Don Rogers: Face down with mine card

The question at the first candidate forum for supervisors last week had to come, and so it finally did: What about the mine?

Let the dancing begin.

But hold on. This isn’t what you might think. None of the candidates is afraid to take a position. That’s not it at all. No cheesy politician stuff here. They would love to speak frankly. There is a popular answer.

The awful deal is this: Tip your hand as a candidate and you risk disqualifying your vote as a supervisor.

The decision about whether to approve the bid to reopen the Idaho-Maryland Mine fits under the heading of quasi-judicial. As such, each supervisor legally is supposed to bring an open mind to the proceedings.

Oh boy. So the No. 1 question for voters, the only real one for so many, and they can’t answer?

Yep. The wrinkle here is that the candidates with the most wisdom, knowledge and integrity can only smile and shake their heads. Can’t tell you that.

Ones with less of a clue about the job will be less guarded. Sure, that’s refreshing. But what’s the use of knowing flat out when they can’t participate in the decision?

The temptation to tip their hand is another test. Cheating is cheating. Cheat on this and you can bet the candidate has the capacity for other sleights of hand.

So it’s a paradox, a conundrum. The best bet for voters looking for their will to be done about the mine is choosing the candidate with the best poker face on this deal.


I’m not sure where that puts Valentina Masterz, enthusiastic and a lot of fun. I’ve seen candidates like her win and do great jobs in positions like this, sometimes by sheer audacity unlocking solutions to stubborn problems. But just a little knowledge about your community would help, like, say, knowing what NID is or why flag-waving around a ballot collection box might be a problem.

So no surprise at her blurting out her feelings at candidate forums about the mine — “Hell no!” — without understanding the gaffe.

Maybe she’ll recover over the course of the campaign season, though I think that card’s been played. Her strong feelings wouldn’t translate to a vote if she won a seat.

Her rivals in District 3, Patti Ingram Spencer and Lisa Swarthout, were way too savvy and experienced to jump for that bait at the Business Alliance forum last week and the League of Women Voters forum this week.

They each took the opportunity last week to remind the audience they both had served on the Grass Valley City Council when a similar proposal to reopen the mine was working through the city. Emgold dropped its bid short of finishing the environmental review process after seven years and sold to Rise Gold in 2017. The council never had to decide.

This week, both revealed a little more about their thought process. Was that a hint from the concerns each aired about environmental risks?

District 4 incumbent Sue Hoek stated the predicament plainly and with good humor at both forums. That is, she’d love to share her views but can’t, and so she’ll do the job of listening carefully to the proposal and the criticisms of it. Sorry. Gonna have to trust her judgment on this one.

Her competition, Calvin Clark, the leader of the supervisors recall effort, called for postponing a process that will stretch into next year in one forum and insinuated in the other that the board already has a secret deal with Rise Gold. Interesting enough takes, even if the former isn’t going the happen and the latter just matches his apparent campaign theme.


The mine is the biggest issue of the year and next year, too, for the county Board of Supervisors.

Wildfire preparedness and other effects of drought (and giant storms) are even more impactful for the residents they serve. Broadband is the greater economic opportunity. Post-pandemic healing probably is more crucial than we are thinking, cannabis less so, and housing — always housing — remains a familiar thorn no one seems able to reach, much less pull. I’m including homelessness here.

But the mine, just the thing the candidates can’t talk much about, will remain front and center for the voting public. That’s clear.

I have no special knowledge about anyone’s thinking, but so far it looks like there’s little in the way of a real mystery here. The mine owners have yet to put up a compelling reason for the county to approve their plan, and there’s plenty to question with the environmental risks, lack of protective measures or public benefit, the CEO’s history running a mine, and the impacts on direct neighbors.

I’m also curious which is fewer: mine supporters who will speak up, or valid signatures on that recall petition.

This has the look of a solid thumbs down, whether today’s board were to take it up or next year’s. Masterz likely has nothing to be concerned about there.

Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at or 530-477-4299

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