Water quality permit for NorthMet

Public comment period has closed

The public comment period for the draft air quality permit, draft water quality permit, and draft 401 water quality certification for PolyMet’s NorthMet project closed on March 16, 2018. The MPCA is currently reviewing all comments and information received.

MPCA water quality permits establish specific limits and requirements to protect Minnesota's surface and groundwater quality for a variety of uses, including drinking water, aquatic life and recreation. These are also known as NPDES/SDS permits (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System/State Disposal System).

Individual Wastewater NPDES/SDS Permit

PolyMet's NorthMet mining project would need an individual wastewater NPDES/SDS permit from the MPCA to authorize any discharge of industrial process wastewater.

PDF icon NPDES/SDS Water Permits and PolyMet Mining (wq-wwprm1-25)

The MPCA typically follows the process below for processing individual water quality permit applications.  The PolyMet process may vary.

 

Water permit process with marker showing current status as completeness review

* includes coordination with EPA

On July 11, 2016, PolyMet submitted an application to the MPCA for an NPDES/SDS water quality permit for its proposed NorthMet mining project in northeastern Minnesota. MPCA staff processed the application and began preparing a draft permit. This process resulted in additional information and clarifications being made to the Agency. To reflect this additional information, PolyMet submitted an updated version of the permit application in October 2017.

MPCA staff completed their review of the updated permit application and supporting materials and prepared a draft permit and supporting Fact Sheet for the proposed project. The draft permit and Fact Sheet were provided to the interested Tribes, the EPA and the Permittee for an early review and comment period on January 17, 2018. The public notice period for the draft permit ran from January 31, 2018 to March 16, 2018.

Current status

Reviewing public comments

The public comment period for the draft water quality permit for PolyMet’s NorthMet project closed on March 16, 2018. The MPCA is currently reviewing all comments and information received and will be preparing responses to comments. This process may result in changes to the draft permit prior to MPCA’s decision whether to issue the permit.

Links to the draft permit, the Fact Sheet, and the Fact Sheet attachments are provided below:

PDF icon Draft NPDES/SDS Permit (wq-wwprm1-51j)

PDF icon Draft NPDES/SDS Permit Fact Sheet (wq-wwprm1-51k)

PDF icon Draft NPDES/SDS Permit Fact Sheet, Attachment 1 (wq-wwprm1-51l)

PDF icon Draft NPDES/SDS Permit Fact Sheet, Attachment 2 (wq-wwprm1-51m)

PDF icon Draft NPDES/SDS Permit Fact Sheet, Attachment 3 (wq-wwprm1-51n)

PDF icon Draft NPDES/SDS Permit Fact Sheet, Attachment 4 (wq-wwprm1-51p)

PDF icon Draft NPDES/SDS Permit Fact Sheet, Attachment 5 (wq-wwprm1-51q)

Previous steps and supporting documents

Public comment

Comments were accepted through Friday, March 16, 2018. All written comments received during the comment period are considered when the MPCA decides whether to issue a permit or certification. Comments can and often do result in changes to the final permit.

Public meetings

The MPCA held two public meetings on the draft permits jointly with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on Wednesday, February 7, 2018 in Aurora and Thursday February 8, 2018 in Duluth.

The following water quality permit fact sheets were available at the public meetings:

PDF icon NPDES permit and PolyMet requirements (wq-wwprm1-51s) (Jan 2018)

PDF icon PolyMet permit highlights (wq-wwprm1-51t) (Jan 2018)

PDF icon NPDES/SDS permit and sulfate (wq-wwprm1-51u) (Jan 2018)

PDF icon Reverse osmosis (wq-wwprm1-51v) (Jan 2018)

NPDES/SDS permit application

The October 2017 updated permit application:

PDF icon NPDES/SDS Permit Application - Vol I: Introduction (wq-wwprm1-50u) (Oct 2017)

NPDES/SDS Permit Application - Vol II: Mine Site (wq-wwprm1-50v) (pdf 145.3 mb) (Oct 2017)

PDF icon NPDES/SDS Permit Application - Vol III: Waste Water Treatment System (wq-wwprm1-50w) (Oct 2017)

PDF icon NPDES/SDS Permit Application - Vol IV: Plant Site Sewage Treatment and Stormwater (wq-wwprm1-50x) (Oct 2017)

PDF icon NPDES/SDS Permit Application - Vol V: Tailings Basin and Beneficiation Plant (wq-wwprm1-50y) (Oct 2017)

PDF icon NPDES/SDS Permit Application - Vol VI: HRF and Hydrometallurgical Plant (wq-wwprm1-50z) (Oct 2017)

PDF icon NPDES/SDS Permit Application - Vol VII, Transportation and Utility Corridors (wq-wwprm1-51a) (Oct 2017)

 

The initial July 2016 permit application and November 2016 update:

PDF icon NPDES-SDS Permit App - Vol I – Introduction v1 JUL2016.pdf

PDF icon NPDES-SDS Permit App - Vol II - Mine Site v1 JUL2016.pdf

PDF icon NPDES-SDS Permit App - Vol III - Waste Water Treatment System v1 JUL2016.pdf

PDF icon NPDES-SDS Permit App Vol IV-Plant Site Sewage Treatment and Stormwater v1 JUL2016.pdf

PDF icon NPDES-SDS Permit App - Vol V – Tailings Basin and Beneficiation Plant v1 JUL2016.pdf

PDF icon NPDES-SDS Permit App Vol VI–HRF and Hydrometallurgical Plant v1 JUL2016.pdf

PDF icon NPDES-SDS Permit App Vol VII - Transportation and Utility Corridors v1 JUl2016.pdf

PDF icon NorthMet Project NPDES/SDS Permit: Application Update Nov. 30, 2016 (wq-wwprm1-50r)

 

Key references cited in application

The following documents are cited in the application:

Wastewater Treatment System:  Design and Operation Report v2 (wq-wwprm1-51b) (108.9 mb) (Oct 2017)

PDF icon Water Management Plan - Plant (wq-wwprm1-50a) updated July 2016

PDF icon Flotation Tailings Management Plan (wq-wwprm1-50b)

PDF icon Geotechnical Data Package Vol 2.pdf

PDF icon Adaptive Water Management Plan.pdf

PDF icon Installation and Monitoring Plan for Wells N of Mine Site.pdf

PDF icon Mercury Overview.pdf

PDF icon Mine Plan.pdf

PDF icon NorthMet Project Description.pdf

PDF icon Plant Site Wastewater Treatment Plant Pilot testing.pdf

PDF icon Reclamation Plan.pdf

PDF icon Residue Management Plan.pdf

PDF icon Surface water and groundwater quality data collected 2014 2015.pdf

PDF icon Waste Water Treatment System Design and Operation Report.pdf

PDF icon Water Management Plan - Mine (wq-wwprm1-50p) updated July 2016)

PDF icon Wetland Residence Time.pdf

Correspondence related to permit application

PDF icon MPCA Application Completeness letter (Aug. 2, 2016)

PDF icon PolyMet response to EPA letter (Nov. 9, 2016)

PDF icon November 9, 2016 Comment Letter Response

Construction Stormwater General NPDES/SDS Permit

When a project includes land-disturbing activities totaling an acre or more, a Construction Stormwater Permit must be obtained from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.  Land-disturbing activities are common practices related to construction. Some examples include removing vegetation, like grass or trees, changing the topography by using a bulldozer to level a slope, digging holes to examine the characteristics of the soil at the project site, or installing monitoring wells.  These routine activities must be regulated by this permit because they have the potential to allow stormwater—runoff caused by rain and snowmelt—to carry dirt and pollutants into our lakes, rivers and streams. 

Virtually all types and sizes of construction projects involve the same types of land-disturbing activities. Whether the project is building an apartment building, a new road or bridge, or digging holes to examine soil characteristics, similar actions involving land disturbance take place.  All of these actions increase the potential for soil to runoff from the site and stormwater management practices can be used to reduce that potential. These practices are required by the Construction Stormwater General permit.  Because the land disturbing activities on these various types of construction projects are similar, the appropriate regulatory mechanism is a general permit.  General permits are used by the MPCA when a category of permittees has activities, operations, and discharges that are substantially similar.  The Construction Stormwater General Permit has requirements that address all types of land-disturbing construction activity.  Because the activities regulated by the permit are similar, land disturbing construction activities, the permit does not need to be modified for each project.  Each permittee covered by the general permit must develop a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP), specific to the project, which details how the requirements of the permit will be met.  The SWPPP takes into account the specific characteristics of the project and identifies the practices that will be implemented at the project to meet the requirements of the general permit. The SWPPP becomes an enforceable part of the permit.

The current Construction Stormwater General Permit was issued and became effective in August 2013.  Prior to its issuance the permit went through a public-notice and comment process.  When an applicant seeks coverage under this permit, there is no additional public comment period.  Since the permit became effective, nearly 7,000 projects have been covered by this permit.   When an applicant has submitted a complete and accurate application in accordance with the requirements of the general permit, they can be authorized to discharge stormwater associated with construction activity under the general permit.

Current status

On February 7, 2017, PolyMet submitted an application for a Construction Stormwater General Permit for geotechnical investigations at the NorthMet Project plant site and tailings basin. Geotechnical investigations are very common prior to construction of commercial buildings, apartments, road projects; examples include the Vikings stadium, the Saint Croix River Bridge and the Highway 53 project near Virginia. Since these activities disturb more than one acre of land, a Construction Stormwater General Permit is required before commencing the activity.

The purpose of PolyMet’s geotechnical work is to investigate and characterize geological conditions at the site prior to construction and mining operations. This includes such activities as borings and test pits to determine soil characteristics and depth to bedrock and installation of monitoring wells.

Coverage under the February 7, 2017, permit application was effective on March 9, 2017. Coverage under this application only authorizes activities related to geotechnical work; it does not authorize construction or operation of the processing facility, mine pits, or other construction activities.  MPCA approved PolyMet’s SWPPP, which is now an enforceable part of the permit. 

On March 13, 2017, PolyMet submitted an application for a Construction Stormwater General Permit for additional geotechnical work; specifically installing monitoring wells at two locations near the mine site. Coverage under this application only authorizes activities related to geotechnical work; it does not authorize construction or operation of the processing facility, mine pits, or other construction activities. Coverage under this permit was effective on April 12, 2017.  MPCA approved PolyMet’s SWPPP, which is now an enforceable part of the permit. 

Coverage information for both permits is available at the following link: https://cf.pca.state.mn.us/water/stormwater/csw/search.cfm

Future construction stormwater permits

The applications received on February 7 and March 13, 2017, for coverage under the Construction Stormwater General Permit are related to geotechnical investigation in a portion of the project area.  Additional geotechnical investigation, as well as land-disturbing construction activity related to other aspects of the project, will require additional future applications for coverage under the Construction Stormwater General permit.

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