Don Rogers: Truth’s as hard to mine as gold
The debate over reopening the Idaho-Maryland Mine feels a little like a liars’ club.
No one is telling the strict truth about anything. Not the mine owners, not the CEA, not the rather wild-eyed opponents among the public, nor supporters, rare as spotted zebras in the Tahoe National Forest.
Visions arise of an oily foaming Wolf Creek, Mill Street barricades shoved aside by heavy diesel haulers roaring past the Del Oro, hundreds of wells draining as if bathtub plugs were pulled, tourists fleeing some denuded dystopia, explosions everywhere. Oh my.
Or, speaking of oily: Shiny-paper pronouncements like “The science is clear!” Postage-paid postcards with the we-need-jobs message conveniently prewritten for easiest return to the county. A used car salesman of a survey, such slick framing. Dear god. Yes, the Canadians did indeed hire an LA firm.
It’s entertaining from a certain distance. It would be more entertaining if the stakes for the future weren’t as high, involving a more than symbolic return to a way of life long abandoned in favor of a different gold rush for quality-of-life seekers and a whole lot of retirees.
Eventually, the county supervisors will decide whether to give Rise Gold a shot, assuming California’s environmental regulations — strictest in the nation — are not violated. Presumably, they’ll want something in their reasoning besides tall tales and exaggeration.
What to do?
CEA and their cohorts could start by being as rigorously honest as they accuse Rise Gold of fudging.
Maybe begin with acknowledging some inconvenient truths:
∎ Hardly anyone would hear or see those big trucks as they contain their route to right around the mine. Hardly anyone would notice the Idaho-Maryland in full operation.
∎ The California standard for water quality discharged into Wolf Creek is potable. That is, you can drink the stuff. Otherwise the mine cannot operate. Hard stop.
∎ Likewise, actual noise and actual air quality standards must be met or the mine cannot operate.
∎ Somehow, poisonous tailings have sat on the surface untreated for 70 years and more. A condition of ownership of the mine is a promise to clean that up.
∎ There’s already a gap between the top of the water flooding those mine tunnels and the bottom of where the vast majority of domestic wells draw water, independent of what’s in the tunnels.
∎ The water that would be discharged into Wolf Creek would not be dumped to nowhere and wasted, but flow to a reservoir named Camp Far West. You might have heard of it.
∎ The treated water discharged into Wolf Creek would be cleaner than what most domestic wells tap now.
∎ The environmental impact report is not Rise Gold’s but as close to an independent review as we’ll see. Criticisms and other observations will add to it, and with the hearings are part of the overall process toward a final third party report.
Of course, there remains plenty else to consider. NID’s general manager at last week’s county Planning Commission hearing touched on some prudent points concerning the wells: Improve monitoring. Include steps to ensure that more potentially vulnerable domestic wells would be protected. Require bonding at a large enough amount to cover the costs.
These were all sensible and pragmatic recommendations delivered respectfully and free of rhetorical flourish or scorn. CEA and others might take note.
Rise Gold, at least locally, has been surprisingly tone deaf, ham-handed, reactionary, doing next to nothing to build enthusiasm for their proposal. CEO Ben Mossman occasionally rises to the bait to call out exaggerations and outright falsehoods, but otherwise he has been unwilling or unable to put in the kind of effort it would take to sell the idea to a skeptical public.
It doesn’t help that his previous experience running a mine in British Columbia ended with a spill left to the locals to clean up, abandonment, bankruptcy and criminal proceedings still pending. These are simply facts, ones Nevada County decision-makers need to understand while weighing a bigger proposal for a bigger mine than that one.
And given those elusive zebras in the forest, Mossman must do much better than a few slick mailings and too-obviously framed surveys in this community, as much as the prospects for jobs and the tax base indeed are attractive.
Mining’s mishaps and misdeeds remain fresh memories around here, especially where they are still being cleaned up.
GOOD AS GOLD
You would not want me for a county supervisor, I know, but the thought experiment is useful. What would I be looking at? Well, my top priorities would be health and safety, and then economic benefit.
I would pay close attention to what lawyers call the “true facts,” and try to separate out the noise. I’d assess possible gains and likely risks for the community. I’d weigh personal histories, financial wherewithal, how to best mitigate risk with bonds and monitoring, whether a venture is worth all of that.
I would consider community sentiment, as best I could tell knowing NIMBYs tend to be loud but few. I’d consider the quality of their arguments, and mostly be disappointed in this case. I’d listen for independent supporters and be surprised there aren’t hardly any. At least not with the gumption to speak up.
I’d think a lot about air quality independent of today’s regulations, about carbon emissions and asbestos, about those neighbors around the mine, few as they are but deserving of full consideration. Approval would upend their peace most definitely. What wider public benefit balances that?
Neither the company nor the advocates seem as concerned about the strict truth as winning in this quasi-judicial process, stark positions staked out as if in a courtroom, a union negotiation, a campaign for the presidency. I would have to mine from this poor ore flakes and nuggets I could trust. I would take my time. We’ve only just begun, 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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