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New Mexico Hearing to review Barrick Gold's Homestake site, where contamination has spread
Despite promises from the mining company, contamination has spread in recent years at the Homestake superfund site. A public hearing starts today to consider Barrick Gold's experimental treatments, some of which have already been rejected by the US Army Corps of Engineers.
The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) is set to renew the Homestake Mining Company’s Discharge Permit, DP-200, with some modifications that would allow Homestake to nearly double its use of the public's water supply to dilute contaminants at its Superfund site.
Homestake has applied to discharge up to 5,500 gallons per minute of treated water at its massive uranium tailings piles. Continued saturation of the tailings results in dilution, which may temporarily mask some of the contamination, but it may also contribute to the instability of the tailings piles and risk contaminating the public water supply. The Draft DP-200 allows Homestake to conduct unproven experimental treatments, in addition to reverse osmosis, and its pump and treat program.
A hearing will be held starting on April 29 at 9 am at the Cibola County Government Building 515 W High Street, Grants, NM. Public comment will begin at 5 pm.
Homestake Mining Company, now owned by Barrick Gold Corporation, originally told area residents that pollution from its mill site was confined to the shallow alluvial aquifer beneath the site and that the contamination would be cleaned completely no later than 1995. Nearby residents were given public water service from nearby Milan as a temporary solution until wells could be restored. In subsequent years, Homestake has been forced to acknowledge that they have failed to eliminate ground water pollution in the alluvial aquifer and that the pollution has spread to the Upper Chinle, Middle Chinle, and Lower Chinle aquifers. In 2009, NMED warned other subdivision homeowners not to use the water in their private wells, but none of the wellheads have been systematically tested or shut down.
The Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment (MASE) requested a public hearing on DP 200 to challenge NMED’s failure to require Homestake to provide a rational, justifiable or technical plan as required in the permitting process. Since the Draft Permit was released on December 2013, NMED has allowed Homestake to submit additional changes to the permit until April 15, 2014. This has created a moving target that has made it particularly difficult for the public to provide comments.
The San Andres aquifer is the last remaining clean drinking water source for residents of Bluewater and Milan Villages, and the City of Grants, New Mexico. The San Andres/Glorieta aquifer is also a primary source of recharge for the Rio San Jose at Acoma, approximately 20 miles downstream of the Superfund site. The State Engineer has directed Homestake to use the best technology available to assure the conservation of water to the maximum extent practicable. Instead, the company is proposing experimental methods and plans to continue use a flushing system the US Army Corps of Engineers has reviewed and recommended halting.
Draft DP-200 can be accessed at http://www.nmenv.state.nm.us/gwb/documents/pn2_12-20-13/DP200_HomestakeMining.pdf