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Nevada Gold Mines suspends permitting for mine expansion, plans to conduct further environmental studies

Daniel Rothberg
Daniel Rothberg

The state’s largest gold mining company asked federal land managers to temporarily suspend permitting to expand the Long Canyon Mine, a proposal that the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation and environmental groups said would dry up wetlands and endanger wildlife habitat.

In a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management last month, Nevada Gold Mines asked the agency, responsible for permitting mines of federal public land, to hit pause. The company said it “intends to complete additional studies and planning to reduce the impacts of the project.”

The Long Canyon Mine is in the Pequop range between West Wendover and Wells.

To expand the Long Canyon project, Nevada Gold Mines, a joint-venture between competitors Barrick and Newmont, has asked federal and state regulators to pump significantly more water, affecting a wetlands complex that comprises nearly 90 springs. The Johnson Springs Wetland Complex provides habitat to a range of rare species, including a rare minnow-like fish. 

“We are glad that our interventions have persuaded Nevada Gold Mines to step on the brakes and try to develop a new plan that we hope will not damage the sources of the springs,” John Hadder, executive director of Great Basin Resource Watch, said in a press release Wednesday.

In the letter to federal land managers, the company said it would continue studying the area with hydrologic modeling, conduct planning to conserve the Johnson Springs Wetland Complex. After conducting more studies, the company plans to provide the agency with an updated schedule.

Greg Walker, the executive managing director of Nevada Gold Mines, said the creation of the joint-venture between the two companies created an "opportunity to challenge assumptions and apply new perspectives to projects including evaluation against the company’s environmental and sustainability values."

"This analysis resulted in the decision to delay the permitting process to re-evaluate aspects of the project and engage in additional studies and designs to reduce the expected impacts," Walker said in an emailed statement.

Nevada Gold Mines’ decision to temporarily suspend the permitting process came about three months after the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation and several environmental groups filed protests formally opposing the company’s water applications with state regulators. 

Rupert Steele, chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation, said Wednesday that the springs complex is a sacred site. In his protest, Steele wrote that “it would be detrimental to the public interest to deplete or degrade” resources used for historical and ceremonial sites.

In April, after the protests were filed, Nevada Gold Mines said in a statement that it had created a mitigation plan to return water to the Goshute Valley and “sustain surface flows and habitat in the Johnson Springs Wetlands Complex.” Nevada Gold Mines said it was also working with state and federal wildlife regulators to create a habitat conservation plan for wildlife habitat.

In the statement, Nevada Gold Mines said that it “remains committed to strong environmental stewardship and responsible modern mining practices that seek to minimize and mitigate its impact on the environment, including cultural sites.”

But six environmental and public interest groups, in a consolidated protest with Nevada’s top water regulator, said the company had not demonstrated that its mitigation would be effective. 

The groups noted that rare species relied on specific habitat conditions tied to water chemistry, quality and flow. They pointed specifically to the relict dace, a minnow-like fish that the Center for Biological Diversity is petitioning to protect under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Scott Lake, a Nevada-based lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement on Wednesday that “the water that’s flowed for centuries will keep flowing, for now.”

“But,” he added, “this is only a temporary reprieve.”

Updated: This story was updated on Aug. 6, 2020 at 7:54 a.m. to include a statement from Nevada Gold Mines.

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