by Timothy Burmeister, The Elko Daily, March 30, 2022
Western Watersheds Project sent a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offices saying they had received a map of a “man camp” being considered for the Thacker Pass lithium mine project, asking that the agencies do further analysis before the project can move forward.
Tim Crowley, Lithium Nevada’s vice president of government affairs and community relations, said in an interview that the company is simply considering the possibility of setting up a small RV area for construction supervisors, and no “man camp” is being considered.
The letter, written last week by WWP Energy and Mining Campaign Director Kelly Fuller, says, “The man camp was not analyzed in the Project’s Environmental Impact Statement, will have effects on greater sage-grouse and other wildlife, and will likely require new rights-of-way. Because the NEPA analysis supporting the project did not address the man camp, BLM must prepare a supplemental NEPA analysis to consider the effects of the man camp on the environment. Due to the man camp’s location, it may also render the golden eagle take permit that will be issued in April 2022 inadequate because of additional disturbance.”
“LNC’s apparent decision to pursue a man camp for the Thacker Pass mine after stating repeatedly that it would not build one will be controversial, to say the least.” Fuller wrote. “The sooner supplemental NEPA starts, the better for everyone.”
Concerns about man camps in Thacker Pass have been brought up over the past year. “The Battle for Thacker Pass,” a Sept. 23, 2021, article in The Nation magazine, said “similar operations often bring outside contractors who populate sprawling ‘man camps.’ These temporary, overwhelmingly male workforces can make housing unaffordable for locals and lead to spikes in drug use and violent crime. Julia Stern, editor-in-chief of the Immigration and Human Rights Law Review, has noted that Native women frequently experience violence from non-Native perpetrators, writing that ‘the potential for harm from ‘man camps’ is exacerbated when they are on or near Indigenous peoples’ lands.’”
In an interview in February Crowley said concerns about potential problems with man camps are “totally valid.”
“What we’ve done is commit to building temporary housing in Winnemucca,” Crowley said. “That’s where we believe our temporary workforce would want to live. There may be a few spots for our management team at a ranch we have, but by and large, we’re going to have our workforce living in Winnemucca, and we’ll bus them to and from the site.”
Crowley said last week that in looking at the options for handling the construction phase of the Thacker Pass project, they have considered the possibility of setting up a small, temporary recreational vehicle area near the mine site to provide accommodations for the construction leadership team and their families.
Lithium Nevada made a conceptual drawing of the site with 20 RV sites along a road, plus four additional spots for visiting Lithium Americas management.
“This plan would have to adhere to all federal, state and local regulations,” Crowley said.
“This is a small enough project that it doesn’t register as a man camp,” Crowley said. “There’s no infrastructure, there are no food facilities or laundromat.”
“It’s currently just a concept and would be built on private land that we purchased in mid-2021 when it unexpectedly came on the market,” Crowley said.
Lithium Nevada’s purchase of the Lyman Ranch property on the north side of the Thacker Pass mine site was an opportunity that came up after the NEPA process for the Thacker Pass was completed.
Lithium Nevada has talked about the possibility of an RV area for the construction management team with the Thacker Pass Negotiating Work Group, a community group which has been set up to discuss and identify “solutions that protect the safety and well-being of community members.” The company asked people in the Work Group whether they would prefer to have the RV area at a ranch the company owns at Orovada or at the Lyman Ranch adjacent to the mine site. Crowley said most of the work group members preferred the Lyman Ranch site.
The company is considering several options for housing the construction supervisors, Crowley said, and the RV area at the Lyman Ranch is just one possibility.
The construction phase of the Thacker Pass project is expected to utilize around 1,000 people.