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Pollution concerns aired
IRON NUGGET PLANT: Environmental concerns arise during an informational meeting about the proposed Erie Nugget project on the Iron Range.
By Lee Bloomquist
Duluth News Tribune
Published May. 26, 2005

HOYT LAKES - Charles Lippert and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe are concerned about the effect that an iron nugget plant in Northeastern Minnesota would have on wildlife.

Leon Anderson says building the $130 million plant is a "no-brainer."

Divergent opinions on construction of the world's first commercial iron nugget plant began to take shape like a nugget under heat Wednesday night at Hoyt Lakes arena during a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency informational meeting. The Erie Nugget plant would be the first of its kind in the world, turning Northshore Mining Co. taconite concentrate into nuggets containing 96 percent to 98 percent iron.

Construction would kick-start a new Minnesota industry and develop another market for taconite concentrate produced at Iron Range iron ore mines.

But several who spoke Wednesday night said the plant -- and several other proposed projects in Northeastern Minnesota -- could have long-term environmental impact. They also criticized the Legislature for approving a bypass of normal environmental reviews for the nugget project.

"We're here to protect the people we love," said Clyde Hanson of Lutsen, a Sierra Club member. "We should all be disappointed in the Legislature -- what we're getting is a railroad job to get this done fast."

St. Louis County Commissioner Mike Forsman of Ely, who's a Steelworker, challenged Hanson.

"Because of the way this facility is going to work, I would challenge you that our lakes, our mines and our streams are cleaner than Edina," Forsman said.

Mercury emissions appeared to be a primary concern of some who spoke Wednesday night.

An air permit for the plant would limit mercury air emissions to 75 pounds per year with a goal of cutting that in half, MPCA engineer Richard Cordes said.

The former LTV Steel Mining Co. taconite plant that operated on the same site emitted 82 pounds of mercury per year, said Ann Foss, MPCA major facilities section manager.

Three technologies aimed at reducing mercury air emissions are being studied by officials at Mesabi Nugget, the company proposing the project.

Two filters being patented would keep mercury water emission levels at or below a Great Lakes Initiative federal standard of 1.3 nanograms of mercury per liter, Mesabi Nugget officials said. A mine pit into which the plant would discharge water --

and downstream to the St. Louis River -- has a level of 1.2 nanograms per liter, MPCA officials said. Rainwater in the area contains about 10 to 12 nanograms of mercury per liter, they said.

However, Lippert, representing his Ojibwe community, said mercury and particulate emissions could affect fishing and hunting for other tribes, such as Fond du Lac, Boise Forte and Grand Portage.

Because of the nuggets' high iron content, they would sell for far more than the iron ore pellets produced at the area's six taconite plants. Electric arc minimills would use the nuggets to help produce steel.

Anderson, who worked at a Mesabi Nugget pilot plant in Silver Bay, said producing the nuggets would help reduce environmental pollution.

"If you want to take taconite, heat it up, ship it down the Great Lakes and then heat it again to make steel, what do you have then?" Anderson said. "With this, you only have to heat it once."

If permitted, Mesabi Nugget officials hope to have the plant operational by early 2007.

The natural gas-fired plant would be built at the former LTV Steel Mining Co. site, now called Cliffs-Erie, would be built on 6,000 acres and include six buildings. About 400 to 500 construction workers would be required to build the plant over about 12 months. About 100 permanent workers, 50 at Mesabi Nugget and 50 at Northshore Mining Co., would be hired to operate and produce concentrate for the plant. Mesabi Nugget employees would earn about $60,000 a year.

The project would normally be subject to an environmental review, but with Indiana also vying for the plant, the Legislature exempted Mesabi Nugget from the normal permitting process.

The plant would be required to use "best available control technology" for air emissions, complete an environmental risk assessment, and assure the MPCA of the lowest possible mercury emissions.

The mercury filters being patented would filter the plant's water discharge.

"This will filter out a large amount of mercury," said Richard Clark, a MPCA hydrologist.







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