Governor Mark Dayton of Minnesota is coming to South Dakota. No, he’s not setting up a kiosk at the Empire Mall to try to convince South Dakotans to move to Minnesota. He’s coming to the Black Hills to see the impacts of open-pit mining as he considers whether to allow Canadian outfit PolyMet to dig for copper, nickel, gold, platinum, palladium, and other treasure way up in Minnesota’s nose north of Duluth.
Governor Dayton is actually visiting two mines, the Eagle Mine in the Michigan Upper Peninsula and the Gilt Edge Mine in the Northern Hills, southeast of Lead and Deadwood. Ours is the bad one:
No major environmental problems have been reported at the Eagle Mine so far. In contrast, the Gilt Edge Mine near Lead in the Black Hills of South Dakota is a federal Superfund cleanup site that has already cost taxpayers over $100 million.
The former gold and silver mine was abandoned in 1999. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the most recent mine operator, Brohm Mining Company, left behind about 150 million gallons of acidic, heavy-metal-laden water in three open pits and millions of cubic yards of acid-generating, sulfide-bearing waste rock. Some interim remedies are in place at the site, about 6.5 miles east of Lead, but the cleanup is still years away from completion.Dancic called the Gilt Edge mine a lesson for Minnesota, saying the state “can’t afford a disaster like that.”
One of the issues with PolyMet is whether the company can provide sufficient financial assurances for a proper cleanup when it eventually closes. Brohm forfeited a $6.4 million mining bond, which wasn’t nearly enough to cover the costs. Four mining companies that operated the site previously agreed to contribute $30 million to the cleanup [link added; Brian Bakst and Steve Karnowski, “Facing PolyMet Decision, Dayton to Tour Mines in Michigan, S.D.,” AP via St. Paul Pioneer Press, 2015.10.14].
It’s always fun to be held up as the example of what not to do.
It will also be fun to see if Governor Daugaard or other state and local officials come to greet Governor Dayton at the airport, accompany him on the trip, and offer any insight on the pleasures of having a Superfund site in the middle of the state’s premiere tourist destination. Given the SDGOP’s fealty to big business (and Canadian business—see our leaders’ dogged support of TransCanada’s Keystone XL), one would expect the mining industry to march the Governor and some flunkies out to the Gilt Edge Mine to say, “Look how wonderful this project was for South Dakota! Let PolyMet dig up your Arrowhead!” Maybe Governor Daugaard will even play some economic development chess: encourage Governor Dayton to let Canadians rape his land, and maybe the environmental degradation will make it easier for Governor Daugaard to coax Minnesotans westward on his next visit to the Mall of America.
Governor Dayton comes to the Hills on October 27, then goes to Michigan on October 30.