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Other Voices: Look at the science behind Idaho- Maryland Mine

This letter is written in response to the erroneous statements in John Palmer’s Other Voices in the July 1 edition of The Union.

Some people against reopening the Idaho-Maryland Mine (IMM) complain that the mine will make a profit. Guess what? Last I heard America was a capitalist country. A business must show a profit or close its doors.

Today mining is highly regulated, especially in California. Maybe nuclear industry is more highly regulated, maybe not. California (CAL OSHA) inspects mines with employees. The Federal government (MSHA) inspects all mines whether they have employees or not.



In 1975 California passed the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act (SMARA). It mandates site reclamation and financial assurances a mine must comply with to operate. Financial assurances for SMARA must be updated yearly, and the mine is required to file a report every year that assesses any change in mine operation and updates reclamation financial assurances. Financial assurances may be surety bonds, irrevocable letters of credit or trust funds, and must be accessible by the lead agency in case of mine abandonment.

SMARA comes into play when surface mining operations disturb over an acre or remove more than 1,000 cubic yards of material. SMARA concerns everyone mining in California, whether on private, county, state or federal lands. A memorandum of understanding exists between the California Department of Conservation, the BLM, and the Forest Service. Under the agreement, the local lead agency remains the lead agency and has the responsibility to enforce SMARA requirements. On federal lands once SMARA comes into play, the lead agency cannot revert to the federal government.




Grass Valley is the lead agency under SMARA for the IMM. However, if Grass Valley does an inadequate job of enforcing SMARA then the State becomes lead agency by default, and five years must pass before Grass Valley can attempt to again become lead agency.

The IMM has some contaminants left on site from legacy mining. If the IMM operates, it will clean up these contaminants at no cost to Grass Valley and Nevada City.

If the environmentalists succeed in stopping the mine’s reopening maybe Stahler, Martin, and Palmer, and their colleagues will clean up the contaminants.

Mercury will not be used to extract gold, but cyanide will be used at IMM. The process for extracting gold by using cyanide was invented in 1889. And to date there have been over 25,000 gold cyanidation plants and fewer than four fatal cyanide accidents in over 100 years with billions of pounds of cyanide used. No other industry can approach this safety record. Cyanide solution spilled on the ground is quickly neutralized by oxygen in the air and sunlight. It does not persist in running water.

Could there be a spill or accident? – of course, there is always a chance, but let’s put that in perspective. Last I looked there were three gas stations in downtown Grass Valley that are serviced by tanker trucks filled with highly explosive, flammable, toxic gasoline and diesel, are Stahler, Martin and Palmer going after the gas stations next because there could be the chance of an accident?

Oh, and what about the liquid propane storage sites in Grass Valley with their home delivery tanker trucks, filled with toxic, explosive liquid propane. Will Stahler, Martin and Palmer go after them because there could be the chance of an accident?

The IMM will have water treatment plants and water released from the mine will be potable (drinkable) water of higher quality then state requires. At present NID uses Wolf Creek for water conveyance, the volume varies from 10 to 50 cubic feet per second (cps). IMM will discharge six cps during dewatering and two cps once the mine is dewatered with some variance with the changing seasons.

The explosive IMM will be using is ammonium nitrate (federalize) which is more stable than dynamite and easier to handle. The transport, use and storage is in strict compliance with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). I haven’t heard of an ammonium nitrate accident since the 1940s during World War II.

There are several other erroneous statements in Palmer’s column that I can not address due to space, so I will end with the following. What is of concern to me, and it should be to all of you, is I want to make a decision based on the facts concerning the mine and decide if the IMM should operate.

So far all I have heard from those opposed to the IMM reopening are scare tactics, half true and untrue sound bites from their imagination.

Gary Brown lives in Nevada City.


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