Garnet USA set to make changes, seeks input on DEQ Environmental Impact Statement

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is accepting input on Garnet USA’s proposed open pit garnet mine for just a short time longer. Comments should be sent to DEQ by the close of business on April 26.
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Community members, DEQ and Garnet USA staff were all in attendance at a scoping meeting last Tuesday evening in Alder. The meeting was held to identify possible environmental issues that DEQ should address. Jeffrey Herrick, Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) coordinator, told the crowd gathered that DEQ is neither pro nor con for the project, but rather there to encourage involvement by interested stakeholders to allow for early identification of environmental issues in the EIS.

“We want to use this as a good process,” Brian Jackson, Garnet USA Project Engineering Manager, said of the EIS. “There will be things that we may or may not have considered. We want community input on how we can be good neighbors.”

The EIS became necessary when Garnet USA applied to DEQ for an amendment to one of their operating permits. The proposed amendment would authorize the operation of an open pit garnet mine at the Red Wash Hard Rock Site located adjacent to current mining operations. A draft permit amendment was issued on February 27. Issuance of a final permit amendment is subject to an environmental review. Trenching and drilling activities on the Red Wash Hard Rock Project site have been done since early 2012 under an exploration license.

There is no water on or at the Red Wash Hard Rock site, so the most significant environmental issue there is to manage storm water, according to Jackson. He said they have made extensive plans for storm water retention and erosion controls including berms, catch basins, retention sumps, and other features to keep water from any major storm events from leaving Garnet USA property.

“One reason for the EIS is that we will be reclaiming the open pit to a stable rock wall slope with enhanced planting plans, soil replacement on flat areas and habitat enhancement on the flat safety bench shelves and corners of the pit,” Jackson said. “The reclaimed areas around the pit itself as well as the waste stockpile will be reclaimed to somewhat match existing terrain with the native soils removed during mining operations.”

In its amendment application, Garnet USA proposes to conduct open pit mining activities at the site with mine excavation within a central 80-acre parcel. Ore would be stored within an 80-acre parcel to the north, and soil would be stockpiled within an 80-acre parcel to the south. Waste rock from the pit excavation would be placed within a 100-acre parcel west and adjacent to the three 80-acre parcels, said Will Caldwell, Garnet USA General Foreman on Tuesday night. He added that there will be two shifts at the processing plant at most and the trucks will work an eight-hour day.

Garnet USA currently has an existing operating permit for an existing processing facility and for mining of nearby dredge tails and an additional placer mine site.

Ed Osborn, whose home sits across Ruby Road from Garnet USA’s current facility, voiced his concerns at the scoping meeting. He said that he and his wife Judi are concerned about what mining activities are doing to property values of homes nearby. Osborn added that he is also worried about dust and noise pollution as well as water rights.

“Our wells have been affected. What do I do in a drought situation if my well goes dry,” Osborn asked.

Ore from the new mine site would be hauled on the same road used under the existing operating permit. The garnet concentration in the ore at the new site is expected to be more than twice the concentration of ore from the placer site. This should allow for double the production each year while hauling and processing a similar volume of ore previously processed at the plant.

“The hard rock deposit is higher quality and are more substantial to help enable long-term steady operations for decades,” Jackson said. “The tradeoff of course is that the processing is substantially more intensive and requires an excellent plant crew to perform.”

The pit size allows for mining for about the next 37 years, which Caldwell and Jackson said bodes well for Garnet USA and the community since that lengthy of an operation means some stability for the previously up-and-down mine and employment opportunities too. Garnet USA hopes to add 50-60 long-term jobs as the plant grows. These expected jobs are not limited to traditional mining. Many will be related to administrative, processing, and other activities.

Other changes include the amount of land used at the plant site by about 4.4 acres and changes in use for several other areas including access roads, processing silt and material storage ponds, bone yard areas, and areas reclaimed for future use. The added road will cut truck traffic on Ruby Road and have less of an impact on homeowners, according to Caldwell.

“This will be the most advanced garnet facility in the nation,” Jackson said. “All outdated, unsafe, inefficient, and inappropriate equipment is being replaced. These changes are being implemented into the framework of the existing plant facilities, permits, and previous activities.”

Comments on the Garnet USA Project should be submitted electronically to DEQ at garnetusacomments@mt.gov. Garnet USA’s operating permit application can be viewed at http://deq.mt.gov/hardrock/default.mmmcpx. If you have questions about the proposed Garnet USA Project, you may contact Herrick at (406) 444-3276 or jherrick@mt.gov. Please provide sufficient detail so that DEQ can accurately address your comment.

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