Mark Wilson: Ready for industrial town?
As we consider whether our elected officials should allow Rise Gold to reopen and operate the Idaho-Maryland Mine, we need to go into the decision with eyes wide open.
The facility is projected to operate for 80 years, which means that kids and grandkids who are still a twinkle in the eye could be born and die before the mining operations end. So we owe it to them to think this through.
Let’s be frank, gold mining is a major industrial operation. Its scope and impact is unlike any other business we have in the area, so we have nothing to compare it to, except rose-colored visions of the past.
The mine closed in 1957, so most people who’ve lived here all their lives don’t know what it means to live in an industrial town. Although I raised my family here, I was born and raised around Detroit and worked in an auto factory there, so I’ll offer another perspective.
First, prepare to give up the quiet. Heavy industry yields to nothing, because time is money, and money is everything. Enjoy those quiet mornings on the porch before work, drinking coffee, reading The Union, and listening to birds sing? Forget it. Diesel trucks will be loading rock and hauling it away.
Think of the brief noise when Waste Management picks up trash in your neighborhood and extend it for the full day, every day. Although I live miles from the freeway, I hear the traffic from there just fine, so I’m sure I’ll hear the noise from tons of rock dumped into metal truck beds all day long, and so will you.
And those kids I mentioned earlier? They’ll never know what it’s like to live in a place where you can hear the wind whisper in the trees and the morning bird songs uninterrupted. But hey, there’s money to be made.
Then there’s the dust and the smoke. Every industrial facility releases its own unique mix of particulates into the air, and this one will be no exception. Dust from crushed rock and diesel soot don’t respect property boundaries, so we’ll all share in the bounty.
The health effects from this stuff are numerous, but beyond that, once it lands, it tends to coat everything, making a whole town just a little more grimy, even inside buildings. If you’ve visited the owner’s cottage at the Empire Mine and seen those heavy curtains they used at the front entrance to try to keep the dust and noise out, you’ll get the idea. But I’m sure those future kids will have fun drawing things in the dust on the back windows of everyone’s cars.
And of course, there are the unavoidable toxins and emissions that come from industrial operations onto the land and into our air and streams.
If you think California’s environmental laws are going to protect us from bad operational decisions (like those Rise Gold’s CEO is defending himself from in a Canadian court), think again. There are thousands of families all over California with industrial facilities within spitting distance — sometimes literally — of their homes.
Their kids carry around inhalers because the emissions from the facilities have given them lifelong asthma. Do our environmental laws keep that from happening? Nope. When their parents complain, are pollution controls added? Rarely. Are the facilities shut down? No. They just roll on.
Why? Because corporations don’t play by the same rules as the rest of us. If you or I burn toxic trash or make noise all day or dump our garbage on someone else’s property, someone calls the police and they force us to stop or arrest us.
When a corporation does it, it’s called doing business. They pay a fine — a built-in cost of doing business — or if they’re sued, they hire a pack of lawyers and drag it out in court for years or decades while continuing to make noise and pollute.
And by the time the whole thing is settled, those little kids we were concerned about in the first place are adolescents who weren’t able to play in the polluted river or are having trouble breathing. And when Rise Gold decides to change its operational plan to increase its profit at our expense, they won’t be consulting local citizens or elected officials for our permission.
If you like living in an industrial town, the world’s full of them — take your pick. But what we have here is rare. And once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.
Mark Wilson lives in Nevada City.
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