The state Court of Appeals has extended a hold on three permits for PolyMet's proposed copper-nickel mine in northern Minnesota.
The court order released Thursday said the temporary stays will remain in effect until the court decides the merits of appeals filed by the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and several environmental groups. The court has 90 days to file its decision.
The order comes one day after the Court of Appeals heard oral arguments from the groups, who have asked the court to reverse the permits as well as a decision by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) not to allow a contested-case hearing on the matters.
"Based on the record and the arguments of the parties, we conclude that it is appropriate to continue the stay through this court's disposition of the appeals," Chief Judge Edward Cleary wrote.
The appeals are central to the groups' fierce opposition to PolyMet Mining's project, a proposed open-pit mine that would operate on the Iron Range near Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes. It would be the state's first major nonferrous mine.
Fond du Lac Band spokeswoman Rita Aspinwall said the tribe was "pleased" with the court's move.
So was WaterLegacy lawyer Paula Maccabee.
"What it means for Minnesota is that our wetlands, our waters and our habitats will be protected until the court has a chance to make a thoughtful decision on whether the permits should be reversed and whether a contested case should be heard," she said.
The three DNR permits at issue are PolyMet's permit to mine and two dam safety permits.
A fourth permit that regulates water pollution from the mine remains on hold. The water permit was issued by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and will be the subject of a future Ramsey County District Court hearing into alleged irregularities in how the MPCA handled it.
The project is fully permitted, although these four permits are on hold, and Toronto-based PolyMet Mining has been working to raise the estimated $945 million it needs to construct its mine. The Swiss mining conglomerate Glencore, which is in trouble with regulators around the globe and is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice in a corruption probe, now has a 72% ownership stake in PolyMet.
A company spokesman indicated that the stays will likely delay the project.
"As we told the Court, the stay makes it more challenging to secure financing, and the longer it takes to secure financing, the longer the delay in getting the project built and hundreds of Minnesotans to work," PolyMet spokesman Bruce Richardson said via e-mail. "But we continue to work on the financing piece, despite the stay."
"We recognize that the Court of Appeals will make a decision within 90 days and we remain confident that the MDNR met every legal requirement for issuing the permits."