Water quality will be main concern in mine’s expansion | SierraSun.com

Water quality will be main concern in mine’s expansion

Christina Nelson

A tour through Teichert’s Martis Valley Mine feels like a tour through Fred Flintstone’s workplace on the popular cartoon, The Flintstones.

Soon that Flintstone-like setting may include portions of ground that open up into small lakes formed by Teichert’s aggregate mining activities.

Teichert’s proposal – to dig 40 feet below the water table on the land of their current mining operation – will open up four- to five-acre swaths of land and will expand the company’s output capabilities, said Teichert Project Manager Jeff Thatcher.

“The technology of mining in water is fairly common,” Thatcher said.

The unique part, he said, about Teichert’s proposal, is that the company is not proposing to pump water out of the pit before mining. The water will stay put while the aggregate is extracted.

The mining technique seems fairly straight forward, but the environmental implications remain unclear.

Teichert digs to 40 feet below the water table (their current permit only allows them to dig to two feet above the water table) in four- to five-acre areas at a time. When the aggregate is extracted from that portion of the pit, Teichert uses recycled aggregate material to “backfill” the disturbed area – covering up the exposed water, while digging again in another portion of their 147-acre mining area.

If Teichert removed the water, it would then have to be discharged, a permit Thatcher believes would be near impossible to get.

“We don’t de-water and discharge at Marysville because we would have to discharge in the Yuba River,” Thatcher said, explaining that the process to get a permit to do so would be very difficult.

With the Truckee River TMDL – a process that determines the amount of a pollutant, in this case sediment, that can be legally discharged into the Truckee River every day – concerns regarding sediment pollution may come up when the town begins to receive comments on the environmental impact report.

Although Teichert has assured the council that no new property will be disturbed, a new EIR, most likely focusing on water quality, will probably encounter some complications.

“It’s not clear to me how much new work (the consultant) will have to do,” Thatcher said, adding that the watershed within which Teichert is situated has been studied before. He thinks a new EIR will mainly require more analysis.

Thatcher is more concerned with the Truckee Tahoe Sanitation Agency’s possible contribution to water pollution, and is certain Teichert’s actions will not contribute to further sedimentation in the river.

“Lahontan (Regional Water Quality Control Board) has made some findings … regarding the TTSA leechfield contributions to water quality,” Thatcher said at a Truckee Town Council meeting early in January when the town hired an environmental consultant for the EIR.

TTSA was not available for comment before the Sierra Sun’s deadlines.

“We don’t think sediment is an issue,” Thatcher said. “Since we don’t discharge, we’re not concerned with impact on sediment.”

“We would want to be certain that, as we release additional minerals into the groundwater, that we know where those minerals go,” said councilman Craig Threshie.

The economics of rock

With Teichert Martis Valley approaching the end of its stay in Truckee, Teichert executives have decided to focus on a higher-end market, keeping the company away from competitive bidding for state road projects.

“We’re more interested in serving the local economy,” Plant Manager Ed Herrnberger said.

In the past five to six years, the Martis Valley mine has been producing approximately one million tons of aggregate per year. But with the slowing economy and building leveling off, Teichert expects sales to level out to half a million tons per year.

“There’s a lot of stuff going on but it looks like it’s leveling off,” Thatcher said. “Growth may have boxed itself into a corner.”

But no one at Teichert is too concerned with the economic slowdown or the state budget crisis’ possible affect on roadwork.

“(The economy) is less uncertain, in our view, in the Truckee-Tahoe area; we still see a strong demand,” said Chuck Dorr, a regional sales representative for Teichert.

For a while, Teichert was actively searching the Truckee-Tahoe area for new places to mine, but in the end decided the amount of effort it would take to relocate and get new permits wouldn’t have paid off in the end.

“Whatever you put into it has to be worth the amount of money you get out of it,” Dorr said.

Instead, the current plan is to start reclamation around 2013 to be out of the area in 2015.

From Town Hall’s point of view, Teichert’s operation is beneficial, not only because of the availability of minerals for development and road maintenance, but for tax revenue.

“It’s important not only because it’s a designated significant mineral resource… but for the town’s benefit is sales tax revenue,” said Assistant Planner Heidi Scoble.

She also expects hydrology and water quality to be the biggest issues in the upcoming EIR process.

Approximately 80 percent of aggregate extracted in the United States is used for road building and maintenance, a U.S. Geological Survey report said.

Teichert claims that without the Martis Valley aggregate mine, the town and developers would pay significantly more for the resource to bring it up the hill from Reno.

Whether Teichert’s plan goes through or not, Thatcher said Teichert will not be leaving early. They still have reserve aggregate to get them through the next 10 years of operations.

The town hopes to release the notice of preparation for the project by Jan. 31, this Friday, to solicit comments on the project. A scoping session for the EIR will be held in late February or early March.