'I support the project,' Mark Dayton says of the PolyMet mining proposal
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has moved from being "genuinely undecided" on the proposed PolyMet mine to being a genuine supporter."Nothing of that magnitude is risk free but I think it's a risk worth taking and I support the project," t...
ST. PAUL - Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has moved from being "genuinely undecided" on the proposed PolyMet mine to being a genuine supporter.
"Nothing of that magnitude is risk free but I think it's a risk worth taking and I support the project," the Democrat said in a recent interview with the Pioneer Press. "But they still have to meet the environmental permitting requirements."
PolyMet is a proposed copper-nickel mining project in northern Minnesota's Iron Range that is now undergoing the permitting process. The process may still take a while - the final project may not be complete during Dayton's term - but the governor's favor may give comfort to supporters and dash the hopes of opponents. Dayton had been resolutely neutral on the project for much of his term.
Many along the economically stressed Iron Range have long-backed PolyMet's plans for the open-pit mine's promise of 360 permanent jobs and a revitalized mining industry.
But environmental and conservation interests have said the project could lead to environmental disaster in an area that has long valued its outdoors recreation.
The project has been studied for more than a decade and is still undergoing scrutiny. Dayton's declaration that he supports the project does not negate or short-circuit that ongoing permitting examination. Several state agencies are currently examining the proposed mine.
"I don't interfere with those determinations," Dayton said.
PROTECTIONS SUFFICIENT, DAYTON SAYS
Even if the state gives Polymet the final approval, lawsuits could continue to lengthen the process. And if it survives that, the plans would take even more time to become fully operational.
The governor also said that he is working with officials to pin down the final financial assurances for the state if PolyMet goes bankrupt or has other fiscal issues, so that the state would be kept safe. Dayton said he had a meeting last week on some of those details.
But Dayton said he is comfortable with the project going forward.
"PolyMet is one where I think the risk is worth (the reward) and the protections that we are building in - both ... environmentally and financially - will be sufficient," the governor told the Pioneer Press. "They'll be controversial but that's where I come down on the side of jobs and environmental protection. I think we've found a way to make them compatible."
TWIN METALS DIFFERENT, GOVERNOR SAYS
The governor is not as comfortable with another proposed copper-nickel mine.
PolyMet's structure and location "is very different from Twin Metals. It's a very different watershed,' he said.
Twin Metals Minnesota wants to mine for minerals near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, a million-acre plot of lakes, streams and forest renowned for its pristine wilderness. Dayton has long voiced his doubts about that project and under President Barack Obama the federal government basically declared a two-year time out. Some Minnesota members of Congress have attempted to restart the discussion under the Trump administration.
In the interview, Dayton said that he understands that people who want jobs in northern Minnesota see the project as worth whatever risk comes with it and those whose "priority concern is protecting the integrity of the Boundary Waters and that region" think it's not. And the two sides are further and further apart on that project and on the proposed Enbridge oil pipeline, creating a tinderbox of emotion.
"If I had a magic wand I would bring folks together," he said. "I don't see the middle ground on either one."