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Polymet: More Troubling Data

Category: Environment
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?
comments (3) permalink

Thoughts On The Special Session And Senate Dysfunction

Category: Environment
Posted: 06/13/15 18:13

by Dave Mindeman

I watched yesterday's special session fairly closely and although I was somewhat disappointed by the ending, the more disturbing problem to me is the dysfunctional front that the Senate seemed to put forward.

The House Republicans found a weakness in the Democratic leadership and they exploited it to the fullest. Republicans are good at that - but that weakness has to be evident for them to have the opportunity.

Bakk and Dayton have not been on the same page since the session started. Dayton's focus was on education and transportation. Bakk seemed to be more concerned about just getting done - and looking for smaller advantages where he could get them.

The Senate caucus is divided on some issues, but they are few in number. The environment is the main one, and the House GOP exploited that by dumping policy initiatives into the budget bills. That peeled off enough individual Senators to even the odds on a few key bills.

The odd thing about it is that the Senate GOP wasn't following what the House GOP was doing - which made for the messy ending on the Ag/Enviro bill. The House knew that the votes in the Senate on that bill were tethered to those environmental policy issues - provided all of the Senate GOP cooperated. That is why the House went to such extraordinary measures to keep the sulfide mining exemption and the elimination of the MPCA citizens board in the bill. That was the combination that could move the bill through both the House and Senate with mostly GOP votes. Those environmental policy issues were needed to peel off DFL range votes and finalize the end game. The Senate GOP figured it out in the end.

That messy bill wasn't a sea change in policy, but it pointed out some glaring weaknesses in Democratic leadership.

The House GOP has been gloating about the discord in the Senate. The Iron Range Democrats will listen to discussions about environmental draw backs. Years of dependency on the mining industry are hard to transition out of. This alliance with Polymet and other mining concerns has gained importance to them as steel prices stagnate and layoffs are imminent. The false premise being that only by helping the mining industry work around environmental concerns, can the industry survive. False premise but the only one being offered.

For the GOP, that all falls within their wheelhouse. They have no concerns about climate change - their only concern is keeping the business sector happy. That is why, going into next session, they have already laid plans for transportation without paying for it and tax cuts with the surplus.

The business community is looking forward to that.

Which is all the more reason for the Senate to look at itself internally. How are they going to function and move Democratic policy with this kind of discord.

Democrats have had the upper hand on education policy. The House GOP seemed to recognize that early and settled for blocking Pre-K rather than fighting over spending increases. In fact, they decided to take credit for the Governor's insistence on getting a higher funding formula.

Then they tabled transportation and tax policy...deciding that discussions in an election year would be more to their advantage, and they have already laid the ground work to move their own agenda.

In all of this, the Senate only reacts, they do not initiate policy in these debates. There doesn't seem to be a plan and their is little coordination with what should be their strongest ally, the Governor.

This environmental divide in the Senate needs to be addressed. But it is getting clear that Senator Bakk is not the one to address it. He may be a pragmatist and negotiator but it all leans toward his own personal agenda and not Democratic policy. I don't mind his Iron Range advocacy, but it should not be directed from his office as Majority Leader.

In the larger scheme of things, Iron Range policy getting intertwined with the GOP is liking dealing with a snake oil salesman - sooner or later you will get burned. What has the GOP done for the Iron Range anyway? Sure they side with mining - at least the business end of it - but have they done anything for the miners themselves? Have they ever been concerned with how toxic clean up gets paid for - an important part of overall mining policy? Have they not punished Duluth, the same as they punish the Twin Cities on LGA?

No, this Democratic Senate division can be and should be resolved within the Senate Democratic caucus, not with outside overtures to an exploitive GOP.

That is going to require changes in the Senate. Changes in leadership. Changes in the discussion. Changes in relationships with each other and the Governor.

And sooner rather than later.
comments (0) permalink

House GOP Said We Needed Divided Govt - Well This Is What It Is

Category: Environment
Posted: 06/11/15 18:37

by Dave Mindeman

This legislative session wasn't supposed to be this chaotic. See what you get with "divided government"?

During the last campaign, Kurt Daudt insisted that one party rule was bad for Minnesota. The citizens wanted divided government. At least that's what we were told.

Well, we got the "divided" part alright. Metro vs rural. Environment vs Business. Religion vs Secular. We got all of that thanks to the House GOP majority. And in a "divided government" where 2/3rds of the 3 entities were controlled by Democrats, the House GOP got to dictate the terms.

Governor Dayton is in an untenable position at this point. The House refused to cooperate. The Senate leadership was absent. The Governor negotiated in an enclosed box that had no daylight.

And now, the Governor has to stoop to begging his own caucus to support bills they do not like or want. He calls it a need for "the continuity of government". How in the world did it come to this?

Tom Bakk had some strange comments...

In trying to explain how he ended up with a bunch of budget bills unacceptable to significant portions of his caucus, Bakk said it was a combination of overly high expectations from the nearly $2 billion budget surplus at the start of the session and a unified House Republican caucus. "I think the governor learned the tenacity of House Republicans," Bakk said.

Oh, the House Republicans have tenacity? It would seem that tenacity is an acquired element. Democrats aren't forbidden from having that same tenacity. Where was Bakk? He was absent in supporting the Governor. He was absent when the session ended. He decided that he wasn't going to deal with House "tenacity" and started making deals that at least promoted his personal agenda.

Now, Governor Dayton is trying to patch together a budget. A budget that has a $1.8 billion surplus. Much of it unspent because those "tenacious" House Republicans want tax cuts next year.

This "ugly" budget has no transportation bill. Has no tax bill. Has no rail safety funding. And has an environmental bill that only a Republican could love.

I would not blame the Senate Democrats for voting against any or all of these bills. Governor Dayton will be asking them to hold their nose and let it pass. That is very unfortunate.

Yeah, divided government. That's really what we needed all right.
comments (3) permalink
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