Mine the question: Candidates, attorneys weigh in on Idaho-Maryland Mine statements
Candid opinions in political campaigns may be a rare occurrence today, but one Nevada County supervisor candidate’s outspokenness may prevent participating in a critical issue if elected, an attorney says.
Valentina Masterz, who is seeking the District 3 spot on the Board of Supervisors, has opposed the proposal for reopening the Idaho-Maryland Mine.
During a League of Women Voters of Western Nevada County forum, Masterz said she opposes the mine, referencing Rise Gold’s CEO Ben Mossman in her reasoning. She pointed to Mossman’s history in Canada, where he faces legal action in connection to another mine.
“Would you let them come to Grass Valley, with that track record, throw a lot of money and promises at the county, in order to open their next ex-mine site in your city?” she states on her website. “Or would that be a nonstarter? The people in my district that I hear are all saying, ‘no mine.’”
When contacted, Grass Valley City Attorney Michael Colantuono expressed reservations.
“I advise candidates to be very careful on the campaign trail, before they make any promises regarding pending issues,” he said.
He added that the mine issue will eventually become an agenda item presented before the Board of Supervisors.
“A court may decide that this official had already made up their mind before hearing or receiving any evidence,” he said. “And then that elected official can be considered holding a bias before they were presented evidence and therefore cannot provide the applicant a fair hearing.”
Gregg Lien, a California attorney with a private practice that’s focused on land use and environmental law in the Sierra for 40 years, has a different take.
When contacted, he said, “Ms. Masterz says she questions the credibility of this applicant, and that kind of questioning should be something that is openly discussed. The reputation and trustworthiness of an applicant is directly relevant as to whether they will act diligently to reduce the impacts of the project to a less than significant level. Further, any mine project would require policy decisions to be made, and new ordinance standards may need to be adopted.”
Based on his understanding of her statements, Lien said Masterz is asking appropriate questions and making a general statement as to policies she would endorse.
“I don’t hear her saying she wouldn’t follow the legal requirements to give a fair hearing to an applicant at a future date,” he said. “As an advocate for environmental protections, I support a rigorous and comprehensive effort to identify significant impacts as well as careful mitigation strategies. Applicants have the burden of proving their case. Until they do, a ‘no mine’ policy makes sense, environmentally, economically and legally.”
Patti Ingram Spencer, running against Masterz and Lisa Swarthout for the District 3 seat, said in an email she would not be able to offer an opinion on the reopening of the mine until the public process has been completed.
“It would be unethical to do so,” she said. “Every applicant has the right to have their project heard in a public forum with a decision made in public without prejudice or favor.”
Ingram Spencer added that if Masterz were elected, she would most likely need to recuse herself from any decision on the mine because of her statements.
“As a (Grass Valley) City Council member, I might have been mayor at the time, the City Council removed a city planning commissioner for publishing letters to the editor stating his opinion on city projects that had not had due process in a public forum,” Ingram Spencer said.
Swarthout, also a former Grass Valley mayor and council member, said in an email she couldn’t take a public position on the mine.
“There is a rule called pre-dispositional bias,” she said. “What it states is that if you campaign on an issue, or if you are elected and are going to hear the issue at a public meeting, you are required to give the issue a fair and impartial hearing. If you are biased one way or another, you can be asked to recuse yourself from voting on the issue.”
Masterz, in an email, said, “I would like to remind everyone I have not mentioned any mine project by name. I would also like to know who’s opinion it is and what, if any, law is referenced that would prevent a supervisor from representing the will of their constituents in her official duties. If the issue has anything to do with conflict of interest, but is just a rumor being spread by the newspaper or my opponents, I would like that to be clear in your reporting. I will say I’ve taken no money from any mining corporation to influence my vote and will not. I also have not taken any money from any organization opposed to any mine project in Nevada County and will not.”
She continued: “The hypothetical scenario that is described on my website … asks the question of we the people, would you want a foreign company with a history of causing criminal environmental damage to be approved of doing business here in Nevada County? My pledge is to continue to be listening to their answer. If that resonates with voters in my district, then I would be honored to have their vote.”
Mossman is still facing legal action for two spills that occurred when he oversaw a previous mining operation, Banks Island, in Canada. Two convictions and a $15,000 fine for minor offenses were set aside, setting the stage for a new trial, reports state.
William Roller is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at email@example.com
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