Don Rogers: Mine’s main ore is risk
If Rise Gold continues on its titanic quest, the county supervisors eventually will have to consider the iceberg.
I realized this recently while one of the opponents of the proposal to reopen the Idaho-Maryland Mine, John Vaughan, took me through a critique of the company’s sunny sales pitch about jobs and all those millions of dollars surely rippling outward from an operating mine.
The company’s early pattern is to exaggerate benefits, as the opponents’ is to take the bleakest view.
Meantime, the county awaits the results of its own economic study, due out anytime now. This will be the next step, the next run of the gantlet toward a decision, the next battle.
I wonder whether real flesh-and-blood local supporters will finally come out of hiding to buttress the strongest case for the mine. If a boxing match, Round 1 was nearly a knockout for opponents, who rose in real numbers to decry the draft environmental impact report’s results with the county Planning Commission.
But Rise still seems to be tottering along, and so the process continues as the CEO preps for perhaps his final criminal trial over his previous mine with the spill that went bankrupt and he abandoned in Canada. No jobs there in years.
But what do icebergs have to do with the Idaho-Maryland Mine? Besides that their vast bulk runs below the surface?
My own greatest concern about this proposal has run vaguely on what the community would gain compared to the risks it would assume. I mean the real and quantifiable rather than leprechauns and hobgoblins in the fantasies and nightmares spun by PR literature and ignoramuses who refuse their homework.
The metaphor snapped into place for me on the 12th page of Vaughan’s critique of the methodology and the assumptions baked into the software that Rise Gold and the county’s consultants are both using to model the economic impact of an operating mine.
I’ll leave to him and his cohorts the details of the critique they’ll give the county and perhaps share in these pages, but a big part of the gist has to do with overlooking economic risks.
Sure enough, the risk/reward graphic on the last page was the classic for the seen and the unseen, that iceberg in the water, the economic risks Rise Gold’s study ignores.
Risk even leaches into the races for two county supervisor seats.
The No. 1 question of this election is the very one that the most responsible and knowledgeable candidates should not answer: How would you vote on the mine?
Most basically, Rise Gold’s proposal is a quasi-judicial proceeding. That is, the supervisors are compelled to act as judges and take in all the evidence and arguments without prejudging and only then decide whether to approve or reject the proposal.
A candidate expressing a position now would vastly elevate the risk of the county paying Rise Gold millions in damages following a “no” decision later if that candidate were to double down on foolishness and vote on the mine as a supervisor. Talking now effectively compromises a supervisor later. But it is an easy, popular campaign schtick.
OK, you might ask, then why can NID board members speak openly about wanting to build a whole new dam? Isn’t that the same?
No. This is NID’s own project, and the board isn’t asked to weigh the merits of a third party’s proposal. This falls into the familiar legislative work guiding what your own entity does or doesn’t do. Of course, the path to building a Centennial Dam is long and would reach its own quasi-judicial reckoning with a higher body.
Dam or mine, the risk/reward iceberg confronts decision-makers. In the mine proposal’s case, that’s the county supervisors. What’s demanded is a fair hearing.
Buoyant factors for the community’s benefit are exclusively economic: jobs, tax revenue.
Risk factors span economic, environmental, the gold business, quality of monitoring, regulatory enforcement, ability to clean up accidents, those wells, the history of the CEO, the company itself, the odds of reality proving modeling wrong.
Some risks weigh heavier than others, of course, and elements such as heavy truck traffic around the mine, carbon emissions and impact on immediate neighbors are not risks but certainties.
There might be some argument about promises to clean up a nearly century-old tailings heap and establishing a fire station at the mine, but are those benefits or simply what’s required? Which raises the question of what should be required of the mine owners to balance against the various risks inherent in the proposal.
Given that, the prospects look far from unsinkable and the reward dubious for the real impact on just the neighbors, never mind the sheer weight of all the risks. Yes, iceberg fits.
Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4299
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