Tom Behlmer: The mine — community vs. corporate interests
Every once in a while, I run into someone in person or online who seems to be in favor of reopening the Idaho Maryland Mine. Their reasons for doing so simply tell me they really haven’t thought this thing through yet.
The most common pro-mine argument seems to be based on some type of misguided nostalgia: “This town started with mining,” they say. At the time, the town thought of it as prosperity, but today, we know that we know that hard rock mining is the single largest source of toxic waste in the U.S. We used to have above ground atomic bomb tests north of Las Vegas and we used to dump toxic DDT barrels off the Southern California coast that later leaked.
The second argument, “it will create jobs,” seems reasonable at first, but a closer look opens up a long list of questions.
Rise Gold states that 300 jobs will be created by opening the mine. Has this number been verified? I believe it has not. Could it be an empty promise? It would not be the first time a company has promised one thing and under delivered. Jobs for whom? Ask yourself does the local area have people with mining skills or willing to be trained to work deep under ground? Will workers from outside the area be brought in to fill these jobs? If so, where will they live when we have a very tight rental and real estate market? Will they drive up rents, pushing out local essential workers? Will this affect small businesses?
With workers more able to work from home due to COVID-19, the area may see an influx of workers from urban areas boosting the local economy and lessening the need for an industrial facility. If the county wants to attract jobs, how about finding a buyer or occupant for the empty Grass Valley Group complex off of Providence Mine Road by offering tax abatement for a period?
And that leads to the third argument: “You shouldn’t have bought property next to a mine,” which assumes that through some personal failing, only a few people are affected. Seriously? It was closed for almost 70 years. The property Rise wants to develop has been zoned for light industrial use — not mining — for a long time now. If we flip this around, then Rise Gold should not have bought the property with the intention to open a mine in a residential neighborhood.
The reality is that the impact from the mine is likely to affect more than the homes in the immediate area. Don’t think that since you live a distance away from the mine, there is no need to be concerned.
When industrial mining was done here, there were not the following issues for the community:
— Awareness of the toxicity of dust containing arsenic and silica. The dust is generated by loading, transporting and off loading of ore. The discarded ore will eventually reach a height of 70 feet and would be located off of Centennial Street in Grass Valley. I would not want to be downwind of the discard pile. Also the issue of added pollution from diesel exhaust from trucks running 14 hours per day, seven days a week.
— Potential devaluation of property values. Lower property values leads to less property tax for the county and lower Realtor commissions, which largely gets fed back into the local community.
— Potential liability to the county if there is an environmental “mishap.” We have had two sinkholes in Grass Valley or Nevada City in the past five years. Will emptying the mine shafts of water and using explosives for blasting risk more sinkholes? There are 367 miles of tunnel under the old Empire Mine.
The CEO of Rise has a checkered history at best of leaving behind messes from not adhering to regulations. Please see the commentary in The Union from Dec. 7, 2020: “Why we don’t trust Rise Gold.”
If just three of the five Nevada County supervisors approve the permit, which would grant an 80-year operating period, the project is likely to go forward. The issue should be decided by a countywide vote. I think it would be an extreme example of government abuse of power to have it decided by three people. What’s next?
This is a battle of a community against corporate interests. Your help is badly needed.
If you oppose the mine or wish to prevent government overreach, please contact your local county supervisor. If unsure who it is please refer to this https://www.mynevadacounty.com/2175/Supervisorial-Districts.
Tom Behlmer lives in Grass Valley.
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