Posted: 08/23/15 22:21
by Dave Mindeman
Polymet and their supporters have complained about the length of time it takes to get approval for their operation. But some of the problems that lead to those delay can be attributed to Polymet itself.
According to a report published in the Timberjay on August 19....
For more than a decade, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have informed the public that potential contaminants from PolyMet's proposed NorthMet mine, near Hoyt Lakes, would flow south into the St. Louis River watershed.
The southward flow is important because that would indicate potential contaminants would flow away from the BWCA. And the proper government entities have signed off on that assumption.
However, it would seem that this rationale is based on one study. And the sponsor of that study may have some bias....
Barr Engineering, the PolyMet contractor that actually ran the water flow model used in the study, made fundamental miscalculations, rendering the results of this key element of the environmental study invalid. Barr works as a consultant for PolyMet, yet the lead agencies have relied heavily on its technical work throughout the environmental review process.
Another group decided to run a full study on their own...
GLIFWC, (Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission) which represents 11 Indian bands in Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin, maintains its own scientific research staff. The agency, based in Odanah, Wis., is the only entity, other than Barr Engineering, which has actually run the MODFLOW model, a highly complex computer program for determining water flow through the environment.
This study had a dramatically different result....
But GLIFWC's Environmental Section Leader John Coleman, in his June letter, says his agency's own model run shows dramatically different results, and points to the primary contaminant flow running north, into the Peter Mitchell pits, a series of taconite pits operated by Northshore Mining, located high on the Laurentian Divide, near Babbitt. The pits, which sit about a mile north of the proposed PolyMet mine, currently discharge in several directions. Upon closure, however, all of the discharge is slated to enter Birch Lake, part of the Kawishiwi River, a major BWCAW watershed.
North? A 180 degree difference here. And an indication that the BWCA would be directly affected. Why the big difference???
Yet, according to GLIFWC, Barr got it wrong when it set the assumptions while calibrating the MODFLOW model, using water levels within the Peter Mitchell pits that were ten meters too high for the time period in question.
You see, Barr based their assumptions on water levels from 1996. Here is the important part of that....these levels were among the highest levels ever recorded in the pits.
This level is important because only a high water level would force the flow to head south instead of north. The more likely water levels when the mine would be in operation are 300 feet below those assumptions. And this would lead to a northward flow. Bad news for the Boundary Waters.
The governmental agencies respond by saying this in a memo....
Site specific groundwater monitoring data and the measured lack of surface water effects near the dewatered Northshore pits are consistent with the conceptual model that downward leakage from surficial deposits into bedrock could create a groundwater mound. This would prevent the formation of a northward bedrock flowpath from the proposed NorthMet pits to the Northshore pits.
Except the GLIFWC spokesperson says...
"There's no feasible mechanism for such a mound to form, naturally."
So what is the bottom line here? Well, the agencies say that they can put together a "monitoring program" to watch the flow. Any northward flow would then be addressed and preventative measures taken.
But can we be confident of that, given the history here and the lack of finding out about it in the original study?
Polymet complains about the slowness of progress, yet we continue to find flaws in the data. Bias in the study sponsors. And excuses from the regulators.
We need to have a full and complete study done here from an independent agency that has no stake in the outcome. Too much time and money has been spent by stakeholders.
Can't we do this right?