Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Pending lawsuit linked to PolyMet

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 1/29/10

A coalition of three environmental organizations has filed notice of intent to sue to stop ongoing water pollution at the former LTV Mine, now controlled by Cliffs Erie. The site is also the proposed …

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Pending lawsuit linked to PolyMet

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A coalition of three environmental organizations has filed notice of intent to sue to stop ongoing water pollution at the former LTV Mine, now controlled by Cliffs Erie. The site is also the proposed location of PolyMet Mining’s planned NorthMet mine, currently the subject of environmental review.

The suit will also seek to halt ongoing pollution at the Dunka mine site, located near Babbitt.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Save Lake Superior Association, and the Indigenous Environmental Network announced their intent to sue Monday in a formal filing with the Federal District Court in Duluth. The 60-day notice letter is a prerequisite to filing a citizen enforcement action under the Clean Water Act.

A Cliffs spokesperson had no comment on the court filing.

While the pending lawsuit is unrelated to the ongoing environmental review of PolyMet’s proposed NorthMet mining operation, the attorney representing the groups suggests the two issues are related.

“Before the state even considers the approval of a new wave of mining in northeastern Minnesota, it should first require the mining companies to clean up the pollution from past taconite mines,” said Marc Fink, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “As we all learned as kids, you should clean up one mess before making another one.”

The LTV basin, located six miles north of Hoyt Lakes, was used for taconite tailings from the 1950s until 2001. The unlined basin is the source of numerous seeps and discharges of polluted wastewater into groundwater and surface waters, which eventually reach the Embarrass River. For the proposed NorthMet mine, PolyMet proposes to process more than 225 million tons of ore at the LTV processing facility, and use the same LTV tailings basin already known to be leaking.

Soudan resident Bob Tammen, a supporter of the lawsuit, said it reflects on the state of Minnesota’s lax environmental oversight. “It’s a shame that the regulatory system in Minnesota has broken down and we have to go to federal court to clean up the messes left behind by mining operations,” he said.

In addition to the LTV site, the groups intend to file suit to stop ongoing pollution at the Dunka mine site, which is close to where Duluth Metals has plans for a copper-nickel mine adjacent to the Kawishiwi River, and where Franconia Minerals proposes a copper-nickel mine at the bottom of Birch Lake. Both the Kawishiwi River and Birch Lake flow into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

“These are historic tribal lands where the tribes retain treaty rights, and many tribal members are deeply concerned about additional pollution to fishing streams and sources of wild rice,” said Marty Cobenais of the Indigenous Environmental Network.

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Will it ever stop?

Saturday, January 30, 2010