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For Immediate Release, January 25, 2010

Contact: Marc Fink, Center for Biological Diversity, (218) 525-3884

Lawsuit to Be Filed to Stop Pollution at Proposed PolyMet Mine Site

DULUTH, Minn.— The Center for Biological Diversity, Save Lake Superior Association, and the Indigenous Environmental Network today filed formal notice that they intend to file suit against mining company Cliffs Erie to stop the ongoing pollution of waters that surround the proposed PolyMet mine site. According to Cliffs Erie’s own monitoring reports, there are numerous ongoing violations of water-quality laws relating to management of the former LTV tailings basin. PolyMet’s proposal for its copper-nickel mine is to pile its own tailings waste on top of those from a former taconite mine that are still polluting. The 60-day notice letter is a prerequisite to filing a citizen enforcement action under the Clean Water Act.

“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.

“While past mining has already polluted these waters, the proposed heavy metals mining would bring severe new threats of pollution to these waters, which ultimately flow into Lake Superior at the Duluth harbor,” said Le Lind of the Save Lake Superior Association. “This new threat includes sulfuric acid runoff and higher levels of mercury in waters that are already impaired.”

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.

“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.

The groups are represented by attorney Charlie Tebbutt and Marc Fink, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity who resides in Duluth.

For additional information, the following paragraphs are taken directly from the Draft Environmental Impact Statement that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources prepared for the proposed NorthMet mine, available at:

PolyMet proposes to mine (over an estimated 20-year mine life) an average of approximately 91,200 tons per day (tpd) of rock, and up to 32,000 tpd of ore from a new surface mine consisting of three pits (i.e., East, Central, and West Pits). Over the life of the Project, PolyMet would process approximately 228 million tons of base and precious metal ore at the former LTV Steel Mining Company (LTVSMC) taconite processing facility.  (DEIS, p. 1-1).

The LTVSMC Tailings Basin, proposed for reuse by PolyMet, was operated from 1953 until it was shutdown in January 2001. The existing Tailings Basin is unlined and the perimeter embankments do not have a clay core or cutoff, which allows for both surface seepage through the embankment and groundwater seepage under the embankment.  (DEIS, p. 4.1-29).

The LTVSMC Tailings Basin contributes both groundwater and surface water seepage that ultimately reaches the Embarrass River between monitoring stations PM-12 and PM-13. As discussed above (Table 4.1-19 and Figure 4.1-14), the LTVSMC Tailings Basin had at least 33 locations where tailings water was seeping through the embankment to surface waters. (DEIS, p. 4.1-41).

PolyMet does not propose a liner for the Tailings Basin. As a result, the Proposed Action would result in increased seepage from the Tailings Basin relative to existing legacy LTVSMC seepage, including both surface seepage through the Tailings Basin embankment and groundwater seepage through the base of the LTVSMC tailings (Table 4.1-35). Most of this seepage would move north toward the Embarrass River, but a small portion of seepage would move south toward Second Creek in the Partridge River watershed.  (DEIS, p. 4.1-63).

It is the Tribal cooperating agencies’ position that the existing LTVSMC tailings are contributing substantially to the level of constituents observed in the groundwater. . .  It is unclear how the addition of mine waste to the basins would cause seepage water quality to improve.  (DEIS, p. 4.1-14, footnote 5).


The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation group with more than 255,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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