Other Voices: Mining 6,500,000 pounds of rock every day
Since my Jan. 30 article, it is clear that Idaho Maryland Mine proponents stand prepared to aggressively attack any position questioning the mine’s reopening. Further, the lack of informational meetings at the LOVE building have had a decidedly pro-mine slant.
Despite recent personal attacks by IMM proponents, a constructive dialogue should instead address the true facts of IMM’s proposed operations as reported in its’ submissions, on its Web site and in its press releases. The facts need to be communicated in plain language to residents, all of whom will be severely impacted, so these folks can make an informed decision.
IMM’s proposed reopening is a billion-dollar business. Big money means a big fight. Mr. Watkinson, IMM’s lead executive, stands to personally reap tens of millions of dollars if IMM goes forward. While IMM has submitted paperwork to satisfy basic pre-development regulatory requirements, the real battles lie ahead – specifically, on the objectivity and completeness of the draft EIR (Environmental Impact Report, expected in April), the City Council’s action on IMM’s application to change area zoning from “business park” to “heavy industry” – necessary for IMM’s mega mine chemical complex to proceed – and negotiation of the Regional Water Board’s NPDES water discharge permit.
While many of us have small containers of peroxide and drain-O (caustic soda) for home use, safely stored and secured from children, it is quite another thing to have 100,000 gallons or pound quantities of hazardous chemicals transported, stored and processed every day across the street from your home.
Local wells will be affected and go dry. IMM and its consultants have neither candidly nor accurately advised residents of these real impacts. IMM and Grass Valley have also not provided assurances to residents guaranteeing that each affected homeowner will have a long-term potable water supply from day one on. Offering an NID alternative as IMM suggests takes city approval, construction and installation, significant costs to each homeowner and probably a year or two before water comes out the faucet.
Consider the following facts, laudably set forth in IMM’s own documents. IMM plans to produce 200,000 ounces of gold per year (for an annual gross profit of $180,000,000). IMM states ore recovery is about 0.28 ounces of gold per ton of rock (for discussion, four tons of rock produces one ounce of gold). The simple math conversion equates to 800,000 tons of rock per year or 6,500,000 pounds of rock per day (I assumed it will be a five-day per week operation, but IMM may work seven days a week; time is money). After crushing this stupendous quantity, what volume of acid is needed to slurry 6.5 million pounds of rock each and every day before extracting the gold with huge quantities of sodium cyanide? IMM hasn’t said. How many tractor trailer loads of rock waste, raw materials and bulk chemical shipments will traverse Grass Valley streets each day? IMM hasn’t said. I estimate perhaps 75 truckloads.
I feel for the plight of people living along Bennett Street and Idaho Maryland, as well as the plight of others living near IMM’s operations. These homeowners will suffer the immediate effects of IMM’s reopening, including: 1) dry wells, without a guaranteed alternative potable water source by IMM or the city; 2) loss in value of their properties, occasioned by living near a mega mine chemical complex; 3) traffic, noise/vibration, dust and odors from generating/crushing/processing 6.5 million pounds of rock per day; and 4) the risk of a hazardous chemical spill or release from material handling, storage and the use of huge quantities of chemicals.
This mega mine chemical complex will dominate downtown Grass Valley. It is today an inappropriate location for a huge mine. No other mine in the state that has reopened is located in the middle of a city. IMM has no prior hard-rock mining experience.
If one can get past the nostalgia of our area’s mining history (and its toxic legacy), see through the misrepresentations and hyperbole espoused by IMM’s proponents (with golden rich expectations). IMM’s proposed reopening involves risks that are too great. Wolf Creek stream issues and homeowner water and property rights are too valuable. Many other IMM impacts are incapable of mitigation. A mega mine chemical complex has no place in the heart of Grass Valley.
Greg Martin lives in Nevada City. He is certified in the comprehensive practice of industrial hygiene and is an attorney focusing on groundwater, water pollution and toxic tort litigation throughout the state.
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