Mine backers pledge jobs, no environmental damage.
Executives of the international mining consortium that plans a huge, underground copper-nickel mine near Ely on the Minnesota Iron Range say their project will employ up to 5,000 construction workers over a three-year period and create 3,000 permanent jobs at the mine and through local suppliers.
They also pledged not to take environmental shortcuts to complete the project, which is close to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.
"We already know the broad issues of environmental concern," said Chairman Jean-Paul Luksic of Antofagasta, the Chilean mining company that has joined with Canada's Duluth Metals to form Twin Metals Minnesota. "There are fears from the mining of years ago. We won't be destroying the environment or tourism."
Luksic and other Twin Metals officials, accompanied by the Chilean ambassador to the U.S., met Tuesday with a supportive Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
In an interview, they said they expect first to spend up to three years on feasiblility and environmental studies that will employ up to 300 people directly and through contractors.
Mark Cowan, a Washington lawyer who also is a director of Duluth Metals, said the consortium will ask for no environmental waivers, but that it be allowed to eliminate "duplication as much as possible" in its studies and reports for federal, state and local environmental and other regulators.
Luksic said the United States will need to produce more copper, nickel, palladium and other metals found in abundance at the site if it intends to meet increasing demand from manufacturers of electronics, re-chargeable batteries, electric cars, wind turbines, solar panels and other equipment the nation is counting on to increase energy independence.
Twin Metals estimates that total investment in its mine and processing plant could exceed $2 billion. That's up to three times the estimated cost of the Polymet copper-nickel mine near Hoyt Lakes. Unlike the Polymet operation -- a surface mine that environmentalists say threatens to pollute waters that run to Lake Superior -- the Twin Metals mine would be underground. But its eastern edge would lie only a few miles from the Boundary Waters, and environmental groups are concerned about water-related pollution.
The mines would drastically kick-start the modest mining rebound on the Iron Range. Antofagasta, one of the world's largest mining companies, owns 60 percent of the Twin Metals joint venture.
Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144