The Nevada County Planning Department has issued a Notice of Preparation of an Environmental Impact Report for the proposed re-opening of the San Juan Ridge Mine by the San Juan Mining Corporation.
This signals the beginning of an environmental review process for the mine under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the beginning of a 30-day scoping period during which the Planning Department will accept comments from the public, agencies and other interested parties as to what issues should be addressed by the EIR.
A public scoping meeting will take place in front of the County Planning Commission at the Board of Supervisors chambers (Eric Rood Center) at 6 p.m. Dec. 5.
“In light of the past disastrous history of this mine and its impact on the surrounding community, we are pleased that the county has seen fit to require a new EIR for this project,” said SJRTA President Gary Parsons.
When the gold mine operated in the 1990s, 12 local wells went dry, including those of the local school and cultural center. New wells were drilled or old wells deepened by mine owner Siskon Gold Corporation, but water quality was poorer in most cases.
The mine was shut down in August 1997, and as water refilled the mine and the depleted aquifer, testing at Grizzly Hill School showed high levels of metals, minerals, odor, color, acidity and turbidity. Children reported feeling sick from drinking the water and the school was forced to use, bottled water for over 10 years.
The school has since installed a treatment and filtration system in order to comply with Nevada County drinking water standards.
Contamination of the school’s well has cost the school district more than $100,000, and the district continues to pay about $7,000 per year to maintain the water treatment system.
“In times like these with cuts occurring across the board for public schools, this is a horrendous use of public tax dollars. Those monies should be going to educate our children, not paying for the missteps of private industry,” said Kurt Lorenz of the Twin Ridges School Board.
Some residents whose wells were affected also reported being made ill from their water after the 1997 closure of the mine.
“The stress and misery that was experienced by our community during the Siskon era is not something we want repeated,” said Parsons. “Water quality in affected wells has not recovered, and some residents still have to live with that burden and the expense of treating their water and pumping from deeper wells.”
On Oct. 23, the Nevada County Board of Supervisors approved a contract for $179,811 with Rancho Cordova consulting firm PMC to prepare an EIR for the project.
“We were happy to hear Planning Director Brian Foss say that the environmental analysis would not rely on old data or reports because much of the information contained in those studies is erroneous,” said Parsons.
Many local business owners have also expressed concerns since most of the area’s businesses depend on well water.
“The mine would pose a direct threat to water supplies at four of the largest Ridge businesses employing over 200 local residents and generating almost $10 million annually in economic activity,” said local business owner Stefanie Freydont, whose jewelry company borders the proposed mine.
“This is not a ‘jobs versus the environment’ issue. This is a direct threat to hundreds of existing jobs versus a handful of speculative short-term jobs probably filled by out-of-county workers. The Ridge has a vibrant and diverse local economy with a 30-year track record of job creation. Without water, our businesses die. This project makes no economic sense.”
To stay apprised of the environmental review process, citizens can contact Nevada County Senior Planner Tod Herman at (530) 265-1257 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information about the San Juan Ridge community’s concerns, contact the San Juan Ridge Taxpayers Association at email@example.com or at (530) 292-3592, or visit www.sjrtaxpayers.org.