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Anaconda mine cleanup plan finalized, deferral agreement signed

The Anaconda Copper Mine averted being listed as a Superfund national priority site as state and federal government representatives signed an agreement Feb. 5 to ensure cleanup in cooperation with site owner Atlantic Richfield Co.

U.S. Environmental Protection Administrator Scott Pruitt said the plan is an example of the agency’s focus on getting results under the Trump Administration, and proponents of the deferral say the alternate plan will accelerate remediation and save taxpayers millions of dollars.

“We need to be focused on real results, getting real answers, and making sure that we are focused on that and that our processes internally get to that. That’s what this site represents at Anaconda,” Pruitt said. “This is [EPA] Region 9 headquarters, the state of Nevada [and] various stakeholders coming together to say that there is a path forward that provides certainty to the community — that gets this area cleaned up, protects the health of the environment, and we can do it in a time frame that is expeditious.”

Pruitt and Gov. Brian Sandoval met at the 100-year-old former mine to make the announcement and sign the deferral agreement. Local officials, state regulatory agency representatives and industry experts attended the event near Yerington.

Lyon County Board of Commissioners Chairman Bob Hastings, Commissioner Greg Hunewill, Nevada Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, Assemblywoman Robin Titus, Nevada Sen. James Settelmeyer, Yerington Mayor George Dini, Walker River Paiute Tribe chairwoman Amber Torres and Nevada Mining Association President Dana Bennett were among the guests in attendance.

“This is a landmark day for all of us because it is going to provide that certainty that everybody needs, but most importantly, this is going to get cleaned up,” said Sandoval. “For the people that I know who live in this community, this is a life-changer.”

The open pit and heap leach copper mine operated intermittently between 1918 and 2000 under various owners but was plagued by environmental concerns, including alleged water pollution. After the Anaconda Copper Mine was abandoned in 2000, state and federal environmental agencies commenced activities to stabilize and regulate the site while engaging in a years-long discussion with concerned parties.

“One of the things that’s important to recognize is what this means for us as a community,” said Lyon County Manager Jeff Page. “We’re finally going to be able to have — after two decades of struggling, doing testing, research, debating, arguing — we’re finally going to be at a point in time where we can start moving forward and getting things cleaned up like we wanted to get done to begin with, and at a substantially reduced expense to the local taxpayers as well as the rest of us.”

While under the Obama Administration, the EPA proposed adding the mine — a Superfund site since 2005 — to the Superfund National Priorities List to make it eligible for federal remediation funds, according to an EPA press release. The national priority listing would have put the project under federal control and used federal funds for remediation. In the U.S., there are more than 1,300 Superfund sites, or hazardous-waste-contaminated lands identified as candidates for cleanup, according to the EPA.

Instead, Atlantic Richfield Co., the site owner and wholly owned subsidiary of BP, approached the state with a proposal for remediation through government and private cooperation. In July 2017, Nevada leaders requested the EPA defer the NPL listing of areas not on tribal lands.

“We wondered if there was another way to advance the site more effectively, without the stigma of a Superfund designation,” said Robert Genovese, president of Atlantic Richfield Co.

Since then, Sandoval, the EPA, Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, the tribes and others have worked together to complete the necessary agreements to defer listing. The effort includes Atlantic Richfield taking on the “orphan shares,” or environmental issues of previous companies that no longer exist.

“As you look around, you undoubtedly will have noticed this is a massive site. Remediation here will be an enormous undertaking,” Genovese said from a lectern set up behind the secure fencing on the 3,400-acre site, which includes heap leach pads, evaporation ponds, tailings, buildings, process areas, waste rock and a pit lake. “We are here to remediate the environmental impact of decades of mining activities so that the community can move forward.”

Genovese said the EPA’s decision to allow deferral saves taxpayers about $40 million “by not requiring federal funding to clean up environmental impacts created by other companies that are no longer in business.” He did not disclose the cost of the project.

The cleanup plan takes on a holistic approach that Genovese described as protective and efficient, to be accomplished in phases. Anticipated closure is set for 2029, according to a timeline provided at the event.

The EPA determined that Nevada meets the applicable criteria for deferral, according to the release. Under deferral, mine cleanup must meet the same level of protection as if it were a Superfund priority site. The agency plans to review remedies and progress, and retains responsibility for tribal land.

“There is monitoring that occurs,” Pruitt said. “It’s a partnership.”

The EPA administrator, a member of President Donald Trump’s cabinet, said the agency’s action at Anaconda represents the president’s results-oriented leadership style.

“He wants us to use our authority, take our responsibilities to the point of getting answers for communities all over this country. When you think about it, sites like Anaconda are some of the most tangible benefits we can provide citizens across the country,” Pruitt said. “So this is really good work and this is really what the agency does well, and I know [that by] working with the state of Nevada, it will be achieved.”

Suzanne Featherston / SUZANNE FEATHERSTON  

Above Yerington, a mile-long open pit remains at the defunct Anaconda Copper Mine as shown in this 2017 file photo. 

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Former forest ranger heads Elko County' natural resource office

ELKO — John Baldwin joined Elko County in January as the community development natural resources director after a varied career, most recently as the district ranger for the U.S. Forest Service based in Elko.

The avid outdoorsman possesses a bachelor’s degree in wildlife management, and master’s degree in zoology and physiology from the University of Wyoming. He also served a term in the U.S. Air Force.

He said “a bit of wanderlust” led him to occupations in tiny towns across the West — as a roughneck in oilfields, in construction, and government natural resources jobs. Elko is the biggest town he’s ever called home.

Baldwin tallied 25 years of government service, including military time, before retiring this past winter. He emerged after just two months of retirement to take the Elko County position.

“We thought he would be a good fit with the experience he has to assist us with compliance and reaction to different government programs,” said Commissioner Cliff Eklund, who explained that having Baldwin on board could help the county improve its procedures and relations with the federal agency. “[We’re] trying to establish a relationship with the Forest Service that isn’t quite so contentious.”

In this question-and-answer session, Baldwin describes his new position and upcoming priorities, and shares a few details about himself.

How did you find yourself in Nevada? What called you here?

I was here in 2001 with the Forest Service. It was actually my first ranger detail in Austin-Tonopah. I grew up in western South Dakota and Wyoming, and so sagebrush country was home to me. It just appealed to me to come back West to get to country that I love and am familiar with. Elko seemed like a good place, and there was a position open.

What made you interested in the county position when it opened?

I had an opportunity since I’ve been here to work with the commissioners on quite a few different issues and topics. I worked with Randy Brown a lot. He was the assistant county manager and natural resources manager. I’m the new Randy Brown.

My basic background is conservative. I think that kind of fits in with Elko County, and so forth. I’m very sympathetic to local and state governments, and how and why they have to deal with federal government.

Very shortly after I retired, I heard about the position. I was off for two months, and since I’ve worked almost every day of my life, two months seemed to be enough.

What does this position entail?

Basically, I am over the natural resources and anything that might follow that — also over the roads department, and community development is really the [over]arching thing over there, which includes public works and building inspections, zoning and planning, and building and grounds. There is a lot to learn. Hopefully, my background helps me learn quickly.

What are some of the priorities of your department over the next year?

My priority is to learn what I need to learn as quickly as I can and be as functional and as big a help to the county as I can be. We have multiple priorities here because of the multiple departments. The building inspections and building permits are always top priority. And then, as you might suspect, the roads department and maintaining roads and fixing roads [is a priority]. Last year was a real challenge with all the flooding. When you can’t get into your ranch or your home, it’s a big priority.

We do have three great employees here that are in charge of the planning and zoning and public works and buildings. They’ve been here a long time and know their jobs and do it very well. For me, that relieves a lot of pressure and stress. I can trust them.

The other big priority is there is a lot going on in natural resources with sage grouse, with oil and gas leasing and exploration, and the wilderness study areas, which we took on. ... I have tried to appeal to the BLM [Bureau of Land Management] and U.S. Forest Service that on whatever project, we want to be a cooperating agency, be a part of the process. I am familiar with those processes. I think I can hopefully affect a good outcome or at least help.

Who was most influential in your career to shape you into who you are today?

My father. For sure he was. We grew up in the woods, camping and fishing and hiking and hunting and trapping — you name it. It was every weekend of the year [that] we were doing one of those things. He was a game warden for a short while. He loved the outdoors. It was his release.

If you could spend a day with anybody, who would it be?

Thomas Jefferson. Partly because he lived in fascinating times. I think he was instrumental in the initial exploration of the West. If I could have been on that trip [the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1803], I would have. Although I imagine pulling up the Missouri for thousands of miles had to be extremely difficult.

How do you think your experience in the Forest Service informs this job?

I’m extremely familiar with how the Forest Service and BLM function. I’m very familiar with their processes, what works and what doesn’t. And having spent so many years dealing with natural resources, I’m extremely familiar with most everything to do with that sort. Those years make a big part of this job easy for me as far as natural resources go. It’s been great both as a fed employee and now working with the commission and people here.

Is this more of an office job that your previous work?

Probably, but I hope I can change that to some degree. I think it’s really good to get feet on the ground. Not just for natural resources. A big part of this is facilitating the roads department and to be familiar with what it takes for these guys in the field … for Jarbidge and Jackpot and Montello and Tuscarora because we maintain most if not all our facilities in those places. I’ve started on that but I need to continue to learn their systems and their issues.

What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?

I speak Spanish and like to travel south of the border, as far as South America.

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Spring Creek rifle range to get a facelift

SPRING CREEK – A grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is helping put a new face on the Spring Creek Rifle Range.

An assistance wildlife restoration grant, in cooperation with the Nevada Department of Wildlife Hunter Education Program, in the amount of $38,500 will go toward updating the shooting range.

Among the improvements, the range will be reconfigured for handicapped access and mobility. Two shooting benches will be added for long-range targets, along with pistol tables, yardage markers, targets and small pavilions.

A cement foundation and gutter will be added along with berms at 50, 100, 200 and 300 yards, with a dirt berm to separate the shooting range and pistol area.

The majority of work is being done with volunteers and could be completed by June if not sooner, said SCA President Jessie Bahr, adding that some areas will be alternately opened and closed in the meantime.

The work is being done by the shooting range committee and the Spring Creek Association.

Cost to purchase a key to the range is $10 for SCA property owners/renters and for non-property owners, a $25 refundable deposit is charged with a $10 per day fee. Keys can be purchased at the Spring Creek Association office at 401 Fairway Blvd.

For more information, call 753-6295 or visit