Mining Update: Major Reclamation Complete at Tyrone and Chino Mines
Freeport-McMoRan (FMI) has completed the large-scale reclamation work at the Chino and Tyrone mines that was initiated more than 10 years ago under an “accelerated reclamation” agreement between the company, regulatory agencies, and GRIP. Nearly 3000 acres have been reclaimed at Tyrone and almost 2000 acres at Chino. This reclamation work kept hundreds of workers employed over the past decade. Their jobs were to re-grade, cover, and reseed waste rock piles, stockpiles, tailings ponds, and other mine units that were no longer being used and caused surface and groundwater contamination, air quality problems, and threatened wildlife. The reclamation work is critical for protecting groundwater from mine contamination, preventing air quality problems from windblown tailings, and returning mine sites to a “self-sustaining ecosystem” or other post-mining land use after mining has ceased.
This is great news and a major accomplishment that will protect our water and air quality over the long term. Holding the feet of FMI and regulatory agencies to the fire through consistent community oversight and legal challenges when necessary was critical to cleaning up these mine areas. A “thank you” to GRIP members and supporters for your ongoing participation and involvement essential to this success.
Chino has requested a financial assurance (FA) release of $4.393-million used for recent reclamation of 249 acres of the Lake 1 tailings pond. After re-grading the area, three feet of Gila Conglomerate was used as cover, then followed by reseeding of the area to prevent infiltration of precipitation that could contribute to groundwater contamination. Nearly four miles of stormwater conveyance was also installed to direct runoff away from the top surface of the area. Financial assurance of $152,751 will not be released as part of this request in order to address any reseeding or fixing of stormwater conveyances that might be necessary to maintain the reclamation work over the long term.
GRIP’s appeal of the state recently implemented Copper Rule is still being considered by the New Mexico Court of Appeals. GRIP expects a decision by the court some time in 2015. Meanwhile, the Copper Rule is being implemented locally by the New Mexico Environment Department as it revises the Closure/Closeout Plan (CCP) permits for Tyrone, the new pit expansion at Little Rock, and the upcoming Chino CCP. Please attend public meetings on these important plans and permits in order to show your support for protection of our water quality.
Freeport-McMoRan Tyrone has applied for an expansion of the Little Rock Mine adjacent to the Tyrone mine. The application requests an increase in the permit boundary of 70 acres, some of which is owned by the Bureau of Land Management and requires a federal Environmental Assessment. Deepening the Little Rock pit below groundwater will create a pit lake. FMI believes the acid generating potential of the surrounding material is low, based on geological analysis. This issue and more will be addressed at a public hearing to be scheduled for the first quarter of 2015.
Tyrone submitted its revised Closure/Closeout Plan application to New Mexico’s Mining and Minerals Division in July 2013 that outlines its plans for reclamation of the Tyrone mine site once mining has concluded. A public hearing is being considered for the first quarter of 2015. Freeport and regulatory agencies are negotiating updated closure costs and associated financial assurance, including collateral and third-party guarantee. The Mining Act requires the CCP and associated FA be updated every five years. Because of legal challenges, this is the first update to the CCP since it was put in place under the Mining Act in 2003.
FMI is moving forward with re-opening the Cobre Mine, currently scheduled for 2016. The company will begin construction of a haul road in the second quarter 2015 to transport mined ore from Cobre to Chino for processing. The mined ore is coming from Hanover Mountain. The haul road will cross Highway 152, allowing as many as 240 haul truck loads a day of ore to travel over a 200-foot tunnel that will be used for regular highway traffic. Construction of the new road will result in an increase in the mine permit boundary of 100 acres, some of which is BLM property. This has triggered a federal Environmental Assessment, which is expected within a month. Although BLM will not hold a public meeting on this assessment, the public has 30 days to review and comment on it. A revised Closure/Closeout Plan for Cobre is expected later this month and the mine will have to apply to come out of “standby status”. This is expected to occur in late winter or early spring of 2015.
Although the bulk of sulfuric acid used for leaching copper out of local ore stockpiles is now coming into Grant County mines on rail, acid is still being trucked from the rail terminal in Hurley to the Chino mine. The high volume of vehicle traffic during peak hours, such as school release times, has local officials in Bayard worried about the potential for accidents. FMI has committed to conducting an evaluation of rerouting the acid trucks to avoid main thoroughfares through Bayard. For Tyrone, most acid is transported by rail, however approximately eight trucks per day come up Highway 90 from Lordsburg to the mine.