Minnesota Natural Resources Dept and PolyMet approach Supreme Court

17th February 2020 By: Mariaan Webb - Creamer Media Deputy Editor Online

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Toronto-headquartered PolyMet Mining have approached the Supreme Court to review last month’s state Court of Appeals decision on permits for the NorthMet project.

The DNR is seeking a review of a decision regarding three permits that it issued for the project, which will be the state’s first copper/nickel/precious metal mine.

On January 13, the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the permit to mine and two dam safety permits to the DNR, concluding that the DNR must hold a contested case hearing on the matter. 

In filing its petition, the DNR said last week that, in the case of NorthMet, the department believed that it had considered all of the disputed factual issues, produced substantial findings documenting and appropriately concluded that holding a hearing would not resolve these disputes. 

The DNR stated that the Court of Appeals decision had significant implications for the state’s regulatory framework that go well beyond any individual project.

“More specifically, the court’s decision fundamentally changes long-standing interpretation of state law regarding agency authority and discretion when making permit decisions, as well as interpretations of mining law. The decision has implications for future mining proposals, currently permitted iron-ore mines, and a wide range of other state permit decisions,” it said in a statement.

Separately, Poly Met Mining, a subsidiary of PolyMet Mining, also approached the Supreme Court, seeking to overturn the Court of Appeals decision.

“We are respectfully asking the Supreme Court to right what we believe is a wrong. The court of appeals effectively opened the door to an unpredictable loop of review and additional litigation for Minnesota permittees with its interpretation of the statute,” said president and CEO Jon Cherry.

“The court’s ruling increases uncertainty and permitting time not only for mining projects, but also for many other projects in the state that require DNR or MPCA [Minnesota Pollution Control Agency] permits,” he said.

The company’s petition cited several reasons for the appeal, including that the court of appeals’ ruling conflicted with the relevant statute and the Supreme Court’s precedent and that agencies should not be required to hold a contested case hearing when there was no reasonable basis for thinking that such a hearing would help them make a decision.

Cherry said the company was determined to advance the project, which would create about 1 000 jobs in the process. “We have proven that we can meet Minnesota’s strict standards,” he said.

Located within Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range, the NorthMet project has a measured and indicated resource of 649-million tonnes. PolyMet plans to develop the mining operation in two phases, the first of which involves development of 225-million tons – nearly one-third of NorthMet’s known resource – into an operating mine processing 32 000 t/d over a 20-year mine life. It also includes rehabilitating the former LTV Steel Mining Company processing plant.

Capital costs for Phase 1 are estimated at $945-million and include refurbishment of the existing primary crushing circuit and replacing the existing rod and ball mill circuits with a new, modern semi-autogenous grinding mill, ball mill and flotation circuit. It also includes rail upgrades, mining equipment and a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant.

Phase 2 involves construction and operation of a hydrometallurgical plant to treat nickel sulphide concentrates into upgraded nickel/cobalt hydroxide and recover additional copper and platinum-group metals. Phase 2 would increase the project’s capital costs by about $259-million.

The NorthMet deposit will be mined by openpit methods to a depth of about 210 m below the surface.