Rancher Sues to Block Construction, Claims Conflict of Interest

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Robison Wells
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A northern Nevada rancher plans to block construction of the United States’ largest lithium mine with a lawsuit; he alleges a conflict of interest on the part of the project’s chief consultant that downplays potential harm to water resources and wildlife.

Bartell Ranch LLC wants the Bureau of Land Management to turn over documents, contracts, and internal communications between them and their third-party consultants; these documents outline Lithium Mining Corp’s (LMC) assertion that the mine won’t impact threatened species or damage “significant scientific, cultural, or historic resources.”

Plaintiffs on the case, filed in the US District Court in Reno, include the ranch and conservation groups. The ranch owner fears the disruption of water rights. The conservation groups worry about the habitat of the sage grouse; they also fear damage to sacred tribal lands, the site of a massacre in the 1860s.

The potential conflict of interest allegedly exists within a 2,700-page environmental impact statement produced by ICF International under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). One thousand three hundred pages come from Piteau Associates, a consultancy group for LMC, in a separate case.

The motion states: “This unusual relationship between a third-party contractor for the NEPA analysis, Piteau, and LNC suggests that Piteau was not working for BLM on the FEIS in a neutral and independent capacity, but rather, was working directly for LNC.”

The ranch seeks the documents because the BLM and Piteau refuse to turn over hydrology tests of area wells. The lawsuit claims that the BLM and Piteau “created a shroud of secrecy” over the basis for the mine’s approval.

The courts put a November 5th deadline on the BLM to argue against the latest filing.

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