Decommissioning of Midnite Mine and Ford Uranium Mill and Tailings (USA)
(last updated 24 Mar 2020)
Midnite Mine: Image (AESE, 57k)
Aerial view: Google Maps · MSRMaps
Midnite Mine Summary Data (on CD-ROM) (NTIS)
Midnite Mine - Superfund (EPA)
Dawn Mining (WA DOH)
SHAWL (Sovereignty, Health, Air, Water, Land) Society
Newmont Mining requests relaxed radiation cleanup standards at former Midnite uranium mine
The company responsible for cleaning up the Midnite Mine on the Spokane Indian Reservation has asked the federal government to relax cleanup standards for radiation at the defunct uranium mine.
Newmont Mining Corp. sent a memo to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year, saying the mine site has high, naturally occurring levels of radium-226 and lead-210.
After Newmont began remediation work at the Midnite Mine in 2016, company officials said they encountered background levels of the two radioactive isotopes that exceeded the cleanup standards established in the 2006 federal record of decision.
(The Spokesman-Review Mar. 11, 2019)
Wildfires burning near abandoned Midnite uranium mine
Department of Health officials say wildfires burning close to an abandoned uranium mine on the Spokane Reservation do not pose a threat to people.
The Midnite Mine is an inactive mine located about eight miles northwest of Wellpinit. While fires may burn close to the mine site, the radioactive materials located at the site won't increase the dangers of wildfire smoke as the materials are in rock which doesn't burn.
(KXLY Aug. 24, 2015)
Cleanup plan for former Midnite uranium mine under review
Bill Lyle, Newmont's project coordinator, said the EPA is reviewing a second draft of the cleanup plan submitted by the company. The work is on track to begin next year, he said.
About 26 million [short] tons [23.6 million t] of radioactive waste rock and low-grade uranium ore remain at the Midnite Mine. The plan calls for putting the radioactive rock into the open-pit mine's old excavations.
The rock piles will be contoured to reduce the amount of water that percolates through the waste rock. In addition, groundwater from the Midnite Mine's pits will be collected and shipped to a treatment facility, then piped 7 miles for release into the Spokane River.
The water discharged into the Spokane River must meet the tribe's standards for radionuclides, heavy metals and other pollutants, which are stricter than state and federal standards, according to Newmont's consultant.
The pits will be capped with a 3-foot-thick layer of clean soil and replanted. The cap will reduce human exposure to radon gas and gamma rays - two of the contaminants of concern at the site. Monitoring for both radon and radiation will continue at the Midnite Mine site after the cleanup is complete, Newmont's Lyle said.
Newmont bought an 81-acre [32.8 ha] timbered parcel near the Midnite Mine to provide the clean dirt to cap the rock piles.
The company plans to mine about 700,000 cubic yards [535,000 m3] of soil from the site but will leave enough to later replant the 81 acres, according to the company's design plan. The tribal council has approved the design plan and road access to the site, Newmont's Lyle said.
But the plan has been controversial on the Spokane Reservation, where some would prefer to see the clean dirt come from outside the reservation.
Mining the topsoil will create a new scar to address an old wound, said Deb Abrahamson, executive director of the SHAWL Society.
(The Spokesman-Review Apr. 28, 2014)
> Download Preliminary Design and related documents (EPA Region 10)
Federal government, mine operators reach deal on cleanup of former Midnite uranium mine
The federal government has reached an agreement with one of the world's largest mining companies on a $193 million cleanup of a defunct uranium mine on the Spokane Indian Reservation.
Newmont Mining Co. and its subsidiary, Dawn Mining, will pay for the majority of the restoration costs at the Midnite Mine. The U.S. Department of the Interior will contribute $42 million to future cleanup activities for failing to fulfill federal trust responsibilities to the Spokane Tribe through proper oversight of the open-pit mine.
The Midnite Mine opened in the 1950s to produce uranium for the U.S.-Soviet arms race. Although it closed 30 years ago, members of the tribe remain concerned about the Midnite Mine's ongoing effect on their health and the environment. About 33 million tons of radioactive waste rock and ore remain at the 350-acre site above the Spokane River.
The proposed consent decree was filed in U.S. District Court on Friday (Sep. 30). It's subject to a 30-day public comment period. If the court approves the decree, the agreement would end years of litigation and kick off two to three years of design work for the Midnite Mine's cleanup. The restoration work itself would require about seven years of construction activity.
If the cleanup work exceeds the $193 million estimate, Newmont and Dawn will be required to pay for the additional costs. The companies are required to post $151 million in performance bonds to ensure the cleanup would continue even if they defaulted on the work.
(Spokesman Review Oct. 1, 2011)
> View Midnite Mine Superfund Site Settlement (EPA)
> Download Consent Decree (338K PDF)
> View DOJ press release, Sep. 30, 2011
Insurance companies, Newmont settle over Midnite uranium mine cleanup
Mining giant Newmont USA Ltd. on Monday (May 23) settled claims against Allstate Insurance Co. and Seaton Insurance Co. in a coverage dispute over the cleanup of hazardous substances from a former uranium mine in Washington state. Newmont and subsidiary Dawn Mining Co. LLC also reached a settlement with Appalachian Insurance Co. and a settlement in principle with Employers Insurance Co. of Wausau, according to court documents.
(Law360, May 23 2011)
> Download court opinions (via CourtWEB): United States District Court, Eastern District of Washington , Newmont USA Limited et al v. American Home Assurance Company et al, Case No. NO. CV-09-033-JLQ, Judge Justin L. Quackenbush
Denison requests license amendment for processing of Midnite Mine residues as alternate feed at White Mesa mill (Utah)
> View here
ATSDR finds public health hazard possible at former Midnite Mine site; seeks public comments on draft public health assessment
People who visit the Midnite Mine should limit their time there to reduce the chances of being exposed to contaminants, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).
ATSDR is seeking public comments on its draft public health assessment. Comments on the report are being accepted through July 20, 2009.
> View ATSDR release June 12, 2009
> Download Draft Public Health Assessment, May 20, 2009
The final public health assessment was issued in May 2010.
ATSDR found that coming into contact with site contaminants over a long period of time could harm the health of people who practice traditional or subsistence activities in the mining-affected area. The agency recommends that people avoid using water from site drainages and from Blue Creek for drinking or sweat lodge ceremonies, eating plants or roots that grow in the area, and eating fish from Blue Creek.
> View ATSDR release June 7, 2010
> Download Public Health Assessment for Midnite Mine Site, Wellpinit, Stevens County, Washington, May 19, 2010 (3.74M PDF)
EPA orders mining companies to continue cleanup work at Midnite mine
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a unilateral administrative order to international mining company Newmont USA Limited and its subsidiary Dawn Mining Company, LLC, to continue treating contaminated water at the Midnite Mine Superfund Site in eastern Washington State.
EPA's Order requires the companies to continue operating a system that captures and treats water at the site to remove uranium and other metals. Failure to operate the system would contaminate Blue Creek, which flows to the Spokane River, and would delay the overall cleanup of the site. The Order was issued on Friday, November 7 to the two companies that operated this open-pit uranium mine on the Spokane Indian Reservation from the mid-50s until 1981.
Since starting water treatment in 1992, the mining companies have disposed of the resulting treatment sludge, which contains uranium, at the mill where they once processed ore. The mill, located in Ford, Washington, is being closed under Washington State authority. As a result, the mining companies must prepare to dispose of the sludge at an alternative disposal site. As low-level radioactive waste, the sludge will have to be taken to a licensed facility, such as U.S. Ecology in Washington State, until the treatment system can be altered to remove the uranium separately.
(EPA Nov. 10, 2008)
Judge holds Newmont Mining Corp. partially liable for Midnite mine contamination
An international mining corporation must share the cost of cleaning up an abandoned uranium mine on the Spokane Indian Reservation, a federal judge has ruled.
Newmont Mining Corp. holds majority interest in Dawn Mining Co., which until 1981 operated the Midnite Mine. The Environmental Protection Agency identified the open-pit uranium mine, now a Superfund site, as the source of radiation, heavy metals and acid contamination in Blue Creek, which flows into Lake Roosevelt at the mouth of the Spokane River.
Judge Justin Quackenbush, ruling from the bench in U.S. District Court in Spokane on July 14, 2008, held the Denver-based Newmont partially liable for the contamination. Previous rulings hold the federal government and Dawn Mining liable as well.
If it withstands appeal, the decision means taxpayers won't have to bear as much of the estimated $152 million cost of cleaning up the mine, which was in operation from 1955 to 1981 except for a four-year period in the late 1960s.
(Spokesman-Review July 16, 2008)
Newmont refuses to pay $152 million cleanup bill for its Midnite uranium mine
There is a plan to repair the land around the Midnite Mine. But it will leave a lot of scars.
Mining debris would be pushed into the open pits and covered. A factory would clean water leaking out of the mine for the foreseeable future. Blue Creek, it's hoped, will eventually flush its pollution downstream and dilute it in the Spokane River.
The plan is expected to cost $152 million. No one knows when it will be finished. That's because no one knows who's going to pay for it.
Under the federal Superfund law, anyone with a hand in the pollution can be forced to pay for cleaning it. But Dawn Mining Co. has few assets.
That leaves two others: federal taxpayers, and Denver-based Newmont Mining Corp., Dawn Mining's parent company and, today, one of the largest mining corporations in the world.
U.S. District Judge Justin Quackenbush recently ruled the federal government is partly responsible because it controlled the reservation land where the mining happened.
Newmont, meanwhile, says it shouldn't have to pay because it didn't manage the mine's day-to-day operations. Newmont had a controlling 51 percent share of the Dawn Mining Co. It named a majority of the board of directors. Many of the mine's top managers were longtime Newmont employees who remained on Newmont's payroll while working at the Midnite Mine. An early agreement called for Newmont to manage "all operations" of Dawn.
The EPA, which is suing Newmont to force it to help pay for the cleanup, says that's ample reason for the company to get part of the bill.
(The Seattle Times Feb. 24, 2008)
ATSDR releases report about health hazards at Midnite Mine Site
Current exposure to site-related chemicals should not cause harmful health effects for those living near the Midnite Mine site in Wellpinit, WA, says a report released by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).
The report, called a public health assessment, found that uranium exposure in groundwater and its decay products was unlikely due to non-existent groundwater wells in the area. The document also states that possible exposure in surface soil and surface water did not occur often enough to cause a public health hazard. The report also shows that current levels of concentrations of radionuclides in the air and fish are not harmful.
However, if site use changes to residential, there is the potential for exposure to uranium and its decay products from surface and groundwater at levels of health concern.
The comment period on the public health assessment has been extended to July 31, 2007.
> View ATSDR release April 26, 2007 · June 11, 2007
> Download Public Health Assessment for Radioactive Contamination from the Midnite Mine Site
Wellpinit, Stevens County, Washington, EPA facility ID: WAD980978753, April 10, 2007 (1.1M PDF)
EPA picks plan for Midnite uranium mine cleanup
The cleanup plan calls for a cap over an area of pits filled with waste during mining, consolidation and engineered containment of remaining waste in the two open pits, removal of water entering the pits, and operation of a treatment system to treat contaminated water from the pits and seeps.
> Download final cleanup plan (Record of Decision, or ROD), September 29, 2006 (EPA Region 10)
EPA invites comment on proposed cleanup plan for Midnite uranium mine
A defunct mine that produced uranium for Cold War nuclear weapons will finally be cleaned up, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Oct. 4, 2005.
The Midnite Mine, a Superfund site located on the Spokane Indian Reservation north of Spokane, operated from 1955-1981. The area now is a series of open pits filled with radioactive heavy metals and water that can enter nearby streams and hurt humans, animals and plants, the EPA said.
The EPA, in its preferred alternative, is proposing to remove mine waste rock from the surface and place it in two open pits on the site. The pits would be covered with several feet of clean soil. Other pits already filled with mining waste would also be covered, the EPA said.
Native vegetation would be planted over the pits to prevent erosion. Groundwater entering the pits would be pumped to a nearby water treatment plant, where sludge would be removed and disposed of, the EPA plan said.
The work would cost $123 million to perform, plus $29 million for operations and maintenance, the EPA said.
(Corvallis Gazette-Times Oct. 4, 2005)
Written comments must be postmarked by November 7, 2005.
> Download proposed cleanup plan and supporting technical documents
DOI invites comment on Midnite Uranium Mine Natural Resource Damage Assessment Plan, Part I: Injury Determination
The Department of the Interior (represented by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service), the Spokane Tribe of Indians, and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation announce the release for public review of the Midnite Uranium Mine Natural Resource Damage Assessment Plan, Part I: Injury Determination.
Comments on the Assessment Plan are due on or before July 19, 2004.
Federal Register: June 17, 2004 (Vol. 69, No. 116) p. 33934-33935 (download full text )
Cleanup of spilled roadside ore planned for Spring 2004, but still no hope for cleanup of Midnite mine site
EPA plans to remove uranium ore spilled along the haul route used in the past by trucks moving ore from Midnite Mine to the Dawn Mill in Ford. The material (estimated total: less than 100 cubic yards [76 m3]) will be trucked to the Midnite mine, where it will be stored until the mine cleanup takes place. (EPA Fact Sheet Oct. 2003)
When the mine cleanup will take place, is unclear still, however. The EPA is completing studies that will lead to a preferred cleanup plan, but who will pay for the work has yet to be determined.
Studies to determine the extent of contamination on the 320-acre [1.3 km2] site left after 26 years of mining already have cost $7 million, EPA Project Manager Elly Hale said from Seattle.
"We've notified Dawn and Newmont Gold of their potential liability," Hale said. "They know we think they're liable, but I don't think Newmont thinks they are liable. It hasn't been resolved." If the EPA is unable to make Newmont, Dawn or others pay for the mine's cleanup, it will become the taxpayers' responsibility.
About five years ago, Dawn and Newmont proposed importing low-level radioactive dirt and other materials to the uranium mill at Ford. Money from disposal fees would have been used to close both the mill and mine. The tribe, watchdog groups and the state of Washington opposed the plan.
(The Arizona Republic Nov. 28, 2003)
February 16, 1999: To prevent further environmental harm from mine waste, contaminated
ground water and surface water runoff from the Midnite Mine, the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency is proposing that the 811-acre site be
included on the National Priorities List(NPL). If added to the NPL,
the site will be eligible for clean up under the federal
Comments on the proposed NPL listing can be submitted to EPA by April 19, 1999.
> View full EPA Region 10 News Release 99-6
> View Spokane Spokesman article Feb. 17, 1999
Newmont Mining Corp. 1998 Annual Report :
Dawn Mining Company ("Dawn")-
51% owned by NGC [Newmont Gold Company, approx. 93.75% owned by Newmont Mining Corp.]
"Dawn leased a currently inactive open-pit uranium mine on the Spokane Indian
Reservation in the State of Washington. The mine is subject to regulation by
agencies of the U.S. Department of Interior, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and
the Bureau of Land Management, as well as the EPA. Dawn also owns a nearby
uranium millsite facility.
In 1991, Dawn's lease was terminated. As a result, Dawn was required to
file a formal mine closure and reclamation plan. The Department of Interior has
commenced an Environmental Impact Study to analyze Dawn's proposed plan and to
consider alternate closure and reclamation plans for the mine. Dawn cannot
predict at this time what type of mine reclamation plan may be selected by the
Department of Interior. Dawn does not have sufficient funds to pay for the reclamation plan it proposed, for any alternate plan, or for the closure of its mill.
The Department of Interior previously notified Dawn that when the lease was
terminated, it would seek to hold Dawn and the Company (as Dawn's then 51%
owner) liable for any costs incurred as a result of Dawn's failure to comply
with the lease and applicable regulations. Other government agencies also might
attempt to hold the Company liable for future reclamation or remediation work at
the mine or millsite. In early 1999, the EPA proposed that the mine be included
on the National Priorities List under CERCLA. If asserted, the Company will
vigorously contest any such claims. The Company cannot reasonably predict the
likelihood or outcome of any future action against Dawn or the Company arising
from this matter.
Dawn has received a license for a mill closure plan that could generate
funds to close and reclaim both the mine and the mill." (emphasis added)
Excerpt from Federal Register; download full notice via GPO Access
[Federal Register: January 26, 1996 (Volume 61,
Number 18)] [Notices] [Page 2528]
>From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Impact
Statement (EIS) for the Midnite Uranium Mine (MUM)
AGENCY: Bureau of Land Management, Spokane District.
SUMMARY: Pursuant to Section 102 (2)(c) of the National
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969, The Bureau of Land
Management (BLM), Spokane District, as the lead federal agency,
will be directing the preparation of an EIS for final
reclamation of the Midnite Uranium
Mine located on the Spokane Indian Reservation, in Washington
State. The EIS will evaluate the environmental impacts of
alternative plans for mitigating the affects of past mining
activities. The reclamation objective is to ensure that a
physically stable condition is achieved whereat environmental
impacts are mitigated or controlled and public safety is
protected. This notice initiates the scoping process for the EIS
and also serves as an invitation for other potential cooperating
parties. Potential cooperating parties include the Spokane Tribe
of Indians, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Washington State
Department of Health (WADOH).
> for more infos, check the Dawn Watch web site!
Aerial view: Google Maps · MSRMaps
Newmont again requests relaxed radiation cleanup standards for groundwater at former Ford uranium mill site
Dawn Mining Co. is asking the state of Washington to relax substantially the cleanup standards for groundwater at its long-shuttered uranium-processing mill in Ford, which processed about 58 million cubic feet of ore and produced 13 million pounds of "yellowcake" - a concentrated form of uranium that can be enriched and used in nuclear reactors and weapons.
In a lengthy application, the company makes the case for raising the standards for seven contaminants - or constituents of concern, as they are officially known - at on-site compliance wells located at the downgradient edge of waste contained at the site's tailings disposal area and the site's ore stockpile area.
Under Dawn's plan:
The allowable picocuries per liter of uranium would increase from 4 to 758 [0.15 - 28 Bq/L, or 6 - 1,109 µg/L] in the tailings disposal area and to 46,036 [1,703 Bq/L, or 67,379 µg/L] in the ore stockpile area. [...]
The company, a subsidiary of the multinational mining company Newmont Goldcorp Corp. , also proposes replacing the existing ground- and surface-water monitoring program at the site with a semiannual sampling. [...]
Dawn first submitted an initial application for alternate concentration limits in December 2018, but it did not meet state standards, so the company replaced that application with a new one filed in September . [...]
Dawn has concluded that compliance with the existing groundwater protection standards is not practically achievable using available technologies, according to its application. [...]
(The Spokesman-Review Mar. 4, 2020)
Washington DOH approves continued disposal of sludge into Ford tailings disposal area
On April 15, 2009, the Washington Department of Health has amended Dawn Mining Company's (DMC) radioactive materials license, approving DMC's request to change License Condition 33 of its radioactive materials license. The change allows an additional two years of disposal of Midnite Mine water treatment plant (MMWTP) sludge into Tailings Disposal Area 4 (TDA-4) at the DMC millsite located near Ford, Washington.
Fire helicopter scoops water from uranium tailings pond
On July 2, 2007, a Washington state helicopter fighting a wildfire near Long Lake dumped an estimated 440 gallons of water scooped from a uranium mine tailings pond known to have low levels of radioactive waste.
An official with Dawn Mining Co. quickly notified the state and directed them to draw water from a noncontaminated rainwater collection pond nearby, said Patty Henson, communications director for the Washington Department of Natural Resources.
The mining company conducted radiation tests the same day the two buckets of water from the suspect pond were dumped, Henson said.
"Both the bucket itself and the water was tested for radioactivity, and it was found to not have contaminants," Henson said.
The pond is "clearly marked on the ground" with warning signs, said Donn Moyer, spokesman for the Washington Department of Health. But such signs would be practically impossible for a helicopter pilot to read, especially during a firefighting mission.
"You wouldn't anticipate an aerial breach of security," he said.
(Spokesman-Review July 13, 2007)
Owen Berio of Dawn Watch gets 'environmental hero' award
Owen Berio who spent years fighting Dawn Mining Co.'s plans to import uranium wastes to Eastern Washington has been named an "environmental hero" by the Washington Environmental Council . Berio, founder of Dawn Watch , has opposed Dawn's plans to import millions of cubic feet of radioactive waste from the East Coast to fill and cap a defunct milling pit near Ford. "His work has helped to prevent Washington from becoming the radioactive landfill for the nation," said the environmental council's Tom Geiger. (Spokesman Review Nov. 20, 1999 )
Dawn Mining abandons plan to cover Ford tailings with radioactive waste
In a major reversal, Dawn Mining Co. has discarded its plan to import millions of cubic feet of mildly radioactive waste from the East Coast to close its old uranium mill tailings pit near Ford, Wash. Instead, Dawn will fill and cap the big hole with clean dirt from 160 acres of newly acquired land adjacent to the mill site, Dawn officials said on Sep 9, 1999. Washington state regulators must still approve Dawn's new plan for the mill.
The company's change of plans follows a June decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rejecting Dawn's bid for a contract to import 20 million to 30 million cubic feet (0.56 to 0.85 million m3) of uranium waste from old sites that processed uranium for weapons use during World War II and the Cold War.
(Spokesman Review Sep 10, 1999 )
WA Dept. of Health approves nuclear dump on Dawn's uranium mill tailings
On January 29, 1999, the Washington State Department of Health approved the renewal of Dawn Mining Companys license to continue with the closure of a former uranium mill near Ford, about 30 miles northwest of Spokane. Closure activities include importing slightly radioactive material from other sites in the U.S. for permanent impoundment at the Dawn site. (WA DOH News Release 99-11 )
Comments invited on Dawn's proposal for nuclear waste dump at uranium mill site
Dawn Mining Company's current Radioactive Materials License expires in February 1999.
The Washington State Department of Health is accepting comments on Dawn Mining Company's application for renewal of its Radioactive Materials License until December 23, 1998 at:
Gary Robertson, Head
Waste Management Section
DOH, Division of Radiation Protection
P.O. Box 47827
Olympia, WA 98504-7827
Copies of DMC's license application and attachments are available at the following locations: Spokane Public Library in Spokane, Spokane Tribal Library in Wellpinit, Mary Walker School Library in Springdale, Reardan Public Library in Reardan, University of Washington Library in Seattle.
> See also: Hearings set on Dawn Mining plan - Company wants to haul radioactive dirt to mill site (The Spokesman-Review, December 8, 1998 )
Plans To Turn Nuclear Waste Into a Landfill (Envirobiz News,
March 5, 1996)
Nuclear Blackmail in Washington - Don't Waste Washington
Eastern Washington Ponders Its Glowing Future
By Mike Howell, July 8, 1994 (from: igc:talk.environme)
Ford, Washington. The fate of the Dawn mill and mine was all
but decided with the 1991 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)
by the Washington Department of Health. Or was it? Dawn Mining
Company (DMC) proposes to negate the 1991 EIS prepared by the
Department of Health (DOH) which states "the decision is to
use clean fill," and instead import low level radioactive
waste to dump at their closed mill facility near the town of
Ford. DMC's unprecedented new proposal has put DOH in a double
bind. If this proposal is approved and implemented, long
established state policies governing radioactive wastes will be
overturned, state environmental laws and years of public
opposition will be ignored, and the state will establish a
precedent of allowing the polluter to escape reclamation
payments. If rejected, DMC goes bankrupt, leaving the state
with the decision of dumping the bill on the taxpayers, or suing
DMC's parent company for reclamation costs.
About Dawn Mining Company / Newmont / Midnite Mine
Dawn Mining Company operated their 820 acre millsite in Ford,
Washington from 1956 until 1981. The mill shut down in 1982
from loss of its uranium source at Midnite Mine due to
litigation by the Bureau of
Indian Affairs (BIA), Bureau
of Land Management (BLM), and the Spokane Indian Tribe. DMC
was originally licensed by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC)
for weapons production, but oversight authority for milling was
transferred to the state in 1969. DMC processed nearly 60
million cubic feet of ore during its period of operation.
Newmont is a 51% owner of Dawn Mining Company and 51% owner in
Midnite Mine. Newmont is
an international mining giant and the largest gold producer in
North America. Both DMC and Newmont maintain they will not be
financially accountable nor legally liable for DMC's reclamation
problem. DMC has hired the Shepard Miller Co. for public
relations services and to prepare an environmental report for
the DOH. [Search EDGAR Database for Newmont Records: via SEC ]
For many years, DMC's tailings were disposed in an unlined
tailings facility covering 100 acres. DOH granted DMC an
emergency exemption under SEPA for tailing pond construction
activity, which resulted in tailings disposal area #4 (TDA-4), a
lined 44 million cubic foot tailings disposal area in 1980. It
was only used for two years before operations shut down, leaving
40 million cubic feet of 'unused' capacity.
The DMC mill received ore under a lease with the 570 acre
Midnite Mine. The mine is located on the flanks of Lookout
Mountain on the Spokane Indian Reservation, 25 miles west of
Ford and 10 miles northwest of Wellpinit. It produced ores from
1954 until it was closed in 1982.
Unfortunately, some of the most radioactive ore was uncovered
just prior to the mine closure, and is still exposed. When this
ore, which contains sulfides and pyrites, is exposed to oxygen
and water, it forms sulfuric acid. As the acid percolates
through the ore, it leaches uranium and other heavy metals into
the open pits and into the groundwater. During the 1980's,
approximately 500 million gallons of acidic water filled the
open pits, threatening to overtop the pits and flush wastes (pH
approximately 4.0) into Blue Creek. In response the BLM, in the
1980's, ordered DMC to begin operation of a water treatment
plant, which finally began operation in 1992. The DMC mill in
Ford reopened a portion of its milling operation to process
filtercake sludge containing uranium from water treatment plant
at the Midnite mine. This was done because DMC said that if
they couldn't use TDA-4 for mine sludge cleanup and treatment
plant, they would abandon the cleanup effort.
DMC was required to post reclamation bonds of $10 million for
the mill site and $9.7 million for the mine site, but only $1 to
$3.2 million currently exists in the reclamation fund. In
comparison, the cleanup and reclamation cost of the mill and
mine is estimated at $120 to $240 million. According to DOH,
the terms of the letter of credit state that acceptance of the
bond money by the State discharges DMC for any future cleanup
liability! But, unlike a business that made a bad investment and
simply shuts down, DMC could absolve themselves of liability by
simply declaring bankruptcy and shutting down operations,
leaving the State of Washington liable for mill reclamation
costs and the BLM responsible for mine reclamation costs.
Reclamation & The NEPA/SEPA Process
DMC's proposal triggered the DOH to initiate a Supplementary EIS
process, yet this process has misled the public by not
considering the more hazardous and costly reclamation of the
Midnite mine site.
DMC's 1993 proposal once again started the process as though a
decision had never been reached. Furthermore, much more work is
required than the current level of effort DOH has done on the
SEPA/NEPA process. Omitted entirely is the responsibility to
reclaiming both sites and the possibility of a superfund listing
or other federal action. A look at the history of the DOH in
dealing with this project reveals significant flaws and
indicates the state will have to start completely over. DMC's
proposal, to DOH is to dispose of low level radioactive wastes,
known as 11.e(2), at TDA-4. Waste exporters currently pay $4 to
$12 per cubic foot for disposal. DMC is trying to bribe the
State by implying it can fund reclamation through trust
agreements, but due to the economics it is unlikely DMC could
ever generate any revenue for cleanup.
Furthermore, DMC is not in a competitive position for disposal
because their operation is not cost effective. Envirocare of
Utah (among other competitors) currently has a license to
dispose of the same wastes and is likely to underbid DMC. Even
though the SEPA process has barely begun, it is evident that DOH
has already made a decision. A Shepard Miller Co.
representative, in summing up the closure plan at the April 1994
Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) meeting stated "the
choice of fill material has changed." At the same meeting,
a Ford resident and Technical Advisory Committee member
commented about Dawn's proposal: "we are stuck with it, we
do not want it in our backyard, but it needs to be done."
Furthermore, according to the November 1993 issue of the
industry publication Pay Dirt, "Washington state
officials say they may be ready to cut a deal with Dawn Mining
Company to allow the uranium firm to import other firm's uranium
mill tailings. Dawn says it can afford to reclaim its mill...if
it could charge others to dispose of low level radioactive
wastes...." DMC maintains it is not responsible for
reclamation of the mine, but the mine and mill are inextricably
linked through several documents including the license language,
the remedial filtercake and water treatment plant, the stated
intent of the trust fund agreements, owner/operator status, and
by the generation and disposal of wastes.
> for more infos, check the Dawn Watch web site!