Against the mine: Environmentalists, activists explain their opposition to the Idaho-Maryland Mine
A broad and eclectic range of local organizations have come out in opposition to the Idaho-Maryland Mine, including environmentalist nonprofits, social justice activists, and river conservation groups.
Seventeen organizations have signed onto a web campaign, titled “Stop the Mine,” which was initiated by Community Environmental Advocates (CEA), a Grass Valley nonprofit focused on environmental awareness and activism.
The organizations that have signed onto the petition formally opposing the mine include The Sierra Fund, Earth Justice Ministries, the South Yuba River Citizens League, and a range of other local entities. While the mission statements and specific focuses of each of the organizations may vary, they all have the same message when it comes to the topic of reopening the Idaho-Maryland Mine: This is a mistake.
“It’s just wrong to open up a mine like this,” said CEA member and spokesperson Ralph Silberstein.
“What Rise Gold wants to do here is conduct a surgical strike, get all the money they can out of this mine, and then not clean up after themselves,” said Elizabeth Martin, CEO of The Sierra Fund.
“This mine is not the best choice for our community,” said Melinda Booth, executive director of SYRCL.
The groups all said that reopening the mine would be irresponsible and could have devastating long-term impacts to both Nevada County’s ecological systems as well as upon human habitation.
Mine officials disagreed.
“The Idaho-Maryland Mine is designed to produce sustainable, green gold while helping to spur the innovation economy in Nevada County with hundreds of good-paying local jobs,“ said Jarryd Gonzales, public relations representative for Rise Gold Corp., in a statement. ”The project will use state-of-the-art mining, efficient processing techniques and zero-emission equipment to reduce greenhouse gasses and protect air quality — and that’s why a survey shows a majority of residents who learn about the mine say they support it. It’s also why hundreds of Nevada County residents have written us and said they support the reopening of the Idaho-Maryland Mine.
“The county’s independent and comprehensive analysis, the draft Environmental Impact Report, when released, is expected to weigh in on many of these issues,” he added.
Silberstein emphasized that while CEA has taken the charge in opposing large-scale projects that it sees as ecologically harmful — including the Dorsey Marketplace project, as well as the mine reopening — the nonprofit’s goal is not to stifle all development.
Rather, the lifelong Grass Valley resident explained that CEA’s aim is to improve public education concerning the environmental ramifications of such developments, giving business leaders the information they need to make their projects more ecologically friendly.
“What we do is make suggestions and comments. We’re trying to improve these projects … we ask for projects to make more room for trails, more open spaces, provide affordable housing and maximize energy efficiency,” Silberstein said.
Silberstein said that CEA, founded in 2007, was originally a “conceptual unification” of three Grass Valley groups — the Rural Quality Coalition (RQC), Citizens Looking At Impacts of Mining (CLAIM-GV), and Citizens Advocating Responsible Development (CARD) — that shared similar beliefs and policy goals.
The groups all saw the need for the public to hear a different side of the story when it came to large-scale developments, at a time locally when Silberstein said that the only information being disseminated about such developments was propaganda put out by the projects’ backers.
“Mainly, we want the public to be informed,” he said. “The public isn’t necessarily given the right information by the proponents of these projects and that’s what motivates us … we hear all these projects put before the county or city, and they hear all the things these people want to say, but if you don’t have someone studying the other side of things, how this affects the environment and whatnot, that’s an issue.”
While the nonprofit tries to advise developers on how to make their projects more eco-friendly, the environmental hazards posed by the anticipated reopening of the Idaho-Maryland Mine are simply too significant to ignore, Silberstein said, adding that CEA firmly believes that the only safe approach when it comes to reopening the mine is to shut it down altogether.
Among other concerns, CEA believes that the project’s potential depletion and possible contamination of local groundwater reserves, combined with an anticipated increase in greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the operation of the mine, make the project unsalvageable from an environmental standpoint.
“The impact to groundwater, to the wells of homeowners…there’s just a whole host of issues there…there’s virtually no way for the city or county to guarantee the safety of our groundwater with this project,” Silberstein said.
Mine representatives have said the water it would discharge into Wolf Creek would be drinkable. It also would be held to standards more stringent than the federal government.
Founded in 1983 by activists dedicated to protecting the South Yuba River watershed, SYRCL has since become a sizable nonprofit operation, run by over 1,000 volunteers and receiving approximately $2 million annually in funding.
Today, SYRCL’s main focuses are restoring habitats in the Yuba watershed region, as well as on the conservation of the river itself. The group has secured permanent conservation status for 39 miles of land around the river since its inception, and continues to work on substantive restoration projects, including a 300,000-acre initiative in the north Yuba area, according to Executive Director Melinda Booth.
“The Yuba River is the economic driver of our communities…the towns around here exist the way they do because of the river…so we need to protect our resources the best way we can by creating a sustainable community,” Booth said.
While the Idaho-Maryland Mine site falls outside of the Yuba watershed, Booth said SYRCL remains extremely concerned about the project’s ecological ramifications, especially because Nevada County’s Bear River is closely linked with the Yuba River.
“The Bear River can be considered roughly as a fourth fork of the Yuba River, and about 60% of the water in the Bear River is diverted from South Yuba,” Booth said. “Whether you call it a different watershed or not, Grass Valley is still a part of our community as an organization.”
In addition to echoing the concerns expressed by Silberstein regarding the mine, Booth said that SYRCL is worried about the impacts to soil sedimentation that developing the area around the mine could have on the surrounding ecosystem.
If the project goes ahead, excavating the mine could remove millions of cubic yards of soil from the earth, which is not only harmful to regional ecology but raises the likelihood of potentially devastating events associated with seismic instability, such as mudslides, Booth said.
“There’s significant impacts that this mine would have on the geology and soil of the area … particularly in ‘wet’ years, this project could really create additional challenges to the seismic stability of the entire region,” she said.
THE SIERRA FUND
For 20 years, The Sierra Fund has focused on making landscapes more resilient to the ever-increasing effects of global climate change, Martin said.
“Our mission is to peel back the regional landscape to prepare it to better withstand drought, fire, flood, make forests and meadows resilient in face of climate change,” Martin said.
The Sierra Fund is proactive in its conservation efforts, focusing a considerable amount of its resources on mine-land remediation, which involves restructuring abandoned mine sites to make these tracts of land both more ecologically conscious and amenable to human habitation, she said.
Additionally, Martin said that the nonprofit has successfully opposed environmentally unfriendly projects in its 20-year-history, including various damming, logging, and mining operations in the Sierra.
As it stands now, she thinks that reopening the Idaho-Maryland Mine would be a foolhardy move, emphasizing that Nevada County should be focused on remediating mine sites to protect the landscape, rather than looking to reboot mining operations.
“It seems like they want to exploit the area for all the gold they can get without remediating the mess that the last gold miners there made on that land in the first place,” Martin said, calling the Idaho-Maryland Mine a “terribly dangerous site” from an ecological standpoint.
The CEO echoed many of Silberstein and Booth’s concerns that the mine could encroach on local groundwater reserves and would displace significant amounts of regional sedimentation. She also expressed that The Sierra Fund is extremely worried about the large amounts of potentially hazardous waste that will have to be disposed of in the course of day-to-day mining operations. Without a dedicated waste disposal site safely removed from living communities, Martin opined that the mining project could prove disastrous in its impact.
“This project’s effects are a lot larger-scale than the project’s managers want it to be … will they fix these sorts of issues? It’s just not clear,” she said.
A mine representative has said the Idaho-Maryland Mine would produce 94% less waste than the industry average, and use zero-emission equipment.
CEA, SYRCL, and The Sierra Fund are all 501(c)(3) registered nonprofits.
Silberstein said that CEA’s funding comes both through individual donations as well as significant grants from organizations that “support the cause” of the nonprofit. The nonprofit’s complete tax filings are not available online, and CEA could not be reached for a comment regarding its annual revenues or compensation for its executive director and other staff.
SYRCL receives approximately $2 million annually in revenue, made up of both state and local grants as well as donations from individuals and private organizations, according to its most recent Internal Revenue Service tax filings. The organization’s board of directors are all unpaid volunteers, according to Booth.
The Sierra Fund takes in about over $1 million annually in donations, according to its IRS filings, and like SYRCL also receives both state and local government grants, in addition to benefiting from individual donors. The executive director receives compensation for her role in the organization, while the remainder of the nonprofit’s Board of Directors are unpaid volunteers, Martin said.
Stephen Wyer is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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