Packed house: Hundreds of people attend Idaho-Maryland Mine meeting (VIDEO)
Consumer advocate and environmental activist Erin Brockovich’s name was invoked at least three times Thursday during a meeting about the Idaho-Maryland Mine.
Then there was the singing.
“Homes will lose value, wells will run dry,” local musician Charles Price sang as he played guitar in a critique to the mine’s draft environmental impact report. “They’ll pollute our water, they’ll pollute our sky.”
Over 115 people filled the Board of Supervisors chambers, and overflow — over another 150 people — flanked the Eric Rood Administrative Center lobby’s side doors. Parking extended to Highway 49.
The comments largely concerned the key points of the draft EIR, which has information about air, water, traffic, noise and aesthetic impacts of the project. Even so, some commenters claimed the true scope of the project was not covered in the massive report.
“COVID generated a workplace experiment,” Price said of the marked increase in Bay Area interest in local housing options before his musical rendition. “I don’t see this draft document addressing proposed mitigations in total on the county’s overall quality of life.“
Retired lawyer Larry Engel was one speaker who referenced famed attorney Brockovich.
“The draft references hexavalent chromium,” Engel said. “That’s how they killed Hinkley, California.”
The Thursday meeting of the Nevada County Planning Commission was the most recent point in a timeline that will culminate in a decision by the Board of Supervisors on whether to approve the mine’s reopening. That meeting hasn’t yet been scheduled.
The public comment period for the mine ends April 4. The county’s consultant will then craft a final EIR, and another round of public comment will begin.
Riki Colby claimed her well was one of many affected when Siskon Gold Corp. accidentally created a hole in an aquifer after hitting a fault line near its reopened mine on the San Juan Ridge in 1995.
“It was Labor Day weekend and it sound like an explosion that rocked the house,” Colby said. “My well started having a problem on September 17. In the morning I had horrible drinking water, and by the afternoon I had no water at all.”
Although the bedrock of the mines of the ridge and Gras Valley are different, the report failed to completely identify the risk, Colby said.
“I was a well owner who turned on her tap and there was no water,” Colby said. “We had an EIR that sounded a lot like this environmental report.”
The Planning Commission noted that the implementation of the proposed project requires hurdling more bureaucracy — a discretionary application, a rezone application, an 80-year use permit, a reclamation plan and financial assurance cost estimate, to name a few — before the impacts of the report would progress from hypothetical to actual.
Other public comments tried to widen the scope of the project.
Allison Nelson, who started Gold Country Avian Studies, said four special bird species migrate through the mine’s property, but noted that one specifically — the willow flycatcher — is endangered.
Nelson urged the Planning Commission to consider the bird, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, in its final impact report.
Nevada Irrigation District General Manager Jennifer Hanson said there are inconsistencies in the report’s math, pointing to mitigation efforts for the 30 wells accounted for that could be affected by the mine’s dewatering process.
Hanson said each dwelling could use up to 4 gallons per minute, but noted that the report said the client would pay for up to 400 gallons a day via mitigation efforts.
“Four gallons a minute is 576 gallons per day,” Hanson said.
Hanson also said the commission should extend the mitigation measure to run with the parcel itself, as opposed to expiring at the property’s sale.
Hanson said Rise Gold Corp., the entity trying to reopen the mine, should purchase a bond worth around $14 million to account for the assumptions and unknowns of hydrological modeling and the risk incurred to their neighbor’s water supply.
Hanson said the district serves over 700 irrigation customers, on top of purveying potable water to most of Nevada County, and requested that a water quality mitigation measure be included in the next EIR that would require daily monitoring and public availability to data regarding discharged water.
Michael Shea, of Cedar Ridge, said he took issue with the noise and vibration study because of the math alone.
Measurements taken during the day indicate ambient sound levels reach up to 51 decibels, Shea said.
“Right now, it’s just forest back there,” Shea said, “there’s no mechanical activity, which means the noise could be coming from diesel haul trucks.”
Shea said data shows five heavy duty machines running 500 feet from his yard moving a half-ton of rock every minute 24 hours a day would create less noise than ambient sounds from the roads during the day.
Dr. Jeff Kane said the region cannot afford any additional asbestos or dust exposure, given that the American Lung Association already gives the Grass Valley area an F grade for its air quality.
“We’ve long been considered Sacramento’s tail pipe,” Kane said, adding that regardless of whether wildfires reach the mine’s property, they are expected to intensify in the coming years and will affect locals’ breathing.
“Despite all mitigations, the mine will release 8.5 million pounds of substances known to be toxic and carcinogenic over the next 80 years,” Kane claimed. “We can’t take this.”
According to anti-mine advocate Christy Hubbard, 500 people attended the meeting, even if they never made it inside.
“We counted almost 500 attending and 100 people who took numbers to comment,” Hubbard said. “Sadly, people who had to take care of other life commitments had to bail on the speaking opportunity before it was their turn, so several were missing in the afternoon.”
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The proposed project would reinitiate underground mining and gold mineralization processing for the Idaho-Maryland Mine over an 80-year permit period with gold mineralization processing and underground exploration and mining proposed to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, during full operations.
The proposed project’s surface components would be located within unincorporated, western Nevada County on approximately 175.64 acres, consisting of the Brunswick Industrial Site, the Centennial Industrial Site, and an approximately 0.3-acre portion of East Bennett Road for off-site improvements associated with a potable water pipeline easement.
The proposed project would also involve underground mining within an approximately 2,585-acre mineral rights boundary owned by the project applicant. The potable water pipeline easement would be located along East Bennett Road, and would be contained within the existing right-of-way.
The Centennial and Brunswick Industrial sites are located within unincorporated western Nevada County and are owned by Rise Grass Valley. The 119-acre Brunswick Industrial Site is located southwest of the intersection of East Bennett and Brunswick roads, and is accessible from Brunswick or East Bennett roads. The 56.41-acre Centennial Industrial Site is located southwest of the intersection of Idaho Maryland Road and Centennial Drive.
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