Our View: Newmont Mining not holding up its end of bargain
When Jeff Foltz walked away from his interim post as Grass Valley’s city administrator, he likely thought he was safe to wash his hands of the water woes Colorado-based Newmont Mining Corporation had brought the city.
Five years later, as he again agreed to assist the city with a transition in leadership, Foltz found the issue with mine water still afloat.
In a 2009 settlement with Grass Valley, Newmont Mining agreed to build its own water treatment plant in order to alleviate the flow of water from the Empire Mine into Grass Valley’s wastewater treatment plant.
Foltz, who first departed his interim post in 2008, worked many hours to help find a solution to stop the estimated 400,000 gallons of wastewater that pour into Grass Valley’s facility from the mine each day — accounting for nearly one-quarter of the plant’s total flow.
The excessive effluent has led to Grass Valley’s facility exceeding its intake capacity and overflowing into Wolf Creek at least three times in the past five years, according to the state water board.
Such spills often lead to fines for the city, such as the $110,000 fine the Water Quality Control Board issued in 2011 after 10,000 gallons of wastewater spilled into the creek (although near a Joyce Street lift station and not at the treatment plant). Also problematic, of course, is the actual impact on the watershed by the wastewater spills.
“It basically says the water is generally pretty good,” Jonathan Keehn, president of the Wolf Creek Community Alliance, said of his organization’s “State of the Creek” report released in October. “(Water quality) occasionally gets affected negatively whenever the wastewater treatment plant gets overloaded.”
The good news is that last week, Newmont officials told The Union it plans to finally build its own treatment plan in the summer of 2014.
The bad news is that announcement comes nearly five years following the settlement, 10 months after the agreement’s deadline to have the plant constructed and six months since the city reportedly last heard from Newmont.
“We haven’t heard anything from them since June,” Grass Valley Director of Public Works Tim Kiser told The Union Dec. 3.
Newmont, however, has been in communication with Nevada County’s planning director and environmental department on the project, Newmont spokesman Omar Jabara stated in an email, the only form of communication used to respond to questions posed by The Union on the issue, as repeated phone calls have not been returned.
The Central Valley Water Regional Water Quality Control Board is apparently optimistic about an eventual resolution, although one of its executive directors, Pamela Creedon, told The Union she was “frustrated it hasn’t been finished” but added “it’s understandable the delays Newmont has had.”
Newmont bought 748 acres from Northstar Grass Valley LLC that encompass several former gold mines in July 2011, according the water board’s staff. The following September, in 2012, Newmont submitted a waste discharge report to obtain a discharge permit, along with preliminary plans for the plant that officials say will be similar to what is already at Empire Mine known as the Magenta Drain project. That remediation project, a $2 million state-of-the-art natural filtration system to rid water of heavy metals, was negotiated by environmental group Deltakeeper with Newmont and California state parks as a compromise of a 2004 lawsuit. The state parks filed suit against Newmont to recoup the costs of the project in July 2012.
As Grass Valley continues to wait for Newmont to meet its responsibility in providing relief for the city’s water treatment plant, the mining company must now pay $375,000 annually to the city — an increase of $75,000 after Newmont missed its February 2013 deadline of having the facility built. To date, city officials said, the company has paid more than $1.2 million to compensate for spills and fines its mine water has helped cause.
“Enough is enough,” Foltz told The Union in October, upon returning to Grass Valley, this time as interim city manager. “For the health of the city going forward, that issue needs to be solved and put to bed and get Newmont’s water out of the city sewer plant.”
But because Newmont has failed to hold up its end of the bargain for so long, when Foltz washes his hands of the whole mess for a second time — upon the hiring of Grass Valley’s new city manager — he’ll likely be doing so with mine water still in the mix.
Our View represents the opinions of The Union editorial board, which is comprised of members of The Union staff, as well as informed members of the community.
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