Appeal hearing set Tuesday for Blue Lead gold mine
April 4, 2014
The Nevada County Supervisors will decide Tuesday whether to uphold permit approval for the reopening of Blue Lead gold mine in rural Nevada County, or to reverse the approval on appeal.
If upheld, the approval would allow one of the first gold mine reopenings in Nevada County in recent years.
Supporters say this project will be a positive step forward in cleaning up and restoring the environment from the Gold Rush mining operations of the 1800s.
"This is a win-win-win kind of project," said Charles Watson, a Chester-based geologist whose firm designed the proposed mining operation for property owner Tucker White.
“It will be good for the environment, good for the county and good for the property owner.”
Geologist Charles Watson
"It will be good for the environment, good for the county and good for the property owner."
But neighbors of the 75-acre mine property, about seven miles east of Nevada City on Red Dog Road, don't agree. They have appealed the unanimous Feb. 13 permit approval by the Nevada County Planning Commission.
"The Planning Commission should have required a full-blown EIR (environmental impact report)," said appellant Grace Suarez, who lives in the You Bet neighborhood about a mile from the mine property.
"There are too many questions out there, and if something happens, it'll be just too darn bad."
She said she was worried about impact on the water table and about noise, citing the aborted mid-1990s reopening of the San Juan Ridge Mine.
In that project, the mine broke down, flooded and dried up wells in the surrounding area.
"People near there had to be on bottled water for 10 years," she said.
County planning staff don't agree that the Blue Lead Mine carries similar risks as the failed San Juan Ridge project.
According to the supervisors' agenda, staff are recommending the board deny the appeal, adopted a mitigated negative declaration of environmental impact and approve the use permit and reclamation plan.
A mitigated negative declaration means the applicant has taken the appropriate steps to offset any potential negative environmental impacts. Watson said the project will clean up the remnants of the old mine workings and the toxic mercury residue from the original partial mining operation in the 1800s.
"It will be like a Mom and Pop operation," he said. "We'll only have five people working there at one time."
Once the water pond has been filled, Watson said the mine will draw about 20,000 gallons per day from a subaquifer 400 feet deep.
The amount of water to be used would be "less than a domestic swimming pool," he said.
"We won't be using any surface aquifers," he said.
All materials — such as the water and gravel — will be recycled, he said.
Suarez said she was skeptical.
"What's the win for neighbors?" she said. "I don't see anything in this for me, except noise and the possibility of wells going dry."
She said she was not reassured by Watson's statements.
"They (property owners) didn't get off to a good start," she said, referring to an earlier attempt to reopen the mine. The operation was shut down by regulators. "They've been caught in the cookie jar before."
Watson said there was some confusion early on — pre-county regulations — about whether a private property owner had unlimited rights to use his or her property. A challenge ensued over vested rights, the owners lost the challenge and the project was closed.
"Now we're going into the full permit process, and we will be bound by all the laws of the county and the state," Watson said. "It's a whole different situation."
He said he was proud to stand behind the mine reopening.
"It's a really good feeling to be able to be part of something so good," Watson said. "We're going to set the precedent on how to do it right."
The hearing is set for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Eric Rood Center, 950 Maidu Ave., in Nevada City.
To contact Staff Writer Keri Brenner, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4239.