Board OKs mining expansion on North Shore

Associated Press

ST. PAUL -- State pollution regulators, over the objections of environmental groups and some northern Minnesota residents, approved an expansion of taconite processing for a kompany along the North Shore of Lake Superior.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Citizens Board voted 6-1 Tuesday to approve an environmental study and to issue air and water quality permits for a $29 million expansion by Northshore Mining Co. at its plant in Silver Bay.

Northshore general manager Mike Mlinar said the expansion will create 30 permanent full-time jobs, though he said the decision to restart part of the plant has been deferred because of a "softening of the market."

Environmentalists who attended a hearing before the vote said the measure could put more mineral fibers in the air and in drinking water from Lake Superior.


LeRoger Lind, a member of the Save Lake Superior Association, an environmental group, said the risk of breathing fibers near the plant is like secondhand smoke: "Not all people get cancer from that, but some do."

The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, the Sierra Club and others said that the public health risks should receive further study before the permits were approved. They also differed with MPCA officials about whether the company was violating its current air quality permit.

MPCA project manager Dana Vanderbosch said that although the project would allow a 21 percent expansion of taconite processing, it would not result in any net increases in air emissions because it would also require new pollution control devices.

The expansion would also result in more taconite tailings -- waste rock -- which are piped in a slurry to a special basin for settling and storage. Most, but not all, of the fibers are removed before some of the water is discharged into the Beaver River, which flows into Lake Superior.

In the 1970s, Northshore's predecessor, Reserve Mining, was ordered by a judge to stop dumping its waste rock into Lake Superior.

State Health Department toxicologist Hillary Carpenter, who reviewed the project, said it was very unlikely that more fibers in the river would result in any health impacts to individuals drinking water from Lake Superior.

Two Lake County commissioners and the mayors of Silver Bay and Babbit spoke in favor of the project and expressed confidence that public health would be protected.

Melanie Allen, the sole board member to vote against the permits, said she wanted to table the decision for 15 months until more is known about whether the company was violating its air quality permit and whether it could be asked to do more to reduce asbestos-like fibers being released into the Beaver River.


"It seems like we're not challenging them to do better," Allen said.

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