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Duluth News Tribune, January 25, 2010

Environmental groups plan lawsuit for violations at old LTV site
The groups want Cliffs Natural Resources to address problems at the old LTV tailings basin before PolyMet is allowed to add more materials on top of it.

By John Myers

Three environmental groups have filed an intent to sue Cliffs Natural Resources for pollution violations at the tailings basin of the old LTV Steel Taconite plant - the same tailings basin that would be used by the proposed PolyMet copper mine.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Save Lake Superior Association and the Indigenous Environmental Network filed the intent today that gives 60-day notice of a lawsuit under the federal Clean Water Act.

The tailings basin, north of Hoyt Lakes, was used for taconite tailings from the 1950s until 2001 when LTV closed. Cliffs Natural Resources inherited the site from the former Cliffs Erie Mining Co.

PolyMet has an agreement to buy the property, but permits for the tailings basin still are under Cliffs' name. Tailings basins are giant, diked ponds used to hold the leftover materials after ore is processed.

The environmental groups claim that the LTV tailings basin, which is unlined, is the source of numerous seeps and discharges of polluted water into groundwater and surface waters, which eventually reach the Embarrass River and on to the St. Louis River and Lake Superior.

PolyMet plans on using the same tailings basin under its proposal to mine copper, nickel and other precious metals. It plans to use the former LTV site for processing.

"What we're asking is that Cliffs clean up the problems that are occurring there now before the state allows another mining operation to start dumping on top of it,'' said Marc Fink, Duluth-based attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.

Maureen Talarico, spokeswoman for Cliffs Natural Resources in Duluth, said the company generally doesn't comment on pending legal matters.

The violations are on file with regulatory agencies, and are listed in the PolyMet environmental impact statement. It's not clear why the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Environmental Protection Agency have failed to take action to correct the issue, Fink said.

"That's why the Clean Water Act calls for these citizen lawsuits when the regulatory agencies aren't doing their jobs,'' he said.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton