PolyMet Narrows MN Mine Plans, Cuts Job Projection

The company no longer plans to produce finished copper at its proposed nonferrous mine near Hoyt Lakes-a move that it says will shave $127 million from the project cost and reduce the number of jobs created by the operation from 400 to about 360.

PolyMet Mining Corporation announced Wednesday that it no longer plans to produce finished copper on-site at its proposed Hoyt Lakes mine.

The Richmond, British Columbia-based mining outfit previously indicated that the Minnesota operation-dubbed NorthMet-would carry a $600 million price tag, require approximately 1.5 million hours of construction labor, and create 400 long-term jobs.

Now the company has scrapped plans for additional technology to produce finished copper metal at its Minnesota site-a move that it says will shave $127 million from the project cost and reduce the projected jobs related to the operation to about 360.

PolyMet's proposed project-which has been under environmental review for about five years-involves nonferrous mining, or the mining of copper, nickel, and other precious metals. Minnesota's Iron Range has long been home to taconite mining, but PolyMet's project would be the first copper-nickel mining operation in the state.

PolyMet spokeswoman LaTisha Gietzen told Twin Cities Business on Friday that the revised plan essentially drops a final phase in which the mined copper product would have been processed on-site. Instead, it will be mined, and the concentrate will be shipped off-site to a different facility for further processing.

Gietzen said that if the company wants to revisit and later implement its earlier plans to produce the final copper product on-site, it will require additional planning and environmental permits.

The company said that its revisions are based on projected metal market conditions. “The advantages, compared with the earlier plan, include a better return on capital investment, reduced financial risk, lower energy consumption, and reduced waste disposal and emissions at site,” the company said in a news release.

Proponents of the proposed operation say that there are vast resources untapped in the area, and the project could revitalize the region. Eveleth-based Iron Range Resources recently extended a $4 million loan to PolyMet. And according to a report by the Duluth News Tribune, Congressman Chip Cravaack, whose district includes the Iron Range, is planning a meeting with state and federal regulators, PolyMet officials, tribal leaders, Governor Mark Dayton or a top aide, and other leaders to help move the project forward.

Those opposing the project cite significant environmental impacts of the large-scale operation. An early environmental report found that the mine would affect the quality of surface and ground water, with discharges in some cases exceeding water quality standards.

PolyMet said that it will provide further details about the project after a supplemental draft environmental impact statement is complete, and its revised plan will reduce its effects on the environment.