Ray Bryars: No more mining where people live
I’m targeting this opinion piece to the residents of Nevada County, but specifically to our elected officials. We need to put a stake in the ground regarding mining in this area. Now is the time.
Rise Gold has recently funded a series of full page ads in The Union showing historic newspaper articles from the “good old days” of mining in the Grass Valley area. These are selected to show only the positive news, neglecting to share the bad things that have happened to people and the environment. A search would likely turn up many more articles showing mine worker deaths, layoffs, business closures, polluted well water, etc. But who would fund a full page ad for those?
It is not only during a mine’s operation that there are issues. In many cases, it is years after the mine has closed that problems surface. These issues are not just in faraway places, we have enough history in this area that should make us all think very seriously as to whether we should ever, ever think about allowing any more mining in the residential areas of Nevada County.
Without going into great detail I’ll highlight a couple of mines that have had serious issues:
1. Empire Mine – Magenta Drain: The Empire Mine closed in the mid-1950s after producing 175 tons of gold over 106 years — one of the richest mines in California. The state bought the mine for a park in 1975 and removed 46,000 tons of contaminated sediment from the area from 1986 to 1989.
In 2010 the park was fined $138,000 after failing to meet a deadline to clean up the “Magenta Drain,” an arsenic and manganese polluted creek that flows through Veterans Memorial Park in Grass Valley and into Wolf Creek. The creek has been fenced off in the park for many years and even though millions of dollars have been spent on clean up, the creek is still not accessible. Empire Mine was almost sold to avoid the estimated $5 million/year treatment costs (“Newmont, State Parks reach $15M settlement in Empire Mine cleanup” The Union, Feb. 9, 2015). The final cost of the wetland treatment system is many million dollars that Newmont Mining and California taxpayers have had to pony up and the system will need to be in place and maintained to be operational “forever.”
2. Grass Valley Waste Treatment Plant: Drew Tunnel (North Star and Massachusetts Hill mines’ toxic wastewater). In 2004 The Union reported that Grass Valley and Newmont Mining Company were locked in a legal struggle regarding toxic discharge from the Northstar Mine. After failing to agree on how to stem the flow, the city took the case to federal court. From May, 2000 to December, 2006, It had cost the city almost $1.5 million to treat the flow which at times had exceeded the capacity of the plant, causing untreated sewage to be discharged into Wolf Creek.
After much stress to the city and to local residents, not to mention the millions of dollars spent on legal actions, Newmont finally agreed to install a $2 million treatment facility that was supposed to be operational in February of 2013. It took a grand jury report to expose the fact that nothing was happening and it finally became operational in September 2014. Yes this is yet another costly facility that will need to be operational “forever” (“Toxic mine water in Nevada County to be treated in proposed massive Newmont project”; The Union, April 7, 2015).
The bottom line with both of these cases is that there is always a toxic legacy that the community has to pay for. Usually the payments are in salaries to city and county staff to document the issues and huge fees to attorneys for the legal fight to do what’s right for our residents. It’s time to stop this madness. Mining days in residential areas should be over. It’s a fascinating legacy that provides us with opportunities to show visitors the historic sites and educate on the ways our ancestors lived, but Nevada County has moved on and it’s time to legislate that fact.
If our elected leaders have any sense (of history) they will put in place a “Bond Requirement” for any future mining activities. This bond should be at least $50 million that would be put in place before any mining activity starts and would have to be in place for at least 50 years after all mining activity ends.
Ray Bryars lives in Nevada City.
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