Terry McLaughlin: Skeptical about reopening mine
Rise Gold Corp., a Canadian mining company based in Vancouver, submitted an application to restart mining operations at the old Idaho-Maryland Mine in Grass Valley.
The permit application describes a drill and blast regime to remove 1,500 tons of rock per day, operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week for approximately 80 years. The two main processing facilities would be on 119 acres at the junction of Brunswick and East Bennett, and 56 acres along Idaho Maryland Road, east of Centennial Drive. Approximately 2.4 million cubic yards of mining tailings and rock waste would be deposited at the two locations.
In an April interview with CBS 13, Rise Gold CEO Benjamin Mossman said of the proposed project, “We’ve designed it to have no impact on the environment.”
It is difficult to see how such a massive project could have no impact on the environment or residents’ quality of life.
At the Brunswick site, the first six months of operation would include pumping 3.6 million gallons of water daily from the abandoned mine shafts into South Fork Wolf Creek. Discharged water would be treated, bringing the treated water to secondary drinking water standards. He has acknowleged that while the water may have no known detrimental impacts to human health, elements in the water could cause pipes to rust and emit a distinct musty odor.
Once the mine is dewatered, 1.2 million to 3.6 million gallons per day would continue to be pumped from underground workings to maintain the dewatered state. The water treatment facility would have to operate in perpetuity to prevent discharge of contaminated water, even after closure of the mine.
It is not possible to accurately predict the full effect that dewatering would have on the underground hydrology in the vicinity of the mine, including wells, the creek, riparian zones, and subterranean groundwater.
Since the mine closed in 1956, approximately 300 homes that rely on wells to supply their water have been built within a 1,000-foot radius of the mineral rights boundary area.
Within the East Bennett area, a hydrological study showed that dewatering will lower ground water levels five to 10 feet. In response, Rise Gold has indicated it would install an NID pipeline along a 1 ¼ mile section of East Bennett Road and pay for hookups for those customers who desire it, but the homeowners would be responsible for the ever-increasing monthly water fees. Rise Gold has made no public provisions or commitments for other homeowners whose wells may fail or become contaminated.
A number of years ago, after assurances of no serious risks to local wells, a permit was obtained by another mining company to reopen the San Juan Ridge Mine. Early operations ruined 12 wells in the North Columbia area before the project shut down.
What most people likely do not know is that the underground mineral rights for the mine cover 2,585 acres, potentially impacting up to 1,800 property owners. These mineral rights extend west under Highway 49, running completely under Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. They extend to the east under the entire airport area, north as far as Plaza Drive in the Glenbrook Basin, and to Highway 174 and much of Cedar Ridge.
Planned underground blasting and other mining activities could potentially impact anyone living or working in this area due to vibrations from the shock waves. Rise Gold claims that it can comply with an “acceptable standard” by using a time-phased technique of blasting and because the initial mining activity will be more than 500 feet from residences. However, once the mine reopened, the subterranean mining operations would not be excluded from any of the areas covered by the 2,585 acre mineral rights to within 200 feet of the surface.
Gravel-hauling trucks would make up to 100 roundtrips per day, seven days a week, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., using Brunswick Road to reach Whispering Pines and to access Highway 49. Additional trucks would transport fuel oil, diesel fuel, explosives, and large amounts of cement and other supplies on a daily basis.
Mine operations would include two shifts a day for 300 workers, adding more traffic congestion to the area, not to mention the safety hazards of heavy truck traffic during winter conditions on the downhill slope of Brunswick Drive.
An environmental impact report for this project is being drafted by Sacramento consultants Raney Planning & Management, and is expected to be released later this summer. Once released, at least 45 days must be allowed for public comment.
Multiple Nevada County and city of Grass Valley agencies will be consulted for review and comments, such as Planning, Engineering, Transportation, Environmental Health, Fire Departments, County Sheriff, and outside agencies such as Fish and Wildlife.
But the final decision lies with the five member Nevada County Board of Supervisors. The vote of three out of five of the supervisors will determine the fate of this project.
I would encourage readers to do further research on the Rise Gold Corp. project to determine for themselves if the proposed reopening of industrial mining operations in a rural but heavily populated residential community, with the potential for negative impacts to air, water, traffic, safety, noise, local habitat, property values and quality of life is indeed a positive opportunity for Grass Valley or a disaster in the making.
Terry McLaughlin, who lives in Grass Valley, writes a twice monthly column for The Union. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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