Ray Bryars: How would they vote today?
It has been a number of years since June 1993 when, in a single hearing, the Nevada County Planning Commission certified the Environmental Impact Report and Use Permit for the Siskon Mine in North San Juan. Although they were very concerned about the mine, a number of residents in North San Juan worked closely with Tim Callaway, the mine owner, in an effort to ensure that the mine was as environmentally safe as possible. Unfortunately, despite their efforts, disaster struck.
In 1996, sections of the mine walls broke through, causing disastrous flooding and the dewatering of 12 local wells. Significant efforts by the mine owner to stop any further damage was unsuccessful, and operations ceased.
By July 1996, Siskon was in financial trouble. The company sold the timber rights on its 2,000 acres of land for $450,000, and its stock price dropped to $2.50 per share.
In March 1997, Siskon miners hit unstable ground in their tunnel. Then in May 1997 the mine folded. Siskon’s share price went to 2.3 cents and dropped even further in the following months.
During this period Tim Callaway received $791,000 in severance pay plus a salary of $178,700. The company had failed at mining gold, but had successfully mined its investors.
Ultimately the owner was forced to declare bankruptcy, leaving behind a legacy of dewatered wells and a school that to this day is forced to bring in bottled water for its students.
As Rise Gold pushes forward to reopen the Idaho-Maryland Mine in an area that could possibly dewater over 300 neighborhood wells, I’ve been wondering if, knowing what they know today, would the 1993 Planning Commission change their votes on the Siskon Mine? We know that hindsight is 20:20, but given the multitude of things that can go wrong when you are digging or dewatering holes in the vicinity of wells, does it make sense to risk the well-being of hundreds of our neighbors and friends so that one company can make money on a very speculative venture?
Mining in Grass Valley would be risky with a reputable company, but the environmental history of Ben Mossman’s management of the Banks Island Mine in British Columbia, Canada, does not provide anywhere near the level of confidence that our current Planning Commission should be requiring.
The county approved the Siskon Mine but took absolutely no responsibility for monitoring operations. The community took the risk, and when there were issues, the county looked the other way.
If there are impacts with the Idaho Maryland Mine, such as pollution, wells being dewatered, property values reduced or quality of life negatively impacted, can we expect the county to be there for us?
Unfortunately there will be no funding for monitoring the operations of the mine for even a year, let alone the 80 years that Rise Gold claims they will be operating.
No doubt that if the mine is approved and something goes wrong, the county will have moved on to other business and will be too busy with the latest Nevada County drama to do anything about it.
Residents will be on their own to figure out how to find water and how to continue their lives while living on a property that is worth way less than they paid for it.
This is not the way Nevada County residents should be treated. We need to put a stop to this continued whack-a-mole with speculative mine owners. A requirement for operation must be funding for 80 years of continuous monitoring and a multi-million dollar “forever” bond, so that if anything ever goes wrong, there will at least have been an effort by the county to minimize the impact to residents.
Author’s note: Some of the information for this piece was gleaned from a summary by Connie Sturm of a presentation titled “A Brief History of Siskon Mine,” by Liese Greensfelder and Kurt Lorenz. More details of the issues surrounding the Siskon Mine can be read on the San Juan Ridge Taxpayers Association site at: http://www.sjrtaxpayers.org.
Ray Bryars lives in Nevada City.
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