U professor denied access to mining site

PolyMet Mining rejected a wetlands research proposal in northeastern Minn.

Eliana Schreiber

A University of Minnesota researcher’s study will not happen because a mining company denied his access to an area of wetlands in northern Minnesota.
Paul Glaser, a professor in the Department of Earth Sciences, planned a research project to sample wetlands near the site of a proposed mine in St. Louis County. PolyMet Mining Corp., a mining company with offices in Minnesota and Ontario that’s seeking to create the mine, declined to let him use its road to access the wetland.
Forest officials gave Glaser a permit to conduct research on the public land, he said, but PolyMet owns the road that would allow him to reach the area, so he needed permission beforehand in order to access the site.
Glaser’s research focuses on peatlands, a type of wetland. He planned to sample plots of land to find more information about the area’s vegetation and predict the proposed mine’s impacts. Glaser said he has been conducting similar wetlands research in the area since the 1970s.
The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, an environmental nonprofit group, planned to sponsor the research.
MCEA attorney Kathryn Hoffman said the group is concerned that PolyMet’s mine proposal may not be meeting legal standards.
PolyMet spokesman Bruce Richardson said the company doesn’t feel an obligation to allow a non-federal researcher access to private roads, especially one with MCEA’s intent to sue the company.
“I don’t think the public’s access to public land should be conditioned on whether that member of the public supports PolyMet’s project,” Hoffman said.
Glaser believes MCEA could pose a threat to PolyMet’s proposal, which he said the company mentioned in a letter he received denying him access to the area. The letter also said the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are already monitoring processes. PolyMet felt that was adequate, Glaser said.
PolyMet had no reason to deny Glaser access to public land, Hoffman said, and even though MCEA is sponsoring the work, his research is completely independent from the group.
“Dr. Glaser is a nationally renowned wetlands researcher. His reputation is far more important than any nonprofit like ourselves,” she said.
Hoffman said that the information his study would collect is important for the public to know about the condition of the land.
“It’s something that should be done,” Glaser said, “and it can only be done prior to actual mine developments because once they start developing the mine, you don’t have baseline information anymore.”