Between a rock and a hard place, 1911 Alleghany gold mine continues despite hardship | SierraSun.com

Between a rock and a hard place, 1911 Alleghany gold mine continues despite hardship

Elias Funez
efunez@theunion.com

Deep in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, at the end of a long, winding road, sits the small mining town of Alleghany in Sierra County.

Like many Sierra foothills communities, the area is steeped in gold industry history, dating back to the days of the Kanaka Hawaiian miners and beyond.

Keeping that rich tradition alive today is The Original Sixteen to One Mine, where gold has been mined since 1911. The mine is the subject of a hearing this week in Nevada City on citations it has received from the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

President and CEO Michael Miller says the Sixteen to One is the oldest American gold mining company and the last traditional underground hard rock-high grade operation in California.

Only 20 workers spend time gold mining, with 25 percent of that time devoted entirely toward maintaining the mine.

"There's a lot of gold that we just walked within 5 feet of, but we have to protect the integrity of the tunnel," said Miller while offering a tour of the mine, now operating in a maintenance phase.

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Miller said the mine spans more than 3,000 feet in elevation, and stretches throughout 35 miles of tunnels and shafts where some of the richest pockets of gold have been pulled from the California Mother Lode.

Now in his 34th year mining gold for the company, Miller said the lack of experienced underground mine inspectors with the Mine Safety and Health Administration have are causing him and the Sixteen to One unnecessary hardship.

"We're not required to have a phone down here, but we do," Miller said, as he picked up a phone with a dial tone.

While Miller says his company has done more than enough to keep the mine safe, including maintenance of shafts that date back to the 1860s, the inspectors say otherwise, issuing citations to the mine.

According to court records, the Mine Safety and Health Administration, operating under the Secretary of Labor's Office, issued a total of 22 citations. In a Sept. 2016 hearing in Truckee, nine of the citations were dismissed because "the Secretary did not meet its burden of proof." And penalties lower than the amounts sought by the Secretary were imposed.

Motions have been filed and argued in the case, which Miller said are to be resolved in a public hearing on the matter at Nevada City's City Hall, starting Monday, Aug. 7, and continuing to Friday, Aug. 11.