It was a long night covering the first of three public hearings for the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine last night in Duluth. Environmental groups opposing the project held a press conference at 3; an informational open house began at 5; and three hours of public comments commenced at 7 p.m. Click here for our report on the event, but following are a few observations that stuck out:
- The DNR was prepared for the worst. Several security guards and police officers were on duty, including undercover cops and even leashed police dogs (big German Shepherds). Signs on the front door banned hand-held signs inside the event (although a few “We Support Mining” signs made their way in). But despite the strong emotions swirling around this issue, the event was incredibly civil. There was just a smattering of boos, not even many raised voices. One speaker commented on the “Minnesota Nice” that prevailed – there was even polite applause for speakers from folks with opposing points of view.
- Speakers, by and large, were very informed, articulate, and reasoned in their statements, on both sides. DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr had stressed the event “was not a referendum on mining.” He asked for specific comments on the more than 2,000 page environmental impact statement (EIS). And for the most part, he got them, including comments on mercury, sulfate and wild rice, financial assurance, long term water treatment, and the project’s socio-economic benefits.
- There’s A LOT of interest in this issue. Approximately 1,300 people attended. 7 busloads carrying more than 500 mining supporters made the trip from the Iron Range.
- More mining supporters appeared to be in the audience, but project opponents delivered more public comments. The buses to the Iron Range left early, taking away many supporters. By the end of the meeting, at 10:15, only a couple hundred people remained.
- People speaking against the proposal often prefaced their comments with some version of, “I’m not anti-mining, but…”
- Some frequent talking points: “We should not be willing to gamble, 500 years of pollution for 20 years of jobs.” “Copper is needed for technology, especially green technology.” And various versions of “I trust our regulators to enforce Minnesota’s tough environmental laws,” and, “How can we trust our regulators when they won’t enforce rules for taconite mines.”
- While most people are firmly entrenched in their positions, there was some nuance, including a man from the Iron Range with a long family history in mining who’s worried about potential pollution, and a young college student active in an environmental group who supports the project.