Darrell Berkheimer: Mine survey lacks credibility
I find much to criticize and question regarding results of the survey on opening the Idaho-Maryland Mine, as paid for by Rise Gold and reported last week in The Union. In a nutshell, it lacks credibility and the conclusions announced are not justified.
I have read and analyzed each of the 23 questions that comprise the survey by the J. Wallin Opinion Research company. I have concluded it is written to obtain the best results possible in favor of the mine reopening.
Any skilled writer knows how to phrase questions to obtain the desired results. The wording of the survey questions are designed to do just that, to falsely indicate there is strong support throughout the county for the reopening of the mine.
My beginning criticisms question the numbers surveyed. As reported, 500 residents were questioned — 100 in each of the five Nevada County Commission districts. That’s a small number considering the ease of conducting a survey in a geographical area as small as a single county, but a county with a population of 99,000.
Of that 500 total, 32.4% reported in Question 4 that they had not heard of the proposal to reopen the mine, or were unsure of the issues or circumstances involved. That immediately lowered the valid survey results to only 338 residents who were aware of at least some of the issues involved.
Next is the question of how many of those 338 reside in Truckee, North San Juan, Penn Valley and Alta Sierra, areas which will experience little or no effects from the mine’s daily operations.
A survey designed to provide a true reading of support, or lack of it, would concentrate on the area most affected by the proposed operation. In this case, the bulk of the survey should be conducted within a 3-mile radius of the proposed mine operation.
Now let’s return to the deliberate wording of the questions to obtain the desired results. A good example is Question 3, which asks: “Would you be willing to consider supporting a new mining operation in Nevada County if it provided (the three services you identified) as the most important to your community?”
Notice the strong qualification in the question with the three words “if it provided …” for the changes wanted by the respondent.
The five main issues identified by the 500 respondents as the most important ones facing the community are the economy/jobs, government, wildfires, homelessness and affordable housing. So the question is worded with the pretension that opening the mine would be a significant factor in solving the top three issues named by the respondent.
I maintain that the opening of the mine won’t solve any of those five main issues. At best, it would only provide some tax money. But how those issues might be resolved will require considerable commitment by local elected officials and other community leaders. Some additional money alone won’t do it.
Questions 5 through 20 attempt to allay the negative concerns of opposition residents by addressing the issues of environmental effects, dangers at the site, noise and vibration, water stewardship, air and water pollution, public safety and health risks, plus revenue, jobs and trust in the company.
The answers to all of those questions are based on the assumption the company will meet all of its claims listed as part of the various questions.
The highest percentage of those indicating potential support for the project in questions 5 through 13 was 35.6% when asked about the total jobs the project might provide. The most likely support on the other issues were only at 32% and 33%.
In questions 14 through 20 — on health risks, impact of heavy equipment, water and pollution issues, and trust in the company — the company received as much as 48 and 50% support. But again, it is evident that support is based solely on the company meeting all of its claims.
The company, however, is claiming the survey “demonstrates strong local support” of 59% (actually 58.4%) for county commissioners to approve the project. But notice this wording in that question: “if it meets all environmental and regulatory requirements, and the independent environmental impact report shows that the project causes minimal or no significant impacts?”
Those are some mighty big ifs.
And remember that 58.4% support for approval included 162 residents who had little or no knowledge of the issues involved, while the other 338 respondents involved some residents in Truckee and other outlying areas of the county.
The big question is how high would the percentage of opposition be if the bulk of the survey results came from residents within three miles.
And then, even if we feel strongly that Rise Gold is sincere in its desire and ability to meet all of its claims, how much damage might be caused by equipment failures, such as water pumps, and human mistakes or errors in a heavy residential community?
Will there be round-the-clock monitoring? Do workers sometimes fall asleep?
There simply are no guarantees, and too many ifs.
Also, one final thought: If we could rely on the accuracy of surveys and polls, Hillary Clinton would have been our president for four years.
Darrell Berkheimer, who lives in Grass Valley, is a frequent contributor to The Union. He has eight books available through Amazon. His sixth, “Essays from The Golden Throne,” includes 60 columns published by The Union, plus a dozen western travel and photo essays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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