DEQ seeks public comment on Garnet USA Environmental Impact Statement

The Department of Environmental Quality has completed a Draft Environmental Impact Statement on Garnet USA’s proposed amendment for its operating permit. Public comment on this draft EIS will be accepted until Oct. 31.

DEQ and Garnet USA staff, as well as area residents and elected officials, gathered at the Alder Community Hall on Oct. 15 to accept public comments. Staff members also answered questions and displayed information around the community hall.

Garnet USA applied for the amendment to its existing operating permit to authorize the operation of an open pit garnet mine at the Red Wash Hard Rock Site that is located approximately 4.5 miles southeast of Alder. If approved this would add 340 acres to the mine’s operating permit area. About 213 acres of this permit area would be disturbed over the life of the open pit mine by extracting garnet-bearing rock using standard quarry mining methods. The area would be reclaimed after the mine is closed.

“The plans were pretty good as they were drawn up,” DEQ’s Jeffrey Herrick said.

A draft permit amendment was issued on Feb. 27, 2013. This allowed Garnet USA to conduct exploratory actions. Much of this exploration has been reclaimed already. In order for the permit amendment to become final, an EIS must be completed to study the effect of the quality of the human environment.

Sheridan resident Doris Fischer inquired as to what the scope and encompassed environmental issues were in the EIS at the community meeting. She was told that it included geology, soils, vegetation and wetlands, surface water, ground water, air quality, noise, socioeconomics, transportation and fisheries.

“I support this proposed amendment and think it will create a tremendous economic impact,” Madison County Commissioner Dan Happel said at the community meeting.

The EIS, which must include a detailed statement on the environmental impact of the proposed action, alternatives to the proposed action, and a no action alternative, is available online at deq.mt.gov/eis.mcpx. DEQ’s preferred alternative is the agency-mitigated alternative. This alternative modifies the proposed action with additional groundwater monitoring and an altered route for ore haul trucks to enter and leave the processing plant. It also includes improved post mining reclamation by replacing stored soils followed by the ripping of those surfaces again using a grader or dozer to a depth of 12 inches prior to reseeding at the mine site and six inches at the plant site.

“The potential impacts due to conflict between ore haul trucks and local traffic may be reduced,” DEQ said of its preferred alternative. “Once the haul trucks cross State Route 287 and travel along the south end of Ruby Road, trucks on the modified route would turn left and enter the plant site via a new northwest-trending access road that takes the trucks directly toward the main plant area.”

Brian Jackson of ISR Capital, the entity that purchased the mine, said the public comments during a public scoping meeting were taken to heart by both DEQ and Garnet USA. He said Garnet USA has been proactive in agreement and follow through and that the company has already committed to making the suggested changes as soon as possible. Changes to the plant site have already been made and include two new lined ponds, movement of roads, property use change and added employee parking.

Neighbor Joanie Rogers said the air quality is still affected by Garnet USA’s truck traffic and plant site. She said she was happy that the company was making strides in reducing the dust and listening to residents. Rogers suggested sprinklers be installed to cut down on some of the dust.

Herrick said that one good comment at the public scoping meeting was the question of why Garnet USA did not just build a plant at the hard rock site where there are less neighbors and would mean less truck traffic. This idea was not proposed in the EIS and Herrick said they cannot force them to do that, but he said Garnet USA could consider moving some portions of its plant operations to the hard rock site.

DEQ will make its final decision after reviewing public comments on the EIS. Public comment can be sent to garnetusacomments@mt.gov. They can also be sent to Jeffrey Herrick at DEQ P.O. Box 200901 Helena, MT 59601 or by calling 444-3276.

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