Changing times: Rise Gold seeks approval from Nevada County, not Grass Valley council
When the first murmurings of reopening the Idaho-Maryland Mine began in 1991, EmGold Mining Corp. began pursuing project approval from the city of Grass Valley.
Thirty years later, Rise Gold Corp. is seeking that same green light from the Nevada County Board of Supervisors.
Nevada County’s Planning Director Brian Foss said although the mine’s visible parts are located outside of Grass Valley, the two parcels tethered to the project fall within the city’s sphere of influence.
According to the California Association of Local Agency Formation Commissions, sphere of influence refers to a planning boundary beyond a legal boundary designating the agency’s imminent growth.
“That means that the city can choose to process a land use entitlement application through their staff, their City Council and annex the land into the city,” Foss said.
Foss, who has worked for the county since 2005, said Grass Valley opted into its optional leadership role for the previous mine project. However, the city chose not to be the lead processing agency when Rise Gold began pursuing the project in 2017.
Foss said he was unsure why this time around the city declined the planning authority afforded to them, but noted the EmGold project involved “different components” and additional land.
Rise Gold purchased 93 acres of surface land and 2,585 acres of mineral rights from EmGold for $2 million in 2017. EmGold started selling the land in 2014 — 109 acres between 16 parcels contiguous to the Grass Valley city limits and another two parcels over 39 acres near the former New Brunswick Mine site, where a silo is still visible off East Bennett Road.
According to Rise Gold’s project proposal, mine access and processing facilities will be located at the 119-acre New Brunswick site at the corner of Brunswick and East Bennett roads. If the project is approved, a treatment plant used to cleanse the water pumped out of the mine will join the tall concrete silos left over from the mine’s “golden years.”
Rise Gold’s 56-acre Centennial site on Idaho Maryland Road, located just under two miles away just west of Centennial Drive, will be used to dispose of mine waste.
Grass Valley’s Community Development Director Tom Last served on the Planning Commission from 2006 to 2008. Last said EmGold’s original project proposal had the bulk of the mining activity taking place at the Centennial site — a region included in the city’s near-term annexation plans. Before EmGold began selling its land piece by piece, the site totaled 101 acres.
“We were going to annex the property at the same time we were processing the mine application,” Last said.
EmGold revised its original plan in 2008, Last said, adding the New Brunswick site onto the plan, so that the existing shaft could be used to aerate the mine and expedite mineral access.
Last said it was then that the county became involved in what was largely a city-run project.
“There was an agreement between two agencies,” Last said. “It was a confusing process trying to get that worked out.”
Last estimates EmGold spent $1 million dollars on Grass Valley-hired consultants — employed for their time and expertise — before abandoning the project altogether while still in its preliminary stages.
Economic, mining, planning and Environmental Impact Report consultants were not required, but the city wanted to ensure that experts were involved in every step of the city’s decision making process.
The city conducted its own studies and surveys to ensure the financial viability of the project. Last said a public opinion survey conducted over a decade ago was optimistic.
“The economic study showed it was a feasible project, that it would generate revenue,” Last said. “The results of the independent survey showed there was support for it, as long as environmental issues were resolved.”
Last said Grass Valley received hundreds of comments during the public comment period designated for the Environmental Impact Report in January 2009. A final EIR never made it to the City Council, as EmGold did not like the first consultant Grass Valley chose to prepare the revised EIR.
Foss said even then that the EIR functions as a disclosure document, and does not signify the project’s denial or approval.
Last said that had EmGold continued negotiations with the city of Grass Valley, the Planning Commission and the council would have had to decide whether to approve the project.
Last said had the city voted to approve the project, it would have included stipulations that generated additional revenues — “say, for every million dollars of gold brought out of the ground, the city would get $20,000.”
“The production of gold is not a tax generator,” Last explained. “It’s a job generator.”
Rise Gold’s mine application is a “discretionary entitlement,” so supervisors will make the final decision to approve or deny the permits required to reopen the mine. Foss said supervisors will have to present findings that support their decision to approve or deny the project.
“A Board of Supervisors can approve an EIR, indicating that it provided adequate disclosure of a project’s potential impacts, and still approve or deny the project based on environmental impacts, consistency or inconsistency with county policies and/or zoning standards,” Foss said. “The EIR informs the public and the decision-makers on the potential environmental impacts, but even if there are impacts to the environment, the decision-makers can adopt overriding findings that state the benefits of the project outweigh the impacts.”
Foss said any decision made will be based on facts and findings related to environmental impacts and county land use policies.
Ralph Silberstein, Community Environmental Advocates Foundation member, said even if all was proven clear on the environmental front, county supervisors could very well deny the project on the basis on the minor zoning change required — between light and heavy industry.
“Even if the EIR report indicates there are no impacts at all — it’s not gonna hurt anything or anybody — the county can still turn down the project,” Silberstein. “The county has that discretion.”
On the other hand, Silberstein said even if the EIR report finds there are significant impacts on traffic and county air quality, supervisors can override those factors by claiming that the jobs provided offset the negative consequences of the mine’s reopening.
“The EIR report is non-binding, there’s no teeth to it,” Silberstein said.
Silberstein said if his advocacy group determines the report is inadequate, it may opt to sue the county.
CEA sued over the Dorsey Marketplace project, a legal action now headed to an appeals court.
“Rise Gold would have to pay the defendant, the county, as a matter of policy,“ Silberstein said. ”There’s an agreement to pay for legal costs.“
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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