“Call me irresponsible. Call me unreliable. Throw in undependable, too. Do my foolish alibis bore you?” Frank Sinatra used to croon.
Perhaps congressional committees should play this tune before Bureau of Land Management executives are allowed to speak, as I suggest in this week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press.
Head frame at Pumpkin Hollow copper mine
On April 18, Ned Farquhar, a deputy assistant secretary for the BLM, testified before the House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulations about H.R. 696, the Lyon County Economic Development and Conservation Act, which would allow the city of Yerington to purchase at market value 10,400 acres of federal land so it can annex and provide city services to Nevada Copper’s Pumpkin Hollow mine. The bill also sets aside 48,000 acres for a Wovoka Wilderness Area in Lyon County.
After submitting written testimony on the bill, Farquhar admitted under questioning from Rep. Steven Horsford, who now represents the Yerington area in his newly created 4th Congressional District, that some “technical errors” had been discovered “last night” and those would be corrected before a hearing this week on a companion bill in the Senate. And that was done (S159 Lyon CountyDOI).
But there was a problem with that statement about “last night.”
On April 17, 2012, Michael Nedd, an assistant director of the BLM, testified before the same subcommittee about the same bill, except for the addition of the wilderness area at the insistence of Sen. Harry Reid.
Farquhar’s written testimony and Nedd’s are almost verbatim, even though during the 2012 hearing Rep. Mark Amodei, who then represented the Yerington area, grilled Nedd over myriad inaccuracies in his testimony.
After firing numerous unanswered questions at Nedd, a clearly frustrated Amodei concluded, “I would suggest to you that you would be well served if the folks that are supporting you in your testimony tune you up more on what we are doing in Nevada about abandoned mine sites and specifically with this site.”
Core samples from Pumpkin Hollow showing copper ore
At the recent hearing, Amodei aimed virtually the same questions at Farquhar with nearly the same outcome.
“Did you talk to anybody at the Nevada Division of Minerals about abandoned mines?” Amodei asked. Farquhar admitted he had not.
“Did you talk to anybody at the state Historic Preservation officer’s office in Nevada about historic cultural affairs?” Same reply.
“So, did you talk to anybody in the Carson City district office of the Bureau of Land Management regarding the time to process this?”
One of the few differences between the testimony of the two BLM executives was that Nedd argued a 90-day deadline was too short, while Farquhar argued the amended 180-day deadline is still too short.
“Your testimony was provided last night,” Amodei said to Farquhar. “This bill for the Yerington portion was heard a year ago in this committee. Can you tell me if this statement differs in any material way except for the wilderness area from what was provided by the bureau a year ago in front of this committee?”
Farquhar replied, “I can’t, but I’ll be glad to compare them.”
They are nearly identical. None of the errors pointed out by Amodei a year ago had been fixed, including the claims that the property contains 147 abandoned mines and mineral rights must be appraised.
24-foot diameter mineshaft at Pumpkin Hollow
Yerington Mayor George Dini testified, “The timely passage of this legislation cannot be over-stated. We are operating on a tight timeline.” The conveyance effort began five years ago.
“Both the city and Lyon County will be able to share in property, sales, utility and net proceeds of mines taxes from mine operations. If this legislation is not successful, the mine will proceed, but as in the past, Yerington will simply have to deal with the impacts with no real benefits to the city other than some jobs for citizens,” Dini explained.
A considerable number of jobs at that; there are expected to be 500 construction jobs and up to 900 mine jobs. With a multiplier effect, there could be as many as 3,000 new jobs for a community with a current population of only 3,000.
The mine is expected to produce 4 billion pounds of copper, as well as some gold and silver, over the next 18 years. On a recent visit to the mine, I saw a head frame is being erected atop a 24-foot diameter mineshaft that eventually will sink 2,200 feet deep. There will also be some open pit mining. The company has posted a bond to assure full reclamation of the land.
Since more than 85 percent of Nevada is controlled by one federal agency or another, the fact that the BLM is irresponsible, unreliable and undependable, too, should be a bit disconcerting to all Nevadans.
Senate Bill 159 was heard in a Senate committee Thursday afternoon, and, as he is so often inclined to do, Sen. Reid had to meddle.
Not that anyone would compare Amodei to a red-headed stepchild, at least not a stepchild, but here is the exchange between Amodei and the guy from the BLM over the duplicate testimony:
Amodei: Am I to understand the technical issues are limited to boundary irregularities and utility rights of way? We’re not going to hear about mineral rights? We’re not going to hear about abandoned mines? We’re not going to hear about time to process? We’re not going to hear about competing mining claims? All that other stuff in the first two pages of your statement is going to go away and we’re going to talk about boundary lines and utility corridors?
Farquhar: Congressman, we’re going to look at the information received last night, we’re going make sure that it is accurate.
Amodei: So the answer to my question is: We may have technical matters which will include some of this stuff in the first two pages?
Faquhar: “I hope we don’t and we’re going to check on the accuracy of what we received last night.
A: So the answer is: You don’t know as you sit here today in the meeting.
F: That’s right.
A: Would you describe for me how you prepared for today’s meeting? Did you talk to anybody at the Nevada Division of Minerals about abandoned mines?
F: I did not Mr. …
A: Did you talk to anybody at the state Historic Preservation officer’s office in Nevada about historic cultural affairs?
F: No, I did not.
A: So, did you talk to anybody in the Carson City district office of the Bureau of Land Management regarding the time to process this? Have you talked to anybody … in terms of how long it takes to do an appraisal?
F: Mr. Amodei, we did receive significant information from the district office.
A: And when did you receive that information?
F: Probably, I guess …
A: Do you know when you received that information? Just sometime before today’s hearing? And let me tell you why I’m being this way. Your testimony was provided last night. This bill for the Yerington portion was heard a year ago in this committee. Can you tell me if this statement differs in any material way except for the wilderness area from what was provided by the bureau a year ago in front of this committee?
F: Mr. Chairman, I can’t but I’ll be glad to compare them.
A: OK, because here’s my frustration, the bill has been out there a long time. You’ve heard the testimony that this needs to move. Now if there is an environmental problem or a legal problem and identified, it either gets fixed or the bill goes away. But to have the bureau come here a year later and say, ‘Well, you know, it’s pretty good, and we’re looking forward to working with you but I can’t take these off the table.’
You’re going to testify or somebody’s going to testify in front of the Senate I understand next week. Is your testimony going to be identical over there? Do you know what it is going to be on this bill next week?
F: It will not be identical, I can tell you that. We have new information.
A: Thank you for that.
Footnote: After the column appeared in the Elko paper Wednesday, on Thursday I received this email:
Mr. Mitchell –
Saw your column yesterday. The congressmen’s criticisms are fair. The BLM provided outdated information in the written testimony on the Yerington bill, which is a good, important piece of legislation, as I noted at the hearing.
The BLM has obtained the correct, current information and has corrected the testimony. We look forward to the bill’s progress. Thanks.
Deputy Assistant Secretary
Land and Minerals Management
US Department of the Interior
1849 C Street NW Room 6614
Washington, DC 20240
Later in the afternoon I received updated testimony (HR 696_Lyon County_DOI
), but it still insists 180 days is too little to make the conveyance of the land and asks for a year.
An Amodei staffer replied, “The bill that passed last Congress included a 90-day deadline. BLM objected, so it was doubled to 180 days for this Congress. Apparently, half a year is still not enough time for the BLM. An amendment by House Democrats to eliminate the time frame last Congress was defeated because the absence of a deadline would effectively kill the legislation. Nevada Copper has been conducting baseline studies for more than four years. Hundreds of jobs are on the line. There needs to be a deadline in the legislation to ensure this doesn’t get bogged down in a bureaucratic morass.”