The Bureau of Land Management required Umetco Minerals to produce an environmental assessment for their proposed Rattlesnake Hills Quarry in central Wyoming. The company was in the process of reclaiming and closing its nearby Gas Hills Uranium Mine and Mill to comply with regulations promulgated under the federal Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act of 1978. This would require stabilizing approximately 10 million tons of radioactive mill tailings by placement of earthen, vegetative, and rock cover durable for a minimum of 200 years (1,000 preferred). Quartzite rock on BLM land in the Rattlesnake Hills was determined suitable for these purposes. Approximately 500,000 cubic yards would be excavated from the 145 acre site over about three years.
An Environmental Assessment (EA) was initiated for the mineral sale. Using the BLM Visual Resource Management (VRM) system, two Key Observation Points (KOP's) were established by Ellsworth and Associates, landscape architects, inc. in consultation with state and federal agencies. Computer visual simulations were developed, and used in the VRM Contrast Rating analysis process to determine the visual acceptability of the project.
The first view is 3/4 mile from the proposed quarry, looking south. The proposed highwalls, talus slopes, and pit floor revegetation are visible in this view. The visual simulation shows the proposed "staining" of the exposed rock surfaces to blend with the naturally weathered rock color and texture.
The next visual simulation is 1.5 miles away, looking East. This view shows how the proposed quarry slopes, highwalls, and revegetation will closely resemble the natural landforms seen directly south (to the right in this view) of the quarry.
The Contrast Rating analysis with visual simulations determined that the project met the requirements of the designated visual management class for the area.
EALA's work added value to the Rattlesnake Hills Quarry project in the following ways...
- Significantly decreased costs to the mining company by providing a clear and accurate picture of the project intent early in the planning and permitting process
- Utilized a reliable and objective process for analyzing impacts to visual resources
- Effectively integrated the use of computer visual simulations with the BLM's Visual Resource Management Contrast Rating process
- Facilitated discussion among the project proponent, state and federal regulatory agencies, local citizens and landholders, and contractors
- Provided excellent evidence during state review board legal hearings on the intent of the mining company to protect visual and other natural resources of the site