Residents to speak at Capitol on mining | TheUnion.com

Residents to speak at Capitol on mining

Laura Brown

Representatives from the Tsi-Akim Maidu tribe, Friends of Deer Creek and the Sierra Fund will travel to the state Capitol on Tuesday to speak at a joint assembly, which will address Gold Rush-era mining contamination of California’s land and water.

It is the first time the California State Assembly has held a hearing on the long-term impacts of the Gold Rush on public lands, according to the Sierra Fund’s Web site.

Scientists and experts from state, local and federal agencies will give an overview of health and environmental concerns caused by toxins such as mercury and lay out future strategies for cleanup.

The Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee, Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee and the Natural Resources Committee have legal jurisdiction over land and water in California, said Elizabeth “Izzy” Martin, chief executive officer of the Sierra Fund and former Nevada County supervisor.

“They all have a piece of the puzzle,” Martin said.

The meeting will begin at 9 a.m., room 4202, in the state Capitol.

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At the hearings, Martin will release the Sierra Fund’s new report titled “Mining’s Toxic Legacy: An Initiative to Address Mining Toxins in the Sierra.” After the hearing, the report will be made available to the public.

Tribal chairman Don Ryberg of the Tsi-Akim Maidu will speak briefly of the impacts gold mining has had on native people in Nevada County.

“My role is to talk about people who have been here forever and what (gold mining) did to us,” Ryberg said.

The Tsi-Akim Maidu lived in several villages prior to the Gold Rush in the area that is now Nevada City.

Carrie Monohan, staff scientist of the Friends of Deer Creek, will speak about the Nevada City Brownfields Project.

Friends of Deer Creek received a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to assess the effects mine tailings in the Nevada City area have on Deer Creek.

Gold miners used mercury to extract gold from mined materials and then discharged the waste into streams, where it accumulated in the sediment. Many bodies of water in Nevada County – including the Yuba and bear Rivers – contain high amounts of mercury.

“It was perfectly fine and well until 150 years ago. Then it was all poisoned. I don’t think there’s a piece of land in Nevada County that hasn’t been turned upside down,” Ryberg said.

Though elemental mercury poses little risk to humans, excessive exposure to the organic form, called methylmercury and found in fish, can cause damage to the nervous system of developing children, according to health experts.

Cleanup in the county has been slow because of soaring costs associated with it, but new technology and government grants hold out promise for cleaning up the contamination.

Recently, the Nevada Irrigation District teamed up with several groups to remove mercury from one of its reservoirs. The Bureau of Land Management will test a section of the South Yuba River this summer to learn more about the effects dredging has on mercury content in the sediment.

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To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail lbrown@theunion. com or call 477-4231.

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