Oil-Dri says county cannot stop its cat litter mine near Reno | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Oil-Dri says county cannot stop its cat litter mine near Reno

SCOTT SONNER, Associated Press Writer

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Opponents of a proposed cat litter mine near Reno pleaded with county planners Tuesday night to reject the special use permit the Oil-Dri Corp. needs to dig the mine and build an accompanying processing plant.

But a lawyer for Chicago-based Oil-Dri said Washoe County has no authority to halt the mining because of the company’s valid claim to the clay on federal land under the 1872 Mining Law.

And any decision on the permit — pro or con — was headed for appeal in January before the full Washoe County Commission.

More than 250 local activists and residents of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony neighboring the proposed mine site in Hungry Valley packed a public hearing on the project Tuesday night at the county commission chambers.

Several young children carried signs that read “No Oil-Dri” and “No Residential Mining.”

The Washoe County Planning Commission planned to vote on the permit at the close of the hearing but still was taking comments late Tuesday night and prepared to continue into Wednesday morning.

Commission staff recommended last week the planners deny the permit, citing concerns opponents raised earlier about increased truck traffic, noise and air pollution.

“I have not formed an opinion yet as to approval or denial,” Planning Commission Chairwoman Marge Fransden assured the crowd as she opened the hearing.

She later admonished opponents of the mine in the audience for cheering and applauding when the staff recommendation against the project was read at the hearing.

“The applause will only make this meeting much, much longer, so please don’t,” she said.

Oil-Dri officials said they would appeal the permit to the full county commission if the planning panel refused to grant it.

“These are public lands with valid mining claims. They will be mined,” said Earl Hill, a Reno-based lawyer for Oil-Dri specializing in mining and public lands.

“The law allows for ancillary facilities to be protected in the same manner as the mining operations themselves,” he told the planning commission.

The Bureau of Land Management earlier concluded Oil-Dri’s claim to the clay on BLM land in Hungry Valley was valid under the federal mining law as a “locatable mineral … sufficient to render the land valuable,” although environmentalists intend to challenge that decision.

Hill said the BLM’s determination would overrule any inconsistent action taken by the state or county.

Even before the vote, county officials said they were planning a tentative appeal hearing on the special use permit before the full Washoe County Commission for Jan. 22.

“I have to assume someone is going to appeal,” county planning manager Sharon Kvas said.

Oil-Dri officials say their project on about 300 acres of Bureau of Land Management land in Hungry Valley 10 miles north of Reno would produce about 100 jobs and generate $12 million annually for the local economy.

The neighboring Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, Great Basin Mine Watch and local activists aligned as the Citizens for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods are among those opposing the mine and processing facility. Tribal leaders have threatened to go to court if necessary to halt the project.

So far, they’ve been unsuccessful in attempts to persuade the BLM to block the mine, which Oil-Dri staked its claim to under the 1872 Mining Law.

The critics said laws conservationists typically use to challenge hardrock mining operations, such as the National Environmental Policy Act, are proving an ineffective weapon in their fight against the proposed mine in their own backyard. They’ve turned their attention recently to local politicians with the authority to deny county permits for the processing plant.

“NEPA regulations are not written so as to deal with something 450 feet from a residential neighborhood,” said Tom Myers, executive director of the Great Basin Mine Watch.

“If this was somewhere in central Nevada, it’s unlikely the Great Basin Mine Watch would even be opposing it,” he said.

The world’s largest maker of cat litter, Oil-Dri makes products for Chlorox and Wal-Mart. Company officials said last month they were committed to mining clay near Reno even if they must build the processing plant elsewhere.

Oil-Dri already has clay mining operations in Mississippi, Georgia and Illinois. It began seeking a West Coast mine as long as 25 years ago to improve distribution and found the clay in Hungry Valley north of Reno — where only 7 inches of rain falls a year — to be of premium quality because of its absorption rate.

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