- Associated Press - Friday, October 30, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton went underground Friday to see a year-old copper-nickel mine in Michigan and then flew over the proposed site of a larger operation that could be coming to northeastern Minnesota, all as his administration prepares for crucial decisions on the controversial mining and processing project.

After touring the Upper Peninsula’s Eagle Mine, Dayton said he came away impressed by independent efforts to regularly review environmental issues, worker-safety and community relations surrounding the mine. He said a community foundation that is detached from both state regulators and the mining company operates through a $300,000 annual payment the company must make.

“The community has independent monitoring and independent data that they are able to collect subject to scientific standards - rigorous scientifically gathered data - to compare against the data that the company reports to the state,” said Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner John Linc-Stine, who traveled with the governor. “That’s an added measure of confidence that the citizens of that community then can learn on their own how the operation is performing.”

Dayton also said he’ll consider proposing law changes next year to refine regulations in anticipation of a possible PolyMet Mining Corp. authorization.

“I’m prepared to make recommendations to the Legislature next session about any deficiencies or gaps in Minnesota laws or procedures,” Dayton said, citing the way Michigan crafted new copper-and-nickel mining rules before giving the Eagle Mine its green light.

Earlier in the week Dayton visited an abandoned gold mine in South Dakota beset by environmental problems that have been costly to the state. After that trip and again Friday, Dayton underscored the need to structure financial guarantees from the Minnesota mine operators for cleanup and reclamation steps after PolyMet runs its expected 20-year course. PolyMet officials have pledged to follow Minnesota laws in putting up “bankruptcy-proof” assurances to get the company’s mining permit.

The Eagle Mine is significantly smaller than the PolyMet nonferrous mining project envisioned for Minnesota’s Iron Range. While the minerals in Michigan are extracted from an underground mine, in Minnesota the 550 million tons of rock over two decades would be taken from an open pit.

An environmental study on PolyMet is expected in early November, with permitting decisions likely to come in 2016.

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