PolyMet plans to turn farmland into wetlands

PolyMet Mining Corp. has announced plans to restore farmland in Minnesota to wetlands. The company is proposing to mine for copper and nickle in wetlands near Hoyt Lakes and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It is required to create one acre of wetland for everyone it destroys or impairs. Environmentalists caution that not all wetlands are created equal.

“PolyMet must ensure that it has adequate acreage of suitable land that can be converted into replacement/mitigation wetlands,” PolyMet spokeswoman LaTisha Gietzen said. She adds that the wetlands “together with our existing wetland mitigation options, will ensure that we have more than enough mitigation acres to meet the requirements.”

Friends of the Boundary Waters policy director Betsy Daub doubts the wetland will be of equal value. “It appears PolyMet wishes the Minnesota public to believe that replacing high-quality, hundreds-of-year-old peatlands with agricultural land is wetlands replacement and mitigation. It is not.”

Daub continues, “Any replacement wetlands should be located close to the wetlands that are proposed to be destroyed. Otherwise the very important functions of those wetlands – such as water filtration, waterfowl habitat, storm water storage – will be lost from that area. Minnesotans need to know the truth: the PolyMet mine would result in the largest permitted destruction of wetlands in Minnesota history. Replacing this with farmland is not acceptable. PolyMet’s proposal should be resoundly rejected by the State of Minnesota and the public.”

In a press release PolyMet indicated the “transaction will close upon approval by appropriate securities regulatory authorities, which is anticipated in early March.”

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  • First of all, the exchange plan violates the important concept of “no net loss” of wetlands within a watershed. Naturally-occurring wetlands perform essential ecological services, as Ms. Daub points out.

    “Creating” wetlands by flooding farms and offering “replacement” in other watersheds and counties does NOT constitute equal value to the destroyed natural wetlands. Making such exceptions to the Wetlands Conservation Act would do irreparable harm to current hydrology and habitat.

    Second, flooding of fields can cause a spike in release of pesticides and other substances that have accumulated and been sequestered in agricultural land, which may be toxic to aquatic life.

    And third, the sheer enormous scale of contiguous diverse, functioning wetlands to be displaced by mining make it impossible to “replace” with a patchwork of parcels that include logged-over, toxic dump, and other compromised areas.

    Minnesota’s public interest is at severe risk from this scheme.