Halt Barrick Gold Mine Expansion, Nevada Tribes Urge Court
March 19, 2010, 6:52 PM EDT
By Joe Schneider
March 19 (Bloomberg) -- Barrick Gold Corp.’s expansion of a Nevada mine must be halted until the federal government completes an environmental analysis to comply with an appeals court order, American Indian tribes said today.
An appeals court in San Francisco on Dec. 4 ordered U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks in Reno, Nevada, to limit production from the mine pending a study of the effect of the extraction of ore by the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM. Specifics were left to Hicks.
“There is no question that the Cortez Hills Project will result in irreparable harm to the environment and the Tribes,” the Shoshone Indians said in court documents filed in federal court in Reno today. “An injunction suspending the project is required until BLM complies with the law.”
The tribes claim the company and government failed to analyze the effect of air pollution resulting from the transportation of ore to a processing facility from Cortez Hills, an expansion of Barrick’s Cortez mine.
The tribes urged Hicks, in a response to a proposal from Barrick for a limited injunction, not to let the Toronto-based mining company relitigate the issues. They say the appeals court had upheld their claims, reversing Hicks’s initial approval of the expansion.
“Allowing Barrick and BLM another bite at the apple in their attempt to avoid any meaningful restriction on operation of the Cortez Hills Project does not comport with applicable law or the facts of this case,” the Tribes said.
The Cortez Hills mine is 98 percent complete, with Barrick having spent $543 million on the construction and development, Daniel Banghart, the project manager, said in court papers.
Barrick spent $90 million on exploration of the site and found two gold deposits from 1999 to 2004. The discovery prompted the company to propose expansion of the operation, which includes digging an 850-acre mine pit and adding areas for the disposal of about 1.5 billion tons of waste.
The deposits, near Mount Tenabo, a Western Shoshone sacred site, contain about $10 billion of gold at current prices.
“There is nothing in the Court of Appeals’ order or mandate that requires this court to issue a blanket injunction,” Francis M. Wikstrom, Barrick’s lawyer, said in a March 8 filing.
Barrick urged the judge to issue a limited injunction which would allow it to mine the property while prohibiting the trucking of some ore to an offsite plant during the environmental review. The so-called refractory ore, representing 3 percent of production, must be oxidized at the plant 70 miles away.
“The economic well-being of employees and the community must also be considered,” as well as environmental concerns, the company said.
Barrick’s gold mines generated 84 percent of its $7.9 billion in 2008 sales. The precious metal rose more than fourfold in nine straight years of gains through 2009, touching a high of $1,227.50 on Dec. 3.
The case is South Fork Band Council of Western Shoshone of Nevada v. U.S. Department of the Interior, 3:08-cv-00616, U.S. District Court, District of Nevada (Reno).
--Editors: Peter Blumberg, Glenn Holdcraft
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