistic prediction of seepage capture at the tailings basins The capture rate of tailings basin water that seeps through the basin berm is predicted by the applicant and in the FEIS to be 99. There is no evidence that such a high capture rate can be achieved. A tailings basin water capture system at the Minntac iron mine near Virginia MN captures approximately 40-50 of the water that leaks through the berm. Adjacent iron mine pits not considered Theinfluenceoftheadjacenttaconiteminepitsongroundwaterhydrologyhas not been considered. The nearby Peter-Mitchel taconite pits are permitted by the StateofMinnesotatobeexcavatedseveralhundredfeetintothebedrockaquifer.In some locations near the proposed PolyMet project they are already 250 feet deep. The companys own characterization of the mine site hydrology indicates that the iron mine pits in close proximity to PolyMet would cause groundwater to flow to the north after PolyMet closure. However such a scenario was not examined in the FEIS. There has been no mechanism proposed to prevent northward flow of contaminated groundwater that doesnt involve either physical topography that does not exist at the mine site radical alterations to the waste rock disposal plan for the project or a groundwater pumping program that would be run forever. Mercury releases and impacts have been inadequately evaluated Mercury will be released through air emissions and because of the excavation of mercury containing soils waste rock and ore. While air emissions of mercury are examined in the FEIS the other sources of mercury release were not seriously considered. Because waters and wildlife in the area are already contaminated with mercury the mobilization of additional mercury is a serious concern particularly for those that consume fish and wildlife. The need to reduce discharges to already impaired waters Several water bodies around the project including the Saint Louis River are already impaired for mercury and other contaminants. Discharges from the PolyMet project must not add to that impairment. Permits for the project must ensure that discharges from the project do not add to already elevated levels of contaminants in surrounding waters. Loss of high quality wetlands is not adequately mitigated The project does not propose to replace wetlands lost due to this project with wetlands of similar type in the Saint Louis River basin. Approximately 23 of the replacement wetlands for the approximately 900 acres of direct wetland removal or fill at the project site will be outside the St. Louis River basin and the 1854 Ceded Territory. The high quality wetlands that will be lost are unlikely to be successfully replaced at the proposed mitigation sites. ThetechnicalcommentsontheFEISbyGLIFWCstaffareavailableathttp www.lic.wisc.eduglifwcpolymetFEISGLIFWC_comments They provide detailed explanations of staff concerns with the FEISs charac- terization of the proposed project. GLIFWC and other tribal staff will continue to engage with the regulatory agencies as they draft permits for the Polymet project. The permit drafting period is a time when the data and analysis gaps can be filled and staff will continue to advocate for independent and thorough evaluation of the questions that remain. Mining Alternatives Summit returns Odanah Wis.When it comes to mineral resource extraction in Indian Country corporate interest seems to ebb and flow but never really goes away. While proposed operations like the Penokee Range iron mine are shelved for the time being others like the Back Forty metallic sulfide mine in southern Upper Michigan are pushing forward. Bringing together legal and resources specialists with local residents the Bad River Band of Ojibwe hosted the second Mining Alternatives Summit March 17-18 which included more than 100 registrants plus an additional 300 that tuned in via live stream. Discussions ranged from sustainable economic ventures to mining initiatives to food sovereignty. Events like this really help build community said Naomi Tillison Bad River Natural Resources Department water resources specialist and a confer- ence presenter. It gives the public a better understanding of considerations like water resources and water resource protection. Students from the club Bad River Youth Outdoors made a rousing appear- ancerelatinghowacleanundisturbedenvironmentenhancedtheirenjoymentof the regions woods and waters. Some also spoke of how working and recreating in the outdoors helped build confidence and leadership skills. Many presenters hailed from natural resource management fields along with several policy experts including GLIFWCsAnn McCammon Soltis who sketchedoutthelevelsofauthoritythattribesstatesandthefederalgovernment have over land use. McCammon Soltis said that while GLIFWC and Ameri- can Indian tribes do not possess the ability to approve or deny off-reservation permits for activities like mining tribal representatives play a crucial role informing all parties of the hazards and potential environmental and cultural impacts that come with large-scale manipulation of natural ecosystems. With on-reservation ruleslike water quality standards approved by the Environ- mental Protection Agencyindividual tribes can further influence permitting agencies McCammon said. The Chippewa Federation Mining Committee an intertribal group com- prised of representatives from Sokaogon Mole Lake Lac du Flambeau Bad River Red Cliff St. Croix and Lac Courte Oreilles Bands sponsored the 2016 summit. Charlie Otto Rasmussen Fish consumption advisory on the St. Louis River. GLIFWC photo PAGE 11 MAZINAIGANSUMMER 2016