The public has until July 1 to comment on the Bureau of Land Management’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement regarding the Hycroft Mine Phase II Expansion Project.
The final EIS will include a decision by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on the best project alternative to minimize the impacts on golden eagle nesting and territories. Alternative A would require fewer eagle nest removals and less habitat would be lost, USFWS officials said.
Meanwhile, BLM, USFWS and Hycroft Resources & Development, Inc. officials hosted informal public meetings in Lovelock and Winnemucca to answer questions and explain the project. Unfortunately, no members of the public appeared at last week’s meet-and-greet in Lovelock.
Maps were available to illustrate environmental and other impacts of the project including the proposed Northeast Tailings Storage Facility that would expand the operation to the east and south in Humboldt County and Pershing County. To accommodate the new TSF, the operation would grow by about 13,082 acres of public land if approved by the BLM and the USFWS.
Pershing County’s Rosebud Road, a popular backcountry route, would have to be rerouted around the site of the new tailings pond and grazing improvement facilities, such as troughs and fences, would have to be relocated. HRDI has requested the removal of “inactive” golden eagle nests and a USFWS permit for a 30-year “incidental take” of golden eagle territories. Burrowing owl and bat habitat would also be impacted if the Northeast TSF is approved and constructed.
However, there’s an option in the Draft EIS known as Alternative A that could have less impacts on wildlife, roads and grazing allotments according to BLM and USFWS officials. HRDI, USFWS and BLM officials expressed support for the alternative that would permit a new TSF to the west and south. Most of the Southwest TSF in the Alternative A plan would be in Pershing County.
Fewer golden eagle nests and territories would be impacted by the Southwest TSF in Alternative A than by the first proposal said USFWS Eagle Permit Specialist Heather Beeler.
“The proposed alternative would result in the loss of three eagle territories and so our permit would allow for a few nest removals and the take of these territories. They would have to mitigate so there’s no loss to golden eagles at a population level,” she said. “Under the Alternative A, we would only lose one eagle territory and mitigation would be required.”
BLM Field Manager Mark Hall said the Southwest TSF would require less public land.
“Given the topography to the west, we lose less square acreage to a tailings pond because there’s more higher ridge lines,” he said. “Part of the advantage of the southwest is, given the topography, there’s less dam to build versus to the east. There’s a bowl depression there.”
HRDI Operations Vice President Nigel Bain agreed that the Southwest TSF could be a better site for the new tailing pond due to the topography and less environmental impacts to mitigate.
“You can see the curves of old Lake Lahontan in the morning when the sun is low,“ he said. “From the mine westward, you’ve got a gentle slope so this would be easier to construct a dam.”
Bain said the expansion will gradually increase the jobs at Hycroft Mine from the current level of about 120 employees and contractors up to about 300 to 350 employees and contractors.
Beeler explained mitigation procedures for golden eagle populations that “seem to be declining.”
The goal is to save eagles in other areas in exchange for the habitat lost to the expansion plan.
“It would be retrofitting electric utility poles because that’s the one thing we know that eagles die from and we know how to fix the problem and we know the rate that they die,” she said. “If they fix a certain number of utility poles per eagle, we know that they have saved another eagle per year. We would also require some experimental nest site mitigation that would be getting rid of parasites from chicks in areas where we know that is a problem. That would probably be in another eagle management area in the Pacific flyway, probably at a site in eastern Oregon.”
BLM Wildlife Biologist Kathy Cadigan explained why Alternative A would be better for bats.
“Throughout this area, they’ve determined that bats have been roosting, not just flying through and foraging,” she said. “With the alternative, it would just be taking out low potential foraging habitat. There’s really no topographic features (outcrops) that the bats would most likely be roosting in. For the bats, Alternative A would be a beneficial direction with less disturbance. On this side, we did not have as many concerns for wildlife in general.”
Burrowing owls have been observed in the proposed TSF and not in the Alternative A area.
“As you can see, the proposed action has quite a bit of burrowing owl habitat whereas the alternative doesn’t have any observed burrowing owls,” Cadigan said. “For sensitive species, the proposed action definitely has more disturbance of habitat whereas the alternative, if they were to choose that one, would not create as much disturbance to a sensitive species.”
Hall explained why Alternative A could make more economic sense for Hycroft.
“The analysis is showing that if we go down here, we only have the loss of the one eagle territory whereas if they go over here, there’s three eagle territories and they are going to have to pay more money to mitigate the loss of three versus one eagle territory,” he explained. “BLM will make the decision for the mine side of things and then the USFWS will make the decision for the eagles. There’s two decisions being made.”
Under either alternative plan, Jungo Road will be rerouted and possibly improved, Hall said.
“It’s still a topic of conversation between both counties,” he said. “Both counties see pros and cons to placing Jungo Road.”
If Alternative A is approved, Rosebud Road would not have to be closed and re-routed.
Alternative A would impact the Blue Wing/Seven Troughs Grazing Allotment while the original plan would impact range improvements in the Majuba Grazing Allotment, Hall said.
“We would not reduce the active AUMs because the amount of acreage, particularly if we go with Alternative A, to the southwest, that’s not real good grazing country to begin with. It’s rocky and it’s not a lot of good vegetation,” he said. “The other one, as long as we move the water troughs, then he’ll be able to redistribute his cows for the amount of forage that’s available.”
Either of the mine expansion plans would degrade the “view shed” of a historic trail, Hall said.
“No matter which alternative is chosen, there would be visual impacts to the Applegate Trail,” he explained. “But, that view shed has already been impacted. For historic trails, part of their importance is the view shed. Does it look like what it looked like when the trail was being used? Unfortunately, no, because there has been mining at Hycroft since the turn of the last century.”
To view the Draft EIS, go to the BLM Winnemucca District Office website at: https://go.usa.gov/xEmuU. Comments can be sent via email to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Hycroft Mine Project” in the subject line. The deadline for comments is July 1, 2019.