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RENDERING: Rhyolite Ridge gains formal county support

The Bureau of Land Management published its draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Rhyolite Ridge Lithium-Boron project in April, triggering another crucial step forward for the planned mining operation - the public comment period. There are just two weeks remaining for interested parties to submit their own thoughts on the proposal, with the deadline set for June 3.

The Rhyolite Ridge project is located in Esmeralda County, near the Nye County border. Officials with Ioneer, the company developing the mine, have been keeping Nye County apprised of its progress. Along with the most recent update on the project, this month Ioneer Government and Public Affairs Manager Tyson Falk went before the Nye County Commission to request a formal letter of support for Rhyolite Ridge, a request the board was happy to grant.

“In April, the BLM issued the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for our project. That’s a culmination of many, many years of effort between us and in coordination with the BLM, Fish and Wildlife Service and others to get to this document,” Falk told the commissioners on May 7.

Exploration of the proposed mining area has revealed what Ioneer says is the largest known lithium and boron deposit in North America. Ioneer has been ready to move on the project for a some time now but the listing of the Tiehm’s Buckwheat as an endangered species in late 2022 prompted revisions to the company’s original plan of operation, resulting in a longer-than-anticipated process.

“We’ve modified where the proposed quarry will be so as to only impact 20% of the critical habitat that was designated with the listing of the buckwheat,” Falk detailed. He assured that even within this 20% of critical habitat, no actual plants are expected to be impacted.

Going even further, Ioneer is working on other measures to preserve this species of wildflower, with Falk adding, “In the meantime, we have our conservation center where we continue to grow and collect seed for the seed bank for the plant. And we have a full buckwheat protection plan that is part of our plan of operations.”

As detailed in the updated presentation packet, Ioneer currently has binding agreements with Ford (SK), Toyota-Panasonic EcoPro and Dragonfly Energy. All necessary funding is secured, the engineering design is over 70% complete and Falk said he felt confident that the company would be able to move on to construction quickly following the BLM’s record of decision, which will be issued following the final EIS.

“The BLM has indicated that they are looking for a record of decision in the October time frame. That would be the final permit that we need to proceed. So we would then expect construction activities to begin in the early part of next year, should everything go well,” Falk stated.

According to Ioneer’s projections, Rhyolite Ridge will create about 500 construction jobs over a two-to-three year construction period. Once operational, Falk said employment would total between 300 and 350 direct jobs for a period of at least 26 years.

“The expected $54 million of labor income during construction and $38 million of annual labor income during operations will be transformational,” reads the county’s letter of support, which was approved by a 5-0 vote. “The Draft EIS estimates the total direct economic output to be $178 million during the construction phase and $125 million annually, once the mine is operational.

“This level of long-term economic impact will be significant for nearby communities, trial and local businesses and Nevada,” the letter of support continues. “Tonopah is one of the closest towns to the proposed operation and as we exempt that the area will also realize increased business due to the influx of workers who will purchase goods at our local stores, stay in our hotels and motel and eat at our restaurants.”

The draft EIS can be viewed online at Rhyolite-Ridge.Ioneer.com or in person at public libraries in Dyer, Goldfield, Silver Peak, Hawthorne and Tonopah.

The deadline to submit public comment on the project is Monday, June 3. Comments can be emailed to the BLM Project Manager at BLM_NV_BMDO_TFO_NONRENEWABLE@BLM.gov with reference: Rhyolite Ridge Lithium-Boron Mine Project or mailed to Attn: BLM Project Manager, 50 Bastian Road, Battle Mountain, NV, 89820, reference: Rhyolite Ridge Lithium-Boron Mine Project.

For more about career opportunities or the overall project visit Rhyolite-Ridge.Ioneer.com

Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at rhebrock@pvtimes.com

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