State regulators will be holding hearings on the Copper Flat Mine, located in Hillsboro, NM. New Mexico Copper Corporation has applied for a groundwater discharge permit from the NM Environment Department and a mining permit from the NM Mining and Minerals Division.
The New Mexico Environment Department public hearing will begin at 9:00 a.m. on September 24, 2018, and proceed through September 28, 2018 as necessary, at the Ralph Edwards Auditorium in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.
The hearing will consider a proposed groundwater discharge permit prepared by the Environment Department in response to a permit application submitted by New Mexico Copper Corporation for discharges from the proposed Copper Flat Mine. The draft permit authorizes the mine operator to discharge 22.3 million gallons per day of tailings, mining impacted and domestic wastewater that could contain contaminants and toxic pollutants above state standards.
The Hearing Officer will provide opportunities for general oral statements or non-technical testimony from members of the public throughout the hearing at breaks in the presentation of technical testimony, and in a public comment session beginning at 5:00 p.m. on September 25, 2018 and continuing as long as there is comment to be given. A Spanish-language interpreter will be available at the hearing.
The Mining and Minerals Division will hold a public hearing on the Copper Flat MIne on October 23 and 24, 2018 with two additional days scheduled for October 25 2018 and October 26, 2018, if needed, as determined by the Hearing Officer presiding over the public hearing. The public comment period will be closed immediately after the public hearing and no further comments from the public will be considered after October 26, 2018.
Tell the NM Environment Department that the draft discharge permit as a whole is inadequate. It should be denied, but at a minimum the permit needs to be re-written with conditionsfor the following reasons.
- Incomplete Characterization– There is inadequate characterization of the bedrock, leaving the potential for contamination to move through the ground.Pollutants from the mine could leak into groundwater contaminating the area’s water supply, and could also reach the Rio Grande. The permit must require that the bedrock be fully characterized to determine the possibility of contaminants leaching into groundwater.
- State Water Quality Standards Must Apply– NMCC is claiming that the pit lake is not part of the Waters of the State of New Mexico and therefore not subject to surface water quality standards. However, the pit lake will combine with clean groundwater – there will be flow-through during at least part of its operation – and the lake is likely to extend onto public land. The permit must acknowledge that these are Waters of the State and that all relevant water quality standards must apply.
- Groundwater Monitoring Is Inadequate– Even though NMED has added 2 additional groundwater monitoring wells, the total number of wells and their location is still inadequate. The permit must require sufficient monitoring wells to reliably detect contamination leaking from the mine’s waste rock piles and/or the tailings storage facility.
- Hazard to Public Health and Undue Risk to Property and Public Safety
- The discharge permit authorizes the discharge of up to 25.3 million gallons per day of tailings, mining-impacted wastewater, and domestic wastewater.
- The mine will dump upwards of 100 billion gallons of polluted liquid waste during its planned operation into a 560-acre pond just 11 miles west of Caballo Reservoir. A collapse or breach at the tailings pond could devastate landowners to the east, Caballo Reservoir, and the Rio Grande.
- Streams Important for Wildlife, Including Endangered Species– Two arroyos run through the mine site and others in the area could also be impacted by surface and groundwater contamination. The permit must ensure that the mine does not damage vital habitat and forage for wildlife, including several threatened and endangered species.
- Financial Assurance– The proposed financial assurance in the mine permit is insufficient to cover the costs of long-term monitoring and maintenance of post-mining site reclamation should the company default, pushing the costs of cleanup onto taxpayers.