Commission questions proposed mining plan

The San Juan County Commission voted to oppose in situ mining in the county, including a proposed project in Lisbon Valley that would inject an acidic solution into the Burro Canyon aquifer in order to extract copper.

The Lisbon Valley Mining Company is requesting a permit for Underground Injection Control from the Utah Division of Water Quality part of the Department of Environmental Quality.

The mining company hopes to construct and operate injection wells for in situ copper recovery across 4,800 acres in the northeastern part of the county. The process allows for the extraction of copper without having to create an open mine.

This is the first operation of its kind proposed in Utah, but other operations have been permitted in Arizona.

At the November 17 meeting of the San Juan County Commission, several neighbors of the mine provided public comment.

La Sal resident Jim Blankenagel expressed concern with the project, as did Scott Stevenson, who owns Three Step Hideaway, a dude ranch in Lisbon Valley.

The Commission also heard from the Wilcox family, who live and operate a cattle ranch in Lisbon Valley and have concerns about what injection mining could do to their wells.

“Without the water, our operation cannot go on,” Curtis Wilcox explained. “I worry about the mine getting approved and believing that they’re not going to harm anything, (but) once the acid is released, we can’t get it back.”

Wilcox also expressed his concern that without water, not only would their family ranching operation be impacted, but also the drinking water for his parents who live in Lisbon Valley.

The Utah Department of Water Quality says the permit requires the operator to utilize best available technology in the construction, operation and closure of the in situ copper recovery facilities.

It also provides for the monitoring of ground water and requires the operator to monitor the perimeter of the wellfield both laterally and beneath.

The Division of Water Quality held a public hearing regarding the proposed permit on Tuesday, November 24 (after the press deadline).

At the November 17 commission meeting, Commissioner Willie Grayeyes made a motion that the county oppose this type of mining. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Adams before being passed.

At the same meeting, the County Commission discussed plans to spend $2.1 million the county received in CARES Act funding.

The federally-provided funds come with oversight and must be spent by the end of December or they will be returned to the state to help with distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The county has already distributed $1.3 million of CARES Act funding, including $400,000 in grants to businesses, $100,000 to improve a publicly-used well at Gouldings in Monument Valley, $100,000 to local artisans, and other projects.

At the meeting, County Administrator Mack McDonald offered a plan to spend $360,000. Items include $55,000 for supplies such as chairs, equipment and tents to help with eventual distribution of a vaccine, $31,000 to the county landfill, and $7,000 to clean the county fairgrounds.

Other projects include $100,000 for communications including new transcoders, and transmitters. $60,000 in additional economic development grants, $50,000 to help with automating toilets and faucets in county-owned buildings, and $33,000 to replace door handles in county buildings to lever styles which are more sanitary and ADA compliant.

There still remains $483,000 unspent. McDonald said bringing power to the county landfill is a project that may not be able to be completed by December 31. The county is also considering offering more funds through their economic grants.

At the meeting the commission also certified the final canvas of votes from the November 3 General Election. County Clerk John David Nielson reported the county had 89.4 percent voter turnout.

San Juan Record

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