Mine Site Visit - Polymet Sulfide Mine
July 17, 2005
On this beautiful summer Saturday afternoon, over 35 volunteers of Sierra Club and allied organizations gathered in a hot classroom at the 1957 vintage administration building for the now bankrupt LTV Mining a few miles north of Hoyt Lakes, MN to learn first hand about the proposed sulfide mine. Presenting and guiding the tour for PolyMet was Don Hunter, project manager and mining engineer, Jim Scott, environmental engineer, Warren Hudelson, a board member and public affairs director. Drill core samples were on display and maps of the tour and the facilities and mine were handed out and their staff geologist participated.
After a two-hour presentation on the processing technologies and environmental issues (acid drainage, toxic metal leaching, wetland loss, water pollution) and lots of good questions by participants, we caravanned through the security station and up the hill to the existing rock crushing and grinding plant that PolyMet would buy to prepare its ore. The huge industrial facility looked like a dark castle on a hilltop. It used to be used for taconite mining and it was closed suddenly one day in 2001 and looks it. PolyMet would convert another existing building for forming large plates of pure copper and build a new building for the pressure cooker used to process concentrated ore.
Then we drove up to the top of a huge man-made mesa of taconite tailings. The tailings are moved in water and they call these ponds but over the fifty years the ponds were full and the tailings built up to over 175 feet high. It looked like North Dakota with prairie grasses and open vistas. The flat top is over a mile square. There were three other much lower ponds that were about as big. PolyMet’s tailings would fill the other two ponds to about the same height over the 20 year life of the mine.
The next stop was the mine site. It was down the Dunka Road, a private gravel road along a rail line and past old iron mines. The mine would start about 800 feet back from the north edge of the road. To the north, south and east is the Partridge River. Also to the North is the 12 mile long Peter Mitchell taconite mine of Northshore Mining (Silver Bay processing). The ore would be moved from the open mine pit by 250 ton trucks to a rail car loading device near the mine and then by rail to the processing facility.
The mine site is part of the Superior National Forest but a private company owns the mineral rights. Part of the site was logged last year. A few big white pines were visible, retained by the Forest Service. Lots of young aspen sprouts everywhere and some ripe blueberries were eaten. Jeff Fellows, Laura Zimmerman, Matt Tyler, Derek Raedeker, and Clyde Hanson walked out to the mine site and took photos.
Special thanks to Elanne Palcich, Laure Andresen and Clyde Hanson for making invitation phone calls and Glenn Maxham for video taping. Long time mining activists Arnold Overby and Fern Arpi (leaders in stopping Reserve Mining tailing dumping into Lake Superior) participated. Conservation award winner and Izaak Walton League leader Dave Zenter attended the presentation. Bruno Scipioni, a retired mining engineer and former global head of raw materials for US Steel also did the whole tour. Marshall Helmberger, editor of the Timberjay newspaper covered the event. Six people traveled from the Twin Cities, seven from the north shore, four from Ely, and five from Duluth and the rest from the iron range.
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