The opening salvo in what figures to be a long engagement between owners of a gold mine, nearby residents and county officials arrived on a cordial note Tuesday.
The San Juan Ridge Mining Corp., led by CEO Tim Calloway, is attempting to reopen a gold mining operation, located near North Columbia, which last operated between 1993 and 1997.
The Nevada County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a contract with Rancho Cordova-based environmental consultant PMC for about $180,000 to conduct a comprehensive environmental analysis of the proposed mining project.
Gary Parsons, president of the San Juan Ridge Taxpayers Association, attended Tuesday’s meeting with about 25 residents to express concerns about the impact the mining project will have on the local community.
In 1995, during the previous period of the mine’s operation, workers drilled into a fault line, causing a water discharge of about 2,000 gallons per minute, which led to a failure of at least 12 wells in the area, including Grizzly Hill School and the North Columbia Schoolhouse.
Parsons noted that during the previous environmental analysis, conducted in the early ’90s, consultants assured stakeholders that well failures were not possible, which is why he and his fellow members of the association are wary of the mine’s recommencement of operations.
“There are 1,000 parcels within a 3-mile radius of the mine, privately held parcels with underlying geological faults,” Parsons said during a presentation to the board.
“In the first report, we were told there was no communication between the bedrock and the gravel pits where the mining was to occur — that proved quickly to be false.”
Many of the residents who experienced well failure were subjected to “general misery” and declining property values, Parsons said.
Parsons effusively thanked the county for undertaking a new environmental process and stressed his organization would help the county find appropriate mitigations if it exists in the interest of “finding a solution that is equitable for everyone.”
Planning Director Brian Foss said the process was just beginning, and there would be ample opportunity for members of the community to provide feedback and analyze data presented throughout the environmental analysis process.
The taxpayers association did take issue with the cost of the EIR, saying at first blush, the amount seemed low.
“Costs for the recently proposed Idaho-Maryland Mine’s Environmental Impact Report were estimated to be $440,000,” Parsons said in a news release issued Tuesday.
It is not unusual for a contract to be amended as the process moves forward, Foss said.
Supervisor Nate Beason said he and his fellow board members are well acquainted with mining operations’ affect on ground water, having been through a similar environmental analysis relating to the Idaho-Maryland Mine, and would carry that expertise into the current process.
Foss further vowed that the environmental analysis would not rely on data collected in the ’90s but would be based on “current information and current settings at the site.”
“We are not going to rely on outdated data,” he said.
The next opportunity for public comment on the project will be at a notice of preparation hearing, which simply states that an Environmental Impact Report is being formulated for the project, Foss said.
Following that, once the Draft EIR is completed, any member of the public will be allowed to comment on the document, and the input will be incorporated into the Final EIR. Board approval of the FEIR is tantamount to approval of the project.
The process is expected to take at least one year, according to previous reports.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4239.