The Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP) held a Public Hearing in reference to a draft permit for a hazardous waste storage and treatment facility proposed to be constructed in Eureka County, Nevada.

The draft RCRA Permit was prepared for Precious Metals Recovery, LLC (PMR), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Barrick Gold of North America. The Hearing took place Tuesday, March 25 at the Crescent Valley Town Center. All persons wishing to provide comment on the draft permit were invited to attend.

NDEP’s Notice of Hearing related that “The proposed PMR facility will be located on private land in northern Eureka County, approximately 12 miles east of the Town of Crescent Valley. The facility is intended to receive mercury-containing wastes recovered from environmental controls at Barrick’s gold processing operations in Nevada. The received waste material will be treated and stored at the proposed facility before shipment to a national repository for the long term storage of elemental mercury.”

Mike Leigh of NDEP addressed the 15 or so members of the public in attendance, which included Lou Schack, George Fennemore and Melanie Lawson of Barrick Gold; Under-sheriff Keith Logan, Eureka County Commissioner Mike Sharkozy and his wife Sondra; and Crescent Valley Town Advisory Board members, Vickie Etchinek and Dawn Gann.

Leigh was last in Crescent Valley in December 2012. “A lot of work” went into preparing the application and permit. Leigh accompanied by Ken Sargent of NDEP began by talking about the process and the facility and answering questions before the formal hearing. Leigh talked about the how the facility proposed for safe management of mercury generated by Barrick was precipitated by the Mercury Export Ban which went into effect September 1, 2013.

Leigh noted the national repository for long-term storage is not yet ready. The law does allow that mercury can be stored at a RCRA facility until the national respository is constructed. “Barrick has been proactive” in its proposal for the facility, Leigh said. NDEP is responsible for authorizing such a facility and Nevada implemented a special law that requires a Certificate of Designation that set limits on how and where the waste facility could be located including not near a school, or park or near groundwater and other elements. Barrick’s site selection took a number of years and the site in Crescent Valley met all conditions and in May 2012 the application was reviewed and NDEP found it met all the site selection criteria and Barrick could move forward with the application and a pre-public hearing was held in December of 2012 which elicited good questions and comments from the public.

An application for the facility itself was submitted in March of 2013 and Leigh showed four binder volumes that comprise the application. NDEP made a public notice that the application was available for public review and reviewed the application, providing technical review and issuing a couple of Notices of Deficiency that caused three revisions by Barrick.

In December 2013 NDEP drafted the permit and put it out for public comment for 90 days. The proposed facility will be held to the outlined application. “From this point out,” Leigh said, “we’ll take the comments we receive” and make adjustments and then issue a Notice of Decision. Permits are issued for 5 year periods and the applicant will have to submit a renewal in 5 years and there will be public notices involved again.

Leigh said the facility is “unique” in that “this is a captive facility” and “will only handle mercury waste” generated by Barrick’s mines in one of three forms: elemental mercury, calamel, or carbon with mercury in it. Those forms that are not elemental will be treated to become elemental mercury. “Within a RCRA permit you can only store material for 1 year,” but “in this Mercury Export Ban” there has been an exception for elemental mercury and the anticipation is that the mercury will be put in steel containers, the same manner it will be stored in the national repository.

Commissioner Sharkozy asked about precautions for earthquakes and Leigh said the nearest fault is a “number of miles to the southeast along the foothills” and therefore the site is acceptable.  The building will be encapsulated and has an air-lock system and will be under negative pressure.

Asked about the salability of the mercury, Leigh said, “There are not enough markets for mercury domestically” and more is generated than used. “To my knowledge it doesn’t preclude them from selling elemental mercury” but the mercury will be stored for perpetuity. People are looking for ways to manage the elemental mercury. “It is a resource” and “as an engineer, I recognize mercury has a value” and “could someday generate something that needs it.”

A national repository is proposed in Texas but has not begun construction. Other mines in Nevada are sending their mercury to facilities outside of Nevada with nothing in the west for storage. “It makes sense we’re trying to manage this material closer to the point of generation instead of sending it elsewhere. I appreciate that Barrick thought forward and came forward with a plan to do that,” Leigh said.

The mercury waste from other mines is transported in steel containers by truck. George Fennemore noted that Barrick will utilize a professional waste hauler. Leigh said their aspect is permitting the facility while the Department of Transportation will look at transport issues.

The route to get to the facility will be through Willow Corral Pass and will not be coming through town or populated areas. Leigh understands the shipments will be one or two per month. The facility has been designed for a 25 year life expectancy with 11 years of storage built in. “If after 11 years we don’t have a national repository we may be looking at making modification or adjustment within capacity.” The facility projects 190 containers a year with a total capacity of 1,024 elemental mercury containers, a little over 19,000 gallons. Calomel sludge contained in poly barrels are to be licensed at 76 a year with 330 total storage capacity; and activated carbon will be permitted for 60 fifty-five gallon drums. The facility is planned to be 180 feet by 160 feet and 35 feet tall with a soil berm around the perimeter. Leigh characterized it as “not a large facility.”

Leigh mentioned that the permit is a draft and that the facility will require more permits including under the Chemical Accident Prevention program which will require an analysis; and an Air Pollution Control permit. In addition, the facility will be subject to OSHA and he expects the State Fire Marshall will review and design that plan. “We’re proposing to issue the draft permit” that would be good for a five year period with construction expected to be out a year.

Jake Tibbitts, Natural Resource Manager for Eureka County, expressed the County’s appreciation for NDEP holding the hearing and said County personnel have met with Barrick and provided in-put over the planning process. “We understand that mercury is stored and transported in Eureka County” and Tibbitts said he and the County believe the planned facility to be safe while they continue to listen to the community’s concerns.

NDEP will go back and make a final evaluation of the permit and make a decision. For questions, contact Mike Leigh at (775) 687-9465 or e-mail  HYPERLINK “mailto:mleigh@ndep.nv.gov” mleigh@ndep.nv.gov.

“This is the easy part. Now they have to live-up to what they said they would do” and NDEP will conduct inspections and there “may be adjustments down the road” over the next five years. With that, the Hearing was complete and all present were able to enjoy a sandwich buffet provided by Barrick.