Public Speaks Loudly at Packed Planning Commission Meeting

The public made its voice heard loud and clear at yesterday’s Nevada County Planning Commission meeting in the packed Board of Supervisor’s Room at the Rood Center. The central agenda item — a consideration of the application of Blue Lead Mine for the “vested right to mine” — occupied the meeting from 2 PM until nearly 6 PM, with a final decision deferred until its next meeting on May 27th. (Note that this right, if it is determined by the Commission to exist for Blue Lead, attaches to the property itself and not to the succession of owners).

The Commission must determine (1) whether Blue Lead’s right to mine was vested in 1954 when the county assumed oversight of mining, and if so, then it must also determine (2) whether Blue Lead has convincingly shown that it has maintained and preserved this right continuously until the present day without lapse or abandonment. In order to maintain this right, the applicant bears the burden of proof to provide objective evidence of continuous mining activity on that property throughout the decades since 1954.

Ultimately yesterday the Commission was unable to resolve the question of abandonment and directed its legal counsel to prepare statements of clarification before the next meeting on May 27th, with particular emphasis on that question.

Although the Commission remains divided and unclear on the issue of abandonment, a number citizens seemed entirely clear and emphatic, most significantly the first speaker, publisher and historian David Comstock, who is also a neighbor of Blue Lead.

In his written statement to the Planning Commission on April 8th, 2010, David Comstock said:

“I knew just about everybody who prospected (or sniped) for gold in this area from 1968 on, and all of them worked along the running streams with shovels and picks. No one worked in the Blue Lead section because there was no running water.”

Nevada City Mayor Reinette Senum, speaking not as Mayor but as a personal acquaintance of Tom Brown, another of Blue Lead’s neighbors, read a letter from Brown, who now resides on the east coast.

Brown’s letter reads, in part:

“We have a special interest, perhaps a unique interest, in this matter because we are one of the neighbors most affected by the situation. Indeed, our land has already been damaged by the mining operation on the parcels in question. Our parcel is specifically mentioned on page 2 of the Staff report dated January 13, 2010: “…the applicant has taken access through the adjoining private property … and BLM property …  to the east without the benefit of access easements from either owner” …

“I certainly would have known if any mining activity was occurring. The fact is that between 1986 and May 2006, the land was unused, and there certainly was no mining. My personal observations about the use of APN# -12 supports the Staff’s belief that the parcel has been abandoned or idle and that the vested right is destroyed.”

Many other members of the public also spoke in opposition to the vesting application. Only Braiden Chadwick, the attorney for Blue Lead, spoke in support.

While the Commissioners conscientiously struggled to parse the legal nuances of the abandonment issue, it was clear from the occasional applause and murmurs from the audience that most members of the public were convinced by the firsthand testimony of Comstock and Brown.

I spoke briefly to David Comstock after the meeting, and he said, “It doesn’t matter how they decide, because it will be appealed either way. It will go to the Board of Supervisors.”

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