oversight

Federal Land Management: Estimates of Value and Economic Effects of the New World Mine Project

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-09-09.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

 A o
GAO
 ~G    ~United   States
       General Accounting Office
       Washington, D.C. 20548

       Resources, Community, and
       Economic Development Division


       B-277779


       September 9, 1997


       The Honorable Frank H. Murkowski
       Chairman, Committee on Energy
        and Natural Resources
       United States Senate

       The Honorable Don Young
       Chairman, Committee on Resources
       House of Representatives

       Subject:     Federal Land Management: Estimates of Value and Economic
                    Effects of the New World Mine Proiect

       In November 1990, Crown Butte Mines, Inc., applied for a permit to construct
       and operate a gold, silver, and copper mine in the New World mining district
       in Montana, approximately 3 miles northeast of Yellowstone National Park.
       Strong opposition to the proposed New World project arose, in part because
       of its proximity to Yellowstone National Park. Opponents were concerned
       that the mine would threaten the park's water quality and other resources.
       Some were also concerned about the effects of increased population on the
       area's economy.

       Facing the prospect of delays in obtaining the permit, environmental litigation,
       and public opposition, Crown Butte agreed to a property exchange with the
       federal government on August 12, 1996, and suspended its application for a
       permit. Specifically, Crown Butte agreed to exchange its property and mineral
       interests in the New World mining district for up to $65 million in federal
       assets. In addition, Crown Butte agreed to place $22.5 million in an escrow
       account to fund environmental response and restoration actions in the district.
       To respond to your interest in the value of the mineral resources associated
       with the New World mine and the effects of the mine on jobs, payrolls, and
       taxes, had development occurred, we obtained estimates of these values and
       effects and report them here. However, we did not evaluate the

                                                 GAO/RCED-97-232R New World Mine Project
B-277779

reasonableness of the methodology and assumptions on which these estimates
are based.

In summary, we found that estimates of the mineral values varied widely,
reflecting differences in the methods of computation as well as differences in
assumptions about such things as the size and grades of ore reserves, discount
rates, the future price of minerals, and the options for disposing of tailings
from the mine. The lowest estimate we obtained ranged from minus
$4.2 million to $56.7 million in net present value, and the highest estimate was
almost $900 million in gross resource value, not discounted to a net present
value. A preliminary assessment of the range of possible property values is
currently under way. Forest Service officials expect this assessment to be
completed in the fall of 1997.

 The mine would provide as many as 321 direct jobs and up to 145 indirect
jobs during the project's development, according to a draft environmental
impact statement (EIS) begun by the Forest Service and Montana's
Department of Environmental Quality.' The total payroll during the peak year
of construction was estimated in the draft EIS to be $10.3 million. The draft
EIS also estimated that the mine's operation would provide 175 direct jobs and
87 indirect jobs, with a total annual payroll of about $7.5 million. A separate
estimate, provided by the author of an article appearing in the Northwest
Mining Association Bulletin, projected that salaries and wages would total
$347 million over the life of the mine. 2 Crown Butte estimated that federal,
state, and local taxes would have totaled over $3 million annually had the
mine been developed.

BACKGROUND

Crown Butte's 10- to 15-year mining operation was to include an underground
mine, a mill, a tailings impoundment, and a camp for workers. The proposed
mine site is on private and Forest Service-managed lands, and several permits
from federal and state agencies would have been required for the operation.


'In 1993, Montana's Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S.
Department of Agriculture jointly initiated the EIS, as required by state and
federal environmental protection laws. The EIS, which was initiated in
response to the company's request to mine, has not been- completed because it
was suspended when the company suspended its application for a permit.
2Otto Schumacher, "Creating New Wealth," Northwest Mining Association
Bulletin, Vol. 102, No. 4 (May 1997).

2                                        GAO/RCED-97-232R New World Mine Project
B-277779

While the mine would have been located in Montana, it was expected to
create employment in both Montana and Wyoming and would thus have
affected the economies in both states.

The property exchange agreement between Crown Butte and the federal
government provides that Crown Butte will trade all real property in the New
World mining district to which it holds title, or in which it has an interest, for
federal assets valued up to $65 million. This property includes Crown Butte's
mineral rights in the Gallatin National Forest and property that it has leased
and has promised to acquire from a private landowner in the district. The
$65 million price is the maximum value of the government's payment and is
contingent upon the resources being valued for at least that amount.
According to Forest Service officials, a preliminary assessment of the range of
potential property values, based on several alternative mining operations, is
under way. The review, which is scheduled to be submitted to the Forest
Service for review and acceptance this fall, is expected to be completed in late
November 1997.

A third party to this agreement is a coalition of environmental groups,
collectively referred to in the agreement as the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.
The Coalition opposes the mine and has sued Crown Butte for violations of
the federal Clean Water Act. In exchange for Crown Butte's agreement not to
*mine and to devote $22.5 million to environmental response and restoration in
the district, the Coalition has agreed to settle its legal action against Crown
Butte and not to pursue legal action against the federal government for certain
environmental effects of mining in the district.

Under the agreement, Crown Butte had a right to terminate the agreement if it
was not satisfied with the government's progress in identifying exchange
property by August 12, 1997; this deadline has been extended for 60 days.
Although the original agreement provided for an exchange of Crown Butte's
district property for federal assets, the property will now be exchanged for up
to $65 million in cash if such an exchange is approved by the Congress.

ESTIMATES OF THE VALUE OF
THE MINERAL RESOURCES VARIED WIDELY

The estimated values of the mineral resources at the New World project varied
widely, depending upon the method of computation and the assumptions used
in the calculations. The lowest estimate ranged from minus $4.2 million to
$56.7 million in net present value. The highest estimate approached


3                                         GAO/RCED-97-232R New World Mine Project
B-277779

$900 million in gross resource value (which is not discounted to a present
value). Specific information about the estimated values is presented in
enclosure I.

Federal appraisal standards define fair market value as the amount for which
a property would be sold-for cash or its equivalent-by a willing and
knowledgeable seller to a willing and knowledgeable buyer. 3 The standards
provide for several methods of determining fair market value, including
analyses of comparable sales or prior sales of the identical property. In the
absence of reliable and comparable market prices, the standards provide for
estimating the value of a resource on the basis of the present value of the
future income anticipated from production, including sources such as
royalties. Simply put, this method values the estimated future income stream
from a project and adjusts this income stream to its value today by using a
discount rate. Such a discount rate reflects the earning power of the money
over time and the risk associated with this earning. The choice of a discount
rate is a key factor in determining net present value-in effect, the lower the
discount rate, the higher the net present value of an asset.

The estimated values that we obtained varied depending upon the assumptions
used for discount rates, commodity prices, the size and grades of ore reserves,
and the options for disposing of tailings from the mine. For example, discount
rates-a key assumption used in net present value analysis-varied from a low
of 6.2 percent to a high of 15 percent, and the estimated ore reserves ranged
from almost 8 million tons to 11 million tons.4

The lowest estimate we obtained ranged from minus $4.2 million to
$56.7 million. This analysis, which was prepared for the Greater Yellowstone
Coalition, was based on discount rates of 10 and 15 percent, project delays
ranging from 0 to 3 years, and different scenarios for disposing of mine
tailings. The highest estimate we obtained was for almost $900 million and

3Uniform  Appraisal Standards for Federal Land Acquisitions, Interagency Land
Acquisition Conference (1992).
4According   to the draft EIS, up to 11 million tons of ore would have been
mined and processed from two deposits in the New World mining district.
Assuming average ore grades, the draft EIS estimated that Crown Butte could
have extracted up to 2.3 million troy ounces of gold, 11.5 million troy ounces
of silver, and 80,000 tons of copper over the life of the mine. There are 12
troy ounces in a pound.


4                                        GAO/RCED-97-232R New World Mine Project
B-277779

was cited in an article published in the Northwest Mining Association Bulletin
in May 1997. This estimate, which does not use net present value analysis,
reflects the gross market value of the minerals expected to be produced and
refined over the life of the mine. According to the article's author, this
amount reflects the value or new wealth that the project might generate from
new costs and cash flows from such things as salaries, taxes, purchases, and
royalties.

ESTIMATES OF THE EFFECT OF
THE NEW WORLD PROJECT ON JOBS.
PAYROLLS, AND TAXES VARIED

According to the draft EIS, the mine would provide 321 direct jobs during the
peak year of the mine's development and 175 direct jobs during the mine's
operation. The mine would also generate a maximum of 145 indirect jobs
during the development of the mine and 87 indirect jobs during its operation.
The total payroll during the peak year of development would be about
$10.3 million, while the total annual payroll during operation would be about
$7.5 million. The author of the article in the Northwest Mining Association
Bulletin estimated that salaries and wages would total $347 million over the
life of the mine. Specific information about employment and payroll estimates
is presented in enclosures II and Ill.

Although the direct jobs would be in Montana during the mine's operation,
some of the jobs associated with the mine and with the construction of a
power line needed for its operation would probably be held by Wyoming
residents. 5 A study of the economic effects of the mine on Park County,
Wyoming, prepared by Western Economic Services for Crown Butte, assumed
that 50 to 80 percent of the 175 direct mining jobs (88 to 140 jobs) would have
been filled largely from the existing work force in Park County, Wyoming; the
average annual salary for these jobs was assumed to be $38,000.6 An appendix
to that study, prepared at the University of Wyoming, estimated that at full
production, the mine would annually bring into the county $3.2 million to
$4.2 million in direct payroll.



5Thiswould affect Wyoming's economy through such things as indirect
employment and increased sales taxes and personal income taxes.
6WesternEconomic Services, The Economy of Park County, Wyoming: With
and Without the New World Project (June 1993).

5                                        GAO/RCED-97-232R New World Mine Project
B-277779

Crown Butte estimated the effect of the proposed mine on federal, state, and
local taxes. Annually, according to its estimate, federal income taxes would
total $1,197,000 and state and local taxes would total $1,836,403. According to
the author of the article in the Northwest Mining Association Bulletin, over the
life of the mine, federal taxes would total almost $59 million and state and
local taxes would total about $44 million. Specific information about tax
revenue estimates is presented in enclosure IV.

AGENCY COMMENTS

We provided the Department of Agriculture's Forest Service and the
Department of the Interior with a draft of this report for review and comment.
Both the Forest Service and Interior provided written comments, in which
they included technical clarifications. We have incorporated those
clarifications where appropriate. In addition, the Forest Service commented
that in general the report accurately portrays the socioeconomic effects of the
New World mine project as proposed to the Forest Service but appears
deficient because it does not report on the socioeconomic effects of
implementing the agreement requiring Crown Butte to spend $22.5 million on
environmental restoration and response. We do not include such a discussion
because the objective of our report was to provide information on various
estimates of the economic effects of the proposed mine, had it been
developed, rather than estimates of the effects of implementing the agreement.
We have incorporated this clarification into our scope and methodology
section.

SCOPE AND METHODOLOGY

To obtain estimates of the value of the mineral resources and of the effects of
the proposed project on potential employment and annual payrolls and taxes,
we contacted federal, state, and local government officials; representatives of
the mining company and of the mining industry; and environmental groups.
Specifically, we sought these estimates from (1) Forest Service officials at
headquarters in Washington, D.C.; at the regional office in Missoula, Montana;
and at the Gallatin National Forest in Bozeman, Montana; (2) Bureau of Land
Management officials at headquarters; and (3) National Park Service officials
at Yellowstone National Park and in Denver, Colorado. We also contacted
officials at Montana's Department of Environmental Quality and the
Governor's Office; officials of Park County, Montana, and Park County,
Wyoming; a vice president of Crown Butte Mines, Inc.; the author of an article
appearing in the Northwest Mining Association Bulletin in May 1997; and
representatives of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and associated

6                                          GAO/RCED-97-232R New World Mine Project
B-277779

environmental groups. We contacted officials at the Department of Justice
and the Council on Environmental Quality to ascertain whether they could
provide other valuation or economic estimates.

From our contacts with the above sources, we obtained estimates of resource
values from (1) a 1995 draft analysis prepared for the Greater Yellowstone
Coalition, (2) a 1995 estimate by the National Park Service, (3) a 1996 estimate
by the Bureau of Mines, and (4) a May 1997 estimate published in an article in
the Northwest Mining Association Bulletin.

For each of the resource value estimates we obtained, we reported some of
the key assumptions and computation methods identified. We did not
ascertain the appropriateness or reasonableness of the assumptions and
methodologies. Similarly, we reported the employment, payroll, and tax
estimates as reported to us; we did not verify the assumptions or the
methodologies used to compute them. We did not address other potential
economic and social effects of the proposed project, such as the estimated
impact of increased population on the surrounding area and on the
infrastructure of Park County, Wyoming, nor did we address the
socioeconomic effects that might occur with the agreement's implementation.

We obtained projections of employment and annual payrolls associated with
*the proposed project for Montana and Wyoming from the preliminary draft
environmental impact statement. In addition, estimates of employment and
annual payrolls for Wyoming were provided by an economic report
commissioned by Crown Butte. We also obtained an estimate of the total
payroll (over the life of the mine) from the author of the article in the May
1997 Northwest Mining Association Bulletin.

Projected federal, state, and local annual tax estimates were provided by
Crown Butte. Estimates of total taxes (over the life of the mine) were
provided by Crown Butte, by the Bureau of Mines, and by the author of the
May 1997 article in the Northwest Mining Association Bulletin.

We performed our review from May through August 1997 in accordance with
generally accepted government auditing standards.




7                                         GAO/RCED-97-232R New World Mine Project
B-277779

As arranged with your offices, unless you publicly announce its contents
earlier, we plan no further distribution of this report for 7 days. At that time,
we will make copies available to the Secretaries of the Interior and of
Agriculture and to other interested parties. We will also make copies available
to others upon request.

If you or your staff have any questions, please call me at (202) 512-9775.
Major contributors to this report were Jennifer Duncan, Diane Lund, Sue
Naiber;, and Victor S. Rezendes.




 Ass iate Director,
 Resources, and cnce Issues




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