Molycorp Outlines Plan to Stabilize NM Rockpile

Sat December 13, 2003 - West Edition

QUESTA, NM (AP) Molycorp officials have given state regulators a plan targeted at stopping the slide of a pile of waste rock that has been slowing creeping down a mountain valley for 30 years.

A panel of independent mining experts concluded earlier this year that the rockpile in the Red River Canyon east of Questa is shifting and possibly could slide, posing a threat to the village and burying the Red River and NM 38 in rubble.

The state ordered Molycorp to take steps to stabilize the pile and make it safe.

The draft plan submitted Dec. 2 calls for four phases of construction to stop the sliding, with work to begin as soon as the state approves the plans. The draft was prepared for Molycorp by its consultant, Norwest.

The first phase would drain moisture from the pile. Subsequent phases would stabilize the pile by using material from the top to support the base. The work also would regrade portions of the pile to make it less steep and more suitable for revegetation.

The pile towers 450 to 600 ft. high. The independent stability board of three mining engineers concluded in June that a heavy rain could possibly cause the piles to collapse in a catastrophic flow.

Amigos Bravos, a regional environmental group represented on a committee that reviews mine activity, has criticized the state for being slow to implement a safety plan and corrective action on the rock pile.

State officials and a stability review board were set to tour the pile Dec. 5 and look at the report over the next two days, said Holland Shepherd, a program manager with the state Mining and Minerals Division.

The review board is expected to issue its findings shortly, and the state will release its comments soon afterward, he said.

“Molycorp is committed to taking all of the necessary steps in a diligent, expedient and responsible manner in order to ensure the safety of its work force,” Bill Sharrer, Molycorp vice president of environmental and public policy, said in a prepared statement announcing the report.

Molycorp has been doing some work at the tailings pile. In July and August, it submitted information about its work to monitor and stabilize the waste pile. The company reported it had installed surface water controls to reduce the potential for water infiltration into rock piles.