In the past decade, millions of Americans have been scared of losing their homes through foreclosure. As a result, government has begun to negotiate with banks to keep people in their homes.
Here, on the San Juan Ridge, we live with a never-ending threat to our homes from gold mines. In our time, there have been numerous attempts to open mines in this neighborhood. Long ago, mining was an accepted way of life, but with the end of hydraulic mining, there was no economical way to separate the gold from the land. There was just too little gold in the sands to be worth processing. However, technology has made processing gold cheaper so that dirt that contains less than one-tenth of an ounce per ton is economically feasible.
In between the era of hydraulic mining and the invention of modern earth-movers, the nature of life on the Ridge changed. It became a rural residential community. People built homes in isolated parts of the forest. Cattle, sheep and farming replaced mining and clear-cut logging. Religious retreats were founded, and retirees came, attracted by the quiet beauty of the mountains that seemed to be created for meditation and quiet contemplation.
The people who live here see that they are the stewards of the earth, aware that being given dominance over the earth also gave them responsibility for the welfare of the earth.
So for the past 40 years, the people on the Ridge have resisted large mining operations. We do not want to see the earth torn open, water polluted and diverted, the air filled with dust, our narrow roads congested with heavy equipment and our school and our sleep disturbed by blasting and 24 hours a day earth-moving equipment.
Each time a new mine was proposed, we resisted until a somewhat livable compromise was reached. This was true in the early 1990s when Siskon Gold Corporation applied for an underground mine rather than an open-pit mine. There were promises of dust and noise control, of limited traffic, of limiting blasting to certain hours … and more.
Then on Labor Day 1995, the miners blasted into an undetected hydraulic fault line. The mine flooded, and as many as a dozen domestic wells went dry — some so fast you could hear the air being sucked down the well.
Siskon almost honored all its promises to replace the dry wells with new wells that were comparable in quantity and quality, though Grizzly Hill School still has to filter its water to make it potable.
It took about four months to seal the leak, and it did stop the well drainage. But Siskon had to pump huge volumes of water out of the mine into the local streams. Before the leak, Siskon had trouble with unstable soil in the tunnel and had to rebuild some of its support structure.
In May 1997, there was a cave-in — physical and financial. A large part of the mine caved in, closing haulage ways and making large mineral deposits unmineable. And Siskon was so far in debt there was no way to raise the capital to keep the mine going. In 1996, Siskon had already sold off its timber to raise money.
So San Juan Mine closed and Siskon Gold Corporation disappeared — for a while. In February 2012, Siskon Gold reappeared but as Shasta Gold Corporation. It has a new name and new financing, but it is the old management and the old plan.
Again, the people on the San Juan Ridge feel that their homes are threatened, but now they can visualize what that threat is: the loss of water to their wells. What Siskon swore could never happen did happen, and the Ridge has never fully recovered. Now Shasta Gold is making the same kind of promises.
We do not have agencies to help us if the water dries up. We cannot point at an individual who stole our most precious possession — water, the source of life itself.
If we lose our wells, we lose our homes. Water is much more valuable than gold, and our way of life has more meaning than enriching a few owners of a corporation.
Paul Moore lives in North San Juan.
In between the era of hydraulic mining and the invention of modern earth-movers, the nature of life on the Ridge changed. It became a rural residential community.