Thermopolis Independent Record - Your source for news in Hot Springs County

By Lara Love
Editor & Publisher 

Wyo-Ben responds to criticism of mine

 


Wyo-Ben, Inc. proposes to amend bentonite mining and concurrent reclamation of its 108T plan of operations on public land approximately five miles northwest of Thermopolis. The proposed amendment consists of extending operations at pit 108T. The mining would be active for a period of 10 years and final concurrent reclamation for five more years, with a proposed total disturbance of 375.5 acres.

This is not a new mine. It is an extension of pit 108T meaning mining will continue at the location through the extension and new holes will be mined, thus expanding the size of the mine overall. Wyo-Ben uses the cast back mining system. "We only have one hole open at a time that is approximately 300 feet long by 200 feet wide. We are constantly back-filling the open holes and reclaiming them as we move along. We don't have a giant, large open pit," said Matt Call, environmental supervisor for Wyo-Ben.

Citizens of Hot Springs County have voiced concerns about the affects the extension of operations at pit 108T may have on the environment and the view from Highway 120, along with the proposed relocation of the access road to the pit.

A new access road will be built which will allow trucks to come directly out onto Highway 120. The current access road goes onto Missouri Flat Road with trucks then turning onto the highway from there. "Bentonite is very sensitive to commodity and pricing so wherever we can, we take advantage of a shorter haul," said Rick Magstade, Wyo-Ben vice president of manufacturing.

For safety reasons, "Trucks entering highway" signs will be placed along Highway 120. According to both Magstade and Call, the likelihood of bentonite causing problems on the roadway will be very minimal. They believe what would be more likely to get on the road would be dirt or mud. However, if the ground gets too wet, they typically stop hauling. There will be days when 50 hauls will be made and other days when there will be no hauling.

Call stated that the Wyoming Department of Transportation is involved in making sure the approach onto Highway 120 is considered safe given viewing distance in both directions. Both Call and Magstade acknowledged that accidents can happen and they cannot guarantee they won't. They do feel Wyo-Ben and contractor GK Construction have a good track record. Wyo-Ben has been working with GK Construction since 1985. According to Magstade, there have only been two or three complaints over the last 23 years he has worked for Wyo-Ben. "They [GK Construction] are a respectful contractor," said Magstade.

Wyo-Ben has a mine in Meeteese Draw located at the end of West Sunnyside Lane. Call said some residents expressed concerns before mining began about dust and noise. Because of those concerns, measures were taken to minimize the dust and noise. Both Call and Magstade acknowledged the residents there would still probably have preferred the mine not have been located near their property.

Wyo-Ben mines from multiple pits at any one time. Currently, there are four pits active in HSC with approximately two dozen in each of the Greybull and Lovell areas. "We are designing a long term sustainable operations plan that has both some close in hauling and some far away hauling at the same time so we can hold our costs steady over the years. It is a balancing act," said Magstade.

Magstade said Wyo-Ben supports the public comment process. "We want to hear people's concerns even if they disagree with what we want to do. It does not mean that we can change it, but one thing is for sure – we can't change anything unless we know it is a problem," he added.

When asked about why Wyo-Ben is extending operations at this mine rather than using a more secluded mine, Call had this to say, "The longevity of our company is at stake here. If we just mine in areas that people could not see, that would reduce our reserves by quite a bit."

Although Magstade acknowledged that some of Wyo-Ben's decisions have to be financially driven, he asks those with questions or concerns to contact himself or Call directly at (307) 765-4446.

Based on the tonnage Wyo-Ben plans to get out of the mine over the ten-year period, approximately $245,000 in ad valorem and severance tax will be paid to Hot Springs County.

Bentonite is used in animal, fish food and dry pet food as a binder, in foundry applications to bind sand together to make the mold for casting metal parts, in plastics to impart additional strength and heat resistance, in dry laundry detergents as an active ingredient to capture and remove dirt and grime and several other uses.

Wyo-Ben employs 23 people at the Lucerne plant. Magstade said he does not anticipate this mine having an increase on the number of employees locally. "Having this pit available will help keep our costs steady and make it possible for us to continue doing what we are doing," he stated. They anticipated GK Construction would probably have at least six employees working at the mine and possibly more depending volume.

Public input is being sought by the Bureau of Land Management regarding an environmental assessment (EA) which analyzes a proposed bentonite mining project located in Hot Springs County.

The EA and unsigned finding of no significant impact are available for review at: https://eplanning.blm.gov/epl-front-office/eplanning/projectSummary.do?methodName=renderDefaultProjectSummary&projectId=49204

Wyo-Ben's mine, map and reclamation plan can also be found on the website for reference. The EA analyzes potential impacts to access to public lands, geology, cultural and paleontological resources, vegetation, visual resources, soil and hydrology.

Public input is valuable in the process and will enable the BLM to make a well-informed decision. The review period runs through Oct. 17, 2016. Comments may be emailed to worland_wymail@blm.gov; please include "Wyo-Ben Pit 108T" in the subject line. Comments may also be mailed to Field Manager, BLM Worland Field Office, 101 South 23rd Street, Worland, WY 82401.

Before including your address, phone number, email address or other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that your entire comment – including your personal identifying information – may be made publicly available at any time.

While you can ask in your comment to withhold your personal identifying information from public review, they cannot guarantee that they will be able to do so.

For more information, please contact BLM Planning and Environmental Coordinator Holly Elliott at 307-347-5100 or email helliott@blm.gov.

See side story for comments from property owner Pete Weisbeck.

 

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