A possible change of plans

Mine delays new traffic plan following townhall meeting
Thursday, September 30, 2021
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More than 100 people gathered in Nye last week to talk to the mine about the negative impacts its proposed traffic change could bring to the Nye and Fishtail communities. Among the attendees was Stillwater County Commissioner Mark Crago, pictured in the red had on the right. (Photo by Shari Ekwortzel)

Last Tuesday night, more than 100 people gathered at the Nye Fire Hall to voice their concerns about a plan that had been set to swing into motion in October involving a decrease in employee carpool traffic to and from the Sibanye-Stillwater mine site in Nye.

The reason for the traffic reduction was two-fold: parking has been reduced at the site due to a new project and the mine is in need of getting the total daily traffic count reduced, as is established by the Good Neighbor Agreement (GNA). That total daily traffic count is currently at 160.

Sixty-three of those are employee car-pool vehicles. It’s these 63 vehicles that drew the crowd, mainly because of the business those bring to the Nye Trading Post and the Fishtail General Store and in turn, the impact those two businesses have on their communities.

At the end of a nearly 2-hour meeting, Sibanye-Stillwater said it was delaying the implementation of its plan.

“I think we have to take all the facts,” said Vice President for Legal, Environmental and Government Affairs Heather McDowell. “We want to find a solution.”

WHO WAS AT THE TABLE

The meeting was largely organized and run by Nye Trading Post owner Heath Benson as well as Fishtail General Store owner Katy Martin. Matt Young (owner of Nye Fly, 2 Rivers Real Estate and 2 Rivers Lodge) also had a hand in making the night possible. All three made short statements to launch the meeting.

Benson kicked things off by saying the Nye Trading Post is vital to the entire community.

“We’re very aware of how critical our business is here. I feel we are a key component to the needs of many,” said Benson. “Not just the miners and campers. It’s a lifeblood.”

When it’s 30 below outside in the winter, ranchers need to heat their barns and don’t have time during calving season to go to Columbus.

“We do that,” said Benson, meaning he makes sure that ranchers have the supplies they need in such conditions.

Pipes freeze in the winter, leaving folks without water for days.

“We’re there for that,” said Benson. Benson said the change in traffic would bring an estimated 60 percent revenue reduction in the winter to his business.

“The mine traffic that helps to support our business is very, very important,” said Benson.

Martin said the mine’s traffic plan will impact her business 25 percent. She employees 10 people who rely on her to feed her families, which weighs heavily. But it’s more than that for Martin.

“When you come into my store, your part of my family,” said Martin. And that “family” is comprised largely of miners, many of whom she has known and cared about for years.

“They are important to me for who they are and why they are here — not what they buy,” said Martin. “This is a special, special valley. I know the people that work at the mind understand that.”

Young spoke of the impact the Nye Trading Post has on the community.

“Make no mistake, this store has a direct impact on the community,” said Young.

Young told the group that recently, a 3-year-old from out-of-state was injured in a horse accident and his family came to the Nye Trading Post to get help, “because they knew (the store) was there,” said Young.

Also in attendance were Sibanye-Stillwater U.S. Region Environmental Manager Randy Weimer and Vice President-General Manager of Stillwater Scott O’Reilly.

McDowell and Weimer both come from small towns and told the group they do recognize and appreciate small town businesses.

Stillwater Protective Association President Bill Muldoon, Charles Sangmeister and two other SPA members also attended. Muldoon told the group that under the GNA, the mine was to keep the daily traffic to 110 vehicles per day. He also said SPA learned of the busing change one week prior to last week’s meeting and requested that the mine delay implementation until after its Oct. 6 Stillwater Oversight Committee meeting.

Muldoon said the SPA would have appreciated being looped into the mine’s new busing plan earlier because of things such as potential impact on local businesses and that the organization shares the same concerns as the Nye and Fishtail communities. Muldane also made one thing clear.

“Don’t believe everything you hear on social media. We do not want to shut down the mine,” said Muldoon.

Also present was Stitllwater County Commissioner Mark Crago.

CURRENT TRAFFIC

In addition to the daily 63 employee carpool vehicles, daily mine traffic is comprised by 14 buses, 26 company vehicles, 34 contractor vehicles and 23 employee exempt vehicles that all together transport between 500 and 600 people to the Nye mine site everyday.

Weimer broke that down into what a dayshift looks like — 30 employee carpool vehicles, seven busses, 25 contract vehicles, 15 company vehicles and 11 employee exempt vehicles, for a total of 85 vehicles per shift.

The mine’s solution was to reduce the number of total vehicles to 140 by reducing the employee carpool vehicles by 10 per shift, which would amount to 20 per day. That would knock the daily employee carpool vehicle number down to about 43.

Weimer said that in addition to being closer to the GNA number of 110 vehicles, it’s a basic safety issue for the mine.

A POSSIBLE SOLUTION

During the question and answer period, a woman suggested that instead of reducing the number of employee carpool vehicles that the mine makes a chance to the minimum number of people required in a carpool. That current number is four.

By putting more people into vehicles, the number of vehicles would reduce, while not having to take away anyone’s carpooling privilege.

“Up your minimum so no one is losing out,” the woman said, which was met with applause.

McDowell said that employees can “absolutely do that” and many probably will, and also said that she did not know if people would like that. McDowell did acknowledge that it is a valid suggestion.

O’Neill said the current plan is to issue employee carpool passes based on seniority with no limit on the number of occupants.

Another audience member spoke about having land nearby that could be potentially used as a parking lot. Also discussed was the process to possibly amend the GNA to allow for more mine traffic.

QUESTIONS ASKED

Audience members asked direct questions. One was why hadn’t the mine anticipated the need for a bigger parking lot when it became clear the Blitz project would be expanding. The expansion has, or will, result in a new concentrator being built onsite as well as increased traffic with contract work.

“You had to know it was coming,” said a man in the audience.

Weimer made no excuses, saying the mine had seen it coming approximately five or six years ago.

“I don’t know that we truly understood the contractor piece,” said Weimer, adding that the closure of an eastside parking area was done for safety purposes, as well as the new concentrator construction.

THE POSITIVES OF MINE TRAFFIC

Also pointed out were the positive aspects of mine traffic being on the road daily, specifically the carpool traffic.

One woman offered two personal stories to illustrate that point — one being the garage of her inlaw’s home catching fire and being put out by miners passing by. The second was the tragedy of the woman’s son in having a serious accident on the road. While the outcome was a tragedy, there were multiple miners onsite that were with her son, rendering medical aid and making sure he was not laying in a field alone.

“There’s good that comes of that too,” the woman said.

SEARCH FOR MIDDLE GROUND

After nearly 45 minutes of questions and discussions, Sibanye-Stillwater said it was going to delay implementation of the plan.

”I think we have to take all the facts,” said McDowell.

“Does that mean you are going to positively going delay the implementation of (the plan)?” asked an audience member.

“Yes,” McDowell said, which was met with applause.

Benson wrapped up the meeting.

“Let’s call that a great meeting,” said Benson.

The SPA’s Stillwater Oversight Committee meeting with the mine about the Good Neighbor Agreement will take place on Oct. 6.

Make no mistake, this store has a direct impact on the community, -Matt Young