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Simplot Pact Will Allow More Phosphate Mining

by Mark Mendiola
Capital Press, August 23, 2002

POCATELLO, Idaho -- The J.R. Simplot Co. and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition reached an agreement regarding expansion of Simplot's Smoky Canyon phosphate mining operations, averting the potential shutdown of Simplot's Pocatello fertilizer plant.

The environmental coalition has dismissed its notice of appeal and petition for stay that it filed with the U.S. Interior Department. It asked the Bureau of Land Management to reconsider a final supplemental environmental impact statement.

Pat Avery, Simplot senior vice president of mining and manufacturing, said the agreement paves the way for continued cooperation between Simplot and the coalition.

Coalition spokesman Marv Hoyt stated: "Mining and a health environment do not have to be mutually exclusive."

Hoyt said the company addressed the coalition's concerns about water quality near a proposed waste pile at the mine.

Now that the appeal has been dismissed, Simplot will immediately begin to develop two sections of the Smoky Canyon Mine in Caribou County, near Afton, Wyo. A slurry pipeline from the mine to the Pocatello plant has moved more than 1.5 million tons of phosphate ore annually.

Shortcomings Cited
Before reaching the agreement, the coalition had argued that the BLM failed to analyze the cumulative effects of mining on the area. It said Simplot wasn't using the best available techniques in minimizing the potential for selenium contamination. Selenium, a byproduct of phosphate mining, is an essential mineral but can be harmful to wildlife and livestock if they ingest it in large amounts.

The land in question is part of a grazing allotment.

The petition also addressed an alleged failure to analyze effects on water quality and aquatic organisms for sediment ponds designed to capture runoff.

Simplot spokesman Rick Phillips estimated the existing mining section has 20 months of ore left. Without that ore, Phillips said, it would be difficult to keep the Pocatello plant running. Phillips said the company agreed to ensure the public will have easy access to water quality monitoring data at the mine.

Handling Waste
In a record of decision favoring the mine's expansion, the BLM said Simplot would put mining waste into already-mined pits, and the rest in a waste pile. The pits and pile would be capped with eight feet of chert and one to three inches of topsoil. Plants less likely to retain selenium will be planted to reclaim the area.

The U.S. Forest Service said the design of the caps would allow only some runoff to filter through the mining waste into the groundwater. Other clean water from the runoff would be diverted to basins, then filtered into groundwater. The clean water is expected to dilute the contaminated water to within drinking water standards in the groundwater.

Operations Change
The plant produces dry and liquid phosphate, nitrogen and sulfate fertilizers, anhydrous ammonia, phosphoric acid and sulfuric acid. In the past, it has had an annual production capacity of nearly one million tons of fertilizer and industrial chemical products. The plant has been capable of loading more than 300 trucks a day, equaling more than 9,000 tons.

On April 30, Simplot announced it would end ammonia production at its 1,200-acre phosphate fertilizer complex here in August. The plant has consumed 3.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas a year for ammonia production.

Mark Mendiola, for the Capital Press
Simplot Pact Will Allow More Phosphate Mining
Capital Press, August 23, 2002

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