Nevada rancher cites ‘veil of secrecy’ at lithium mine near Oregon border

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RENO, Nevada – A Nevada rancher taking legal action to block construction of the largest lithium mine in the United States says the government’s environmental assessment of the project is based on a baseline established by a consultant for the mining company with a conflict of interest that trivializes potential damage to water and wildlife resources near the Oregon line.

Bartell Ranch LLC wants a U.S. judge to order the Bureau of Land Management to provide documents, contracts, and internal communications with any third-party consultants that the agency used to come to its conclusion that the Nevada Corp. will not affect endangered species or important scientific, cultural or historical resources.

The ranch filed a lawsuit in February challenging plans for the Thacker Pass mine that it said would strip the ranch of its valuable water rights.

The case was solidified with lawsuits subsequently filed in Reno U.S. District Court by conservation groups and tribes alleging that the mine would destroy critical Sage-Grouse habitat and damage sacred tribal lands that have was the site of a massacre in the 1860s.

The office hired its own independent consultant, ICF International Inc., to prepare the scientific basis for a 2,700-page environmental impact statement required under the National Environmental Policy Act.

But it includes 1,300 pages of groundwater pumping studies that established the models and baseline created by Tyler Cluff, a hydrogeologist at Reno for Canada-based Piteau Associates, according to the petition filed by ranch lawyers. last week.

They say Cluff is currently an expert for Lithium Nevada in a separate right to water protest proceeding in which he relies on much of the same data and work he did for the environmental impact statement. final mine.

“This unusual relationship between a third party contractor for NEPA analysis, Piteau, and LNC suggests that Piteau was not working for BLM on FEIS in a neutral and independent capacity, but rather was working directly for LNC,” the motion reads. .

Piteau did not respond to emails and phone messages requesting comment.

Lawyers for the ranch say they are seeking an order to obtain the documents because the office and Piteau have denied their requests to collect data from Piteau’s test pits and monitoring sites or to hand over field data. They say it created a “veil of secrecy” on the basis of mine approval.

“The entire analysis of water resources appears to have been entrusted to Piteau Associates, which appears to have worked primarily, if not exclusively, under the direction of LNC,” the motion reads. He said the office had not verified Piteau’s fieldwork and “just assumed he was reliable.”

Bartell’s own hydrogeologist strongly disputes the quantity and quality of base water, as well as the forage conditions.

“Piteau could have entered erroneous data into the models to generate a baseline and particular model results for the benefit of their employer LNC,” he said. “BLM’s decision to hand the NEPA process over to parties like Piteau who might have a financial interest in approving the (mine) raises the specter of bad faith.”

The new dossier aims to add the field studies and samples to the tribunal’s administrative record, which currently contains Piteau’s final reports and analysis “but excludes almost all of Piteau’s projects and communications.”

“The environmental benchmark is so insufficient that the actual benchmarks are hidden. “

The office has until November 5 to respond to the last filing.

A Justice Department attorney representing the agency said in an email to the ranch attorney last month that the office had not received any field reports and “relied on basic reports from these entrepreneurs, who are included in the EIS “.

“BLM expects contractors with properly accredited staff to provide accurate data and conclusions in a professional manner,” Leilani Doktor wrote in the email attached to the ranch’s motion. .

Lithium Nevada said in its latest submission last week that “BLM has fully analyzed and ensured water quality standards are met and appropriately adopted adaptive management.” He said earlier that the office had conducted a comprehensive review based on its “experience and expertise,” public comments and “a lot of data collected … over the years in coordination with state and federal environmental agencies.”

Doktor said the office considered the documents sought by the ranch to be “internal and deliberative” documents exempt from the administrative record. Third party contracts are exempt because they “are not elements taken into account during the decision-making process”.

–The Associated Press


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