If a lawsuit against Inyo County is successful, the Town of Mammoth may not be the only local government facing a multi-million dollar settlement. The owners of the historic Pine Creek Tungsten Mine, above the town of Rovana have asked for over $50 million in damages in the ongoing dispute over the future of the mine that once produced more tungsten then any other mine in the country.
Like mines elsewhere, the mine operator is required to re-claim the land after the mine shuts down. In 2004 Inyo County told the mine operators to complete the reclamation plan that calls for the demolition of the old tungsten mill and the towering rock crushing facility. With plans that include possibly opening the mill and mine site for public tours, the mine owner has been arguing with Inyo County over the reclamation plan ever since.
That process is still under appeal with the Inyo County Planning Commission, but there is more history to this story. As part of a mine reclamation plan, the mine operator has to post a bond for the clean up when the mine closes. After the Pine Creek Mine closed, the county believed that the reclamation was not finished. Roughly $600,000 in clean up bond money is still being held by the county, according to Assistant County Counsel Randy Keller.
Keller explained Inyo County was first sued for taking the bond money without following proper procedures. That original complaint has now been amended. According to the court documents in Avocet Tungsten Inc. vs. County of Inyo, Avocet Tungsten says that the county returned four different requests for changes to the reclamation plan.
Without an amended reclamation plan, the mine operator cant explore, mine, process, plan, design, maintain and operate the Pine Creek Mine, according to the court papers.
Avocet Tungsten has asked for $50,000,000 in damages, plus a number of other monetary claims that include punitive damages of $5 million dollars a piece for alleged malfeasance on the part of County Counsel Paul Bruce and Assistant County Counsel Randy Keller.
The next step is for a judge to rule whether or not to allow the amended lawsuit, which includes the $50 million, to continue. Keller says the county will try to get the case dismissed, but depending on what the judge decides, either the case is gone or we carry on with the new allegations.
As a tragic side note to this story- Doug Hicks with the Pine Creek Mine reports that long time Pine Creek proponent and investor Lynn Goodfellow suffered severe burns when his vehicle caught fire while breaking the land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats on September 24th. Goodfellow was flown to Salt Lake City where he remains hospitalized due to the severe burns to his body and lungs.