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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Holden Mine Remediation meeting in Seattle packed by Village advocates

Holden Village advocates packed the hearing last night at Hart Crowser's offices in Seattle. Out of perhaps 30 or 40 people present, the vast majority were Holden adherents who spoke of the impact to the Village's operations. Just 3 of us spoke-up on behalf of the environment. I was the last of the 3, and just tried to ask that regardless of which of the "Alternatives" is chosen, not to cut corners in the work purely for the sake of keeping the Village's downtime to a minimum. This is astounding, considering the situation at Holden and the environmental law as it stands.

Norm Day, Holden Mine Project Manager for the USFS, speaks to a packed house last night in Seattle

Holden Village's people at the hearing argued very consistently that they had already compromised from their original position. They said they only wanted 1 year of downtime, but of course that's an entirely arbitrary position, like saying they didn't want any downtime so doing any cleanup is a "compromise." The word "community" was their mantra, with the notable absence of what is often heard from the pulpit in the Village itself about the sacredness of nature. I tried to point out that the very presence of so many strong adherents to Holden Village at the meeting made it clear that its constituency was very loyal, and so it would likely recover its visitor base quickly even if an additional year of work was needed to do a thorough job of sealing-off this toxic disaster area.

Perhaps the Holden people have lived so long and so often in the presence of the disaster that they really no longer see it as a threat, rather they see the "clean-up" (containment at best, actually) as the threat, just based on concern for their business model. That's very unfortunate in the long term. This is really the public's one and only chance to get this situation fully under control, and if we do a less than thorough job, future generations will have to suffer with the consequences.

Alternative 14 seems sure to be the choice, as it is now the agencies' "preferred" alternative. It cuts a new trench for Railroad Creek through the woods away from the tailings so the old creek bed becomes a collection trench for leachate which is then treated at the downstream end. Cutting this new creek bed and lining it will required removing many old trees in one of the nicer groves alongside and downstream of the Village. Alt 14 drops the requirement for an impenetrable fabric barrier over the tailings (cost savings), and leaves the door open to not build a retaining wall around the big lower tailings piles (that becomes "Phase 2" to be built only if necessary, and at least 5 years after the rest of the project is finished). Several other capital-intensive parts of the remediation, like a second water-treatment plant, become optional and are only installed if needed. All of which saves the mining company money, and the Village downtime. So the incentives are strong to minimize the work and the cost. It remains up to us to voice our skepticism, remind the players of the very real threats from this toxic mess, and keep these folks on their toes about the true purpose of the work, and the spirit of the law, which is to contain the disaster for the very long term.

Alt 11 is the more thorough alternative that includes all the measures originally planned, but might take 3 years to build. Purely on the basis of being thorough, nobody's debating that Alt 11 would be the way to go. Why the agencies created Alt 14 then marked it as their "preferred" alternative can only be attributed to pressure to "get it done and get it done quickly," to quote the Holden Village website. Perhaps not coincidentally, Holden is offering to house the remediation workers during the work and will receive significant infrastructure improvements out of the "sweet" Alt 14 deal, probably negotiated between themselves and the mining company Rio Tinto, which has a huge direct monetary incentive.

Well at least thanks to the 3 of us, the stenographer's records of last night's meeting will show that somebody outside the Holden community is watching the progress of this to see how it works for the sake of the environment. Hopefully the work itself gets a lot of press and the public is made more aware of the environmental consequences of mining generally, especially mining in sensitive and otherwise pristine areas. Maybe we can someday even get some action to modify the good ol' 1872 Mining Law!

The comment period was extended to Sept. 22 -- we urge you to send your written comments to: 

Norman Day, Holden Mine Project
215 Melody Lane
Wenatchee, WA  98801

or via email to:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just got back from a five day stay at Holden. Sorry to challenge your premise that all Holdenites are selfish and only you and the other high priests of the environment see the true light.
I attended a Cleanup Remediation meeting presented by Holden, with the Mine Remediation people present. I can assure you the main topics weren't about Holden down-time but about whether the AlT14 plan as presented could be done for ~$120M. And yes there were concerns that those new "super strict" environmental standards by the EPA to be applied to the Holden Remediation plan will also be applied to Federal dump sites like Hanford and Puget Sound.

My take on what was resented was ALT14 appears to be an adequate compromise and that the two years it will take to implement will give the Holden Community some time to upgrade some sorely needed improvements to the facilities. That's assuming the Mining Remediation crews don't tear the place up.

Finally, I bet the 37 people at the Seattle Meeting were coming from a position of common sense. Don't be so quick to ignore public comment that doesn't agree with your position.