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Native Sun News: Firm pushes mine by sacred site in Wyoming

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health & Environment Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

A view of Mahto Tipila, or Bear Lodge, in Wyoming. Photo from Facebook

Top nuclear advocate to head board of proposed mine
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor

SUNDANCE, WYOMING –– The Canadian corporation that wants to start mining 15 miles southeast of Mahto Tipila (Bear’s Lodge also known as Devil’s Tower) announced June 11 that it has named a high-profile, world-class advocate of nuclear power and its raw material, uranium, to chair the board of directors.

Rare Element Resources Ltd. (RER) said in a written release that it appointed board member Jerry Grandey to the post, noting that he was formerly CEO of one of the largest uranium producers on earth.

That producer is another Canadian company, Cameco Corp., which is facing administrative charges filed by the Oglala Sioux Tribe for mining uranium in the water table at Crow Butte just south of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

“Jerry not only has a wealth of industry experience, but the company will also benefit from his leadership, technical and marketing-related skills as we continue to position ourselves to help meet the need for rare earth products in the technology sector,” RER President and CEO Randall J. Scott said in the release.

Rare earth elements are used in making all kinds of high tech devices, including cell phones, laptops, flat-panel televisions, wind turbines, lasers, fiber optics, and cars.

“Throughout his career, Jerry has proven himself to be a thoughtful leader with international experience who makes things happen, winning numerous industry awards over the years, including being recognized by the Harvard Business Review as one of the Top 100 CEO’s in the world in 2010,” Scott noted.

“It is this vision that will help us continue to move the Bear Lodge Project forward and allow us to develop the relationships we need with those companies that understand the value of the products we expect to produce and the need for a North American rare earth supply source,” Scott said.

The Bear Lodge Project, centered at the Bull Hill Mine near Sundance, takes its name from the English translation of the Lakota words Mahto Tipila, Bear’s Lodge.

The flagship project of RER, it would consist of an open-pit strip mine on a 1,700-acre tract near the landmark that is of cultural significance to more than 20 Northern Plains tribes, according to the National Park Service.

The agency has been in charge of protecting the Native American sacred site since President Theodore Roosevelt declared the 1,267-foot volcanic rock monolith the country’s first national monument in 1906.

In the Lakota tradition, Mahto Tipila is designated as a place to fast, pray, and worship Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit. The surrounding countryside in the heart of 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaty territory is considered a holy land, used for personal and group rituals for healing and spiritual guidance.

Rare Element Resources Ltd. is calling for a 43-year mountain-top removal project on 1,060 acres of public U.S. Forest Service land and 640 private acres in Lakota Territory that also have been used to date for mineral exploration, logging, grazing, farming, hunting, camping, snowmobiling, skiing, hiking, horseback riding, and other outdoor activities, according to project scoping documents.

Due to the nature of rare earth elements and minerals found in conjunction, such as uranium and thorium, the company applied for a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) license to handle radioactive source material at the project on May 4.

The National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) dictate that project approval can be granted only after government-to-government consultation between federal and tribal officials to avoid or mitigate destruction of cultural assets posed by mining.

The Forest Service and the Wyoming State Historical Preservation Office have noted that the project area in Wyoming’s Crook County, adjacent to the South Dakota border, contains some cultural resources that are either “eligible or potentially eligible” for the National Register of Historic Places. Parts of the area have not yet been surveyed for those purposes.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe claims that Cameco Corp., during Grandey’s tenure at the helm, violated NEPA and NHPA provisions. The tribe is seeking revocation of licensing for Crow Butte uranium mining and milling, through a formal process of administrative oversight hearings before the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) Atomic Safety and Licensing Board.

When Grandey retired from Cameco Corp. in June 2011, his company had never held a meeting with the Oglala Sioux Tribe specifically devoted to cultural resources in the Crow Butte project, the tribe claims. It says in pleadings filed on May 8, 2015, regarding an environmental assessment for Crow Butte license renewal, that the business never involved the tribe in surveying for traditional historical preservation purposes.

Grandey’s experience covers a law practice specializing in resource and environmental law. His positions to date include being on the executive boards of Canadian Oil Sands Ltd., Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc., Sandspring Resources Ltd., and the Institute of Corporate Directors, as well as being chairman emeritus of the World Nuclear Association.

He joined the RER board in 2013, the same year he received the Ian McRae Award for advancement of nuclear energy in Canada and was inducted into the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame.

Since then has been involved in developing the company’s application for a radio- active source material handling license and other permits for the Bear Lodge Project.

The first year, RER applied for and received a waste water discharge permit from the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ)to begin underground water testing at monitor wells and release the flow into Beaver, Whitelaw and Whitetail creeks.

On June 3, 2015, RER submitted a mine permit application, according to Mark Rogaczewski, DEQ District 3 supervisor.

If fully licensed, drilling and blasting would create a 232-acre pit on National Forest jurisdiction in the high-altitude Bear Lodge Mountains, an area characterized by pine forests and grassy valleys. Overburden, waste and low-grade ore would be piled next to that on a 426-acre parcel of private property.

Sediment ponds would be built to collect leaking water and a diversion channel would detour surface runoff away from nearby Beaver Creek along a 4,000-foot length of its channel. Some 20,000 linear feet of trenching would accompany the mining. The discharges from the mine eventually would be released into nearby streams that are tributaries of the Belle Fourche River.

About nine miles of roads would be removed from public access to facilitate the mining and milling. The main haul roads would be Miller Creek Rd., which is northeast of Wyoming Highway 14, and county roads 208, 266, and 8, as well as Forest Service System roads 854 and 851. The route would require upgrading for the job.

In 13 to 17 round trips daily, semi-trucks would haul ore 45 miles south to Upton, Wyoming, also requiring an NRC radioactive source material handling license.

In Upton, a private hydrometallurgical processer would run a round-the-clock operation using city water and chemicals to leach out the rare earth elements.

RER applied for a patent in 2013 for the leaching process, which delivered an 85-percent recovery of rare earth elements from ore, a 97-percent thorium-free product, and recycling of processing agents, based on results of a pilot project, the company said in releasing its year-end financial results in March 2014.

An NRC radioactive source materials handling license also would be necessary for the processing plant. Process waste from the plant would be neutralized and disposed in a lined tailings storage facility adjacent to it. The pay dirt and the radioactive thorium separated in the leaching process would be shipped away for their respective disposition.

At peak staffing the mining and processing project could employ 200 people.

Mining promoters, such as Bob Livingston, editor of Personal Liberty Digest, advocate the opening of new rare-earth operations in the United States, where California has the only active project.

“American minerals and metals mining supports hundreds of thousands of high-paying jobs and provides domestic manufacturers with a reliable supply of critically important raw materials and commodities that can help re-build America's economy,” says a petition he is circulating.

“The U.S. is home to an abundance of untapped strategic and critical minerals capable of helping meet our nation’s vast manufacturing and national security needs. Yet our nation’s manufacturing industry is dependent on foreign resources from countries like China, which currently controls 97% of the world’s rare earth supply,” he notes.

However, investigative journalist Melody Kemp, a member of the international Society of Environmental Journalists, AP Writers and Translators, and Hong Kong Women in Publishing, told the Native Sun News that rare earth mining “has created hell on earth” in Kachin state in northern Myanmar.

“The place, from the photos sent me, looks like a moonscape of serried dye ponds in Morocco, except the leachates and stuff from the spoils are toxic and potentially radioactive,” she said.

(Contact Talli Nauman Health and Environment Editor for NSN at talli.nauman@gmail.com)

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