Don Rogers: The mine’s brightest promise
A bunch of jobs created by a reopened Idaho-Maryland Mine would be a good thing all by itself.
Quibbling over the average pay, the number of positions, or where the people who take these jobs would come from misses the point.
Big new businesses in town have always drawn highly skilled employees from outside. Grass Valley Group and its offshoots. The hospital, the college, every professional firm. The Forest Service, the fire services, the courthouse, the county. The ski hills, the roofers, the schools. And yes, the logging outfits and the mines of yore.
They come from outside and then become part of the community. That’s just how it works, at least at first, even with earnest commitments to try to hire local.
Western Nevada County, mecca for the gray-haired, would get a little younger with those 300 or so new jobs at the mine. There’s also the ripple effect supporting those workers and their families, good for another 300 new jobs, maybe. And don’t forget the construction work in the beginning, either.
Three-hundred new mining jobs at an average of $94,000 each or $120,000 or $60,000, take your pick. Still adds up to more than today.
Given that, arguments that a reopened mine would have no positive economic impact via employment are, well, silly.
Score one for the mine.
But even judging solely by the jobs — the No. 1 benefit supporters cite — won’t make Rise Gold’s proposal a great bet.
A job’s no good if there’s no place to work. A business that has to close becomes a job loser, a drag on the community instead of the promised boon, a worst possible outcome.
For a reopened gold mine, this means environmental regulations must be met, a complicated operation well managed, the business financed properly and able to handle contingencies. You know, like more wells compromised than anticipated, emissions exceeding limits, downturns in demand, promising veins playing out, basic cost overruns, and so on.
The environmental review underway now is only one of many steps before this proposal reaches the county supervisors for their crucial decision, and maybe among the easier hurdles by comparison.
The county has commissioned a study on the economic impacts of a reopened Idaho-Maryland, will take stock of the risks and potential benefits, consider protective measures such as bonding, and you know they’ll look closely at Rise Gold as a business entity.
And here we find the venture’s Achilles’ heel through the prism of jobs: The track record of the company and its CEO, Ben Mossman. He’s opened and run a mine before, so he has experience. He’s created jobs like the ones promised at the Idaho-Maryland.
Mossman was president, CEO and manager of the Yellow Giant Mine, which began mining on remote Banks Island along the British Columbia coast in 2014. An employee in summer 2015 tipped authorities to a spill and other alleged issues. The mine’s bond was not enough to pay for the cleanup on tribal land.
By January 2016, the mine was abandoned, the company bankrupt, and Mossman facing criminal charges for the spill and allegedly misleading investigators.
He still faces criminal proceedings after Canadian courts by turns acquitted and convicted him, along with levying a $15,000 fine for “minor offenses” — all of it set aside pending a new trial.
But this is yesterday’s news. Some big rains, a different catchment system, a few bad-apple employees, a shrug. Not that big a deal and not his fault, apparently. As an environmental assessment officer for the Gitxaala First Nation observed, a “wild west mentality” prevailed at the isolated site.
Idaho-Maryland is a completely different operation and should be evaluated on its own merits, right? Why drag up the past from somewhere else when the future is what matters here?
Well, maybe that relates to the promise of jobs. Employment at the Yellow Giant Mine didn’t last very long. Even ardent supporters of reopening the mine next to the city of Grass Valley will want to know why. They’re not fools, after all.
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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