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Cravaack hosts meeting on Polymet

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Federal regulatory agencies are cooperating better and are on pace to finish the draft environmental review of the PolyMet copper mine project by January.

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That was the report Friday after a meeting in Duluth called by U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack of the Eighth District.

Cravaack, Iron Range lawmakers, PolyMet corporate officials, and representatives of state and federal regulatory agencies have met three times this year to facilitate progress of the proposed copper-nickel mine and processing center between Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes on the border of St. Louis and Lake counties.

"I'm extremely encouraged. We're addressing problems before they become problems," Cravaack told reporters after the meeting.

The PolyMet meetings have been closed to the public and the media, although participants have answered questions afterward. Cravaack said the company may discuss "proprietary" issues during the meetings and that the closed doors allow a more frank discussion.

Cravaack has excluded environmental groups and mining opponents from the meetings. He said mining critics have a "conduit" to the meetings through regulatory agencies.

Cravaack said the environmental impact statement should be ready by January, as has been predicted for about a year, and that permits could be issued and the mine under construction by this time in 2012. It would be Minnesota's first copper mine.

"We're on track to get this mine open and bring jobs to northern Minnesota," he said.

Cravaack said the quarterly meetings have spurred agency officials to talk more and coordinate efforts, speeding the environmental review process that already has lasted four years. That includes the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

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