By Sarah Pridgeon
Rare Element Resources has taken a significant step forward in the process of establishing a rare earth elements mine near Sundance by signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Forest Service. This officially begins the process of preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Bear Lodge Project.
“This truly begins our National Environmental Policy Act process with the agency,” says George Byers, Vice President. “The next vital step, selection of the EIS project manager, is under way, with selection of the third party contractor soon to follow.”
The EIS project manager will be designated by the Forest Service to act on its behalf to oversee the analysis during the planning part of the process, from start to finish. The position is internal and candidates are currently under review by personnel at the Bearlodge Ranger District, says Steve Kozel, District Ranger.
The project manager will also supervise the efforts of the third party EIS consultant, who will be hired to perform the analysis for the NEPA process. The two will work together to develop a public involvement plan, including public scoping.
“Those are the next steps in the immediate future, I would say in the next four to six weeks,” says Kozel. “We’ll have the contractor in place and the project manager in place and we’ll be able begin the NEPA process, which will kick off with scoping meetings.”
The scoping process will bring the project proposal to the public and allow the Forest Service to gather comments. These will be reviewed and used to develop alternatives and a set of issues that will help to guide the environmental analysis.
“My gut feel is that we’re looking at probably around December or January. We have several other requirements before we can actually go to the public,” says Kozel.
“We have to provide notification in the Federal Register, get the scoping documents out to the public before we have the meetings and do other preparatory work. It’s going to take a little bit of time before we start having public meetings.”
The scoping process will take approximately 30 days, after which the proposal will be developed along with alternatives in the draft Environmental Impact Study, which will then be made available for public review.
“My estimation is two to four years to complete the entire environmental analysis process. It’s quite a window, but the analysis is largely driven by the public comments and the issues that brings up,” says Kozel of the overall timeline.
“There’s a certain amount of complexity that can come in with public comments and various different issues. There might be things we need to take more time to deal with. The public comments are key and really what drives the extent and depth of our analysis.”
A project of this size and scope is relatively complicated, he explains, and involves several other federal and state entities, such as the Core of Engineers and Nuclear Regulatory Commission. There is also high interest from the public, says Kozel.
“Starting the EIS process is a significant milestone in our progress towards bringing the Bear Lodge Project into production,” comments Randall J. Scott, President and CEO.
“The work we have done over the last several years, which includes extensive baseline data collection and the development of a thorough plan of operations, should expedite this process and support our goal of making Bear Lodge the next world-class critical rare earth project to reach production.”
The memorandum of understanding itself outlines the conditions and requirements of the Forest Service and RER for completing the EIS, as well as the working arrangements.
“The Bear Lodge Project has received a lot of interest at very high levels because of its geostrategic importance. We hope that the Forest Service will work to identify responsible ways to accelerate the NEPA process,” says Byers.