About 120 people, many of whom wore “Don’t mine our water” buttons on their shirts, showed up to the Eric Rood Administrative Center Wednesday night to demonstrate opposition to the re-opening of the San Juan Ridge Mine, located near the town of North Bloomfield.
Nevada County Planner Tod Herman, who officiated over the meeting, reminded those in attendance that the purpose of the public scoping session was to incorporate public commentary on what the environmental documents relating to the project should study.
The county has contracted with PMC Consulting, based in Rancho Cordova, Calif., to produce a Draft Environmental Impact Report, which attempts to analyze the potential impacts the mine would have on the surrounding environment.
Impacts to noise levels, traffic, water quality, air quality, biological resources, cultural resources and aesthetics will be studied, but the county wants to collect the community’s ideas as to what else should be studied.
“We are asking for information tonight as to what needs to be in the EIR,” Herman said.
The community complied.
Many of those in attendance again referenced the 1995 incident where a vertical fault containing highly pressurized water was punctured, resulting in a four-month period of aggressive water pumping at the underground mine, which resulted in the failure of about 14 wells in proximity to the mine.
“The history of the mine from 1994 to 1997 is of de-watered wells, contaminated water supplies and a huge quantity of water discharged in a manner that exceeded legal limits,” said Gary Parsons, president of the San Juan Ridge Taxpayers Association, an organization that opposes the re-opening of the mine.
The results of mining were not anticipated in the last environmental review process, Parsons said, which makes the community wary, especially since the impacts from the mid-1990s event continue to linger.
Tim Callaway, CEO of San Juan Ridge Mining Corporation, said during a Thursday morning interview that the company will use a horizontal drilling system to explore the underground workings and avert a potential repeat of the incident.
Solomon Henson, a hydrologist who Wednesday presented along with other members of SJRTA, deemed the horizontal drilling “an exploratory technique” that will use the community’s aquifer to “test a hypothesis.”
Kurt Lorenz, a member of the SJRTA steering committee, also asked the environmental consultants to study and verify the applicability of this technique and its ability to prevent a similar occurrence.
Callaway believes the technique is foolproof.
“From an engineering perspective, if you are drilling horizontal holes, you cannot miss vertical faults,” Callaway said.
“As to the actual placement and number, we will be relying on hydrologists and engineers to guide that process.”
Other issues brought up included impacts to public services and utilities, as a crucial California Department of Fire and Forestry station is located in proximity to the proposed mine site, said Erin Noel.
Stephanie Freydont, owner of Extasia jewelry located on the Ridge, is concerned
about the impact to already established businesses on the Ridge.
“I did not see on your scoping documents (any) economic analysis,” she said. “How will the county protect and retain existing businesses?”
The Ridge has a diverse local economy of more than 100 small- and medium-sized businesses that employ hundreds of people and generate between $15 million and $20 million in revenue, Freydont said.
Community Supported Agriculture, a locally based food distribution model where an individual pledges monetary support to a farm and receives produce from that farm in return, is a prominent feature of the community on the Ridge and could be imperilled by mining operations, Noel said.
Declining property values should also be analyzed, Freydont said.
“A mine in the heart of our community could further erode our most important financial asset — that of our residential property,” she said.
Caleb Dardick, executive director of the South Yuba River Citizens League, also asked the consultant to consider the impacts to the entire South Yuba River watershed.
“(We ask) that the cumulative impacts be assessed, including impacts to water quality and fisheries,” Dardick said.
“SYRCL is very concerned about impacts to Spring and Shady creeks, as well as indirect impacts to the South Yuba River.”
The timeline for the project still entails a presentation and circulation of the DEIR in about five months and the subsequent circulation of the FEIR before the county board of supervisors will vote to approve or reject the use permit.
“There were a lot of good points that were brought up last night by a group of concerned citizens, and I believe each one of those concerns will be studied in depth,” Callaway said.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email email@example.com or call (530) 477-4239.