Eyewitness Testimony of Blue Lead Neighbor Rita Jennings

Almost no one from the neighborhood of the Blue Lead Mine ((Pronounced “blue leed … “)), much less any other affected citizen of Nevada County, was present at the meeting of the Nevada County Planning Commission on March 25th, when Blue Lead’s application for “vested right to mine” was considered and provisionally approved.  The reason for the scant public turnout was the poor — though nominally proper ((The meeting notices are effectively buried obscurely in the newspaper among other hard-to-read legal notices. The meeting agendas are posted online a few days prior to each meeting.)) — prior notification of the meeting.

A significant exception was Rita Jennings, who is a neighbor of Blue Lead and was present at the March 25th meeting. Her subsequent letter ((Comments re Blue Lead’s bid for “Vested” mining rights in the PlanningCommission meeting of March 25, 2010 in email from Rita Jennings to Jessica Hankins, Planner. Notice that the Docushare directory in which this letter is available online also contains other interesting public comments.)) to the commissioners — printed below — thus makes very interesting reading.

Notice the sad irony in her letter when she says that “neighbors of mining properties lose many of their rights with a ‘vested’ designation.” And later she says that “to deny our neighborhood ‘vested’ rights as long-term residential property owners is unjust.” Could this also constitute a legitimate “takings” claim in law?

To the Nevada County Planning Commissioners:

I attended the March 25 hearing for Blue Lead’s bid for vested mining, and immediately noticed that I was the only non-mining attendee from my neighborhood. Later I queried a few neighbors. Only one other knew of the hearing. Planner Jessica Hankins assured me that everyone within the required distance of the Blue Lead operation had been notified. This, as I recall, was 500 or 1000 feet. This makes little sense in a neighborhood measured by acres, not feet. The 75 acres owned by Blue Lead is part of the larger 1100+ acres of “diggins” historically mined in the distant past, and vesting will likely set a precedent for the whole.

The same parties who sold the Blue Lead to the Whites are now promoting further parcel sales of the original 1100 acres with “vesting” as a carrot:


Neighbors who live only 1/4 mile from the “diggins” will be affected by any Planning Commission decision applied to the Blue Lead operation, which is more than a mile away. Thus we neighbors did not receive sufficient and appropriate notice. I have lived in this neighborhood since 1976 and have no knowledge of any mining activity whatsoever occurring in the 1100 acres. I met various Brady’s and also Lyle White during this time. No one spoke of doing any mining. Because the “diggins” functions like an “echo chamber”, I assure you that all of us would have heard any significant mining operation. We hear un-muffled motorcycles and shooting from miles away. Furthermore, the natural tendency of off-road enthusiasts to explore every possible trail would have led to some kind of conflict with a mining operation. I believe Tucker White can attest to this on his own property (and I give him credit for having both the courage and where-with-all to stand down the motorcycle incursion).

At the hearing, one of the commissioners explained that she toured the Blue Lead site and found it both ugly and “obviously” mining property. She apparently did not tour “all” of the “diggins”, parts of which are enchantingly beautiful. Those who live in the Red Dog-You Bet environs do not see our back yard as “ugly”, rather as land which has been horrifically mistreated. In fact, we have been fighting for over 30 years to keep ATV/OHV’s off private property and County road, which have been further ravaged by illegal vehicular traffic. Most of us care deeply about what happens to the land in our back yards. As mentioned above, noise from around the diggins can be horrendous due to the echo factor. Scientists have visited and studied how sound waves vibrate across exposed quartz landscapes.

I was disappointed in the hearing that the ramifications of a “vested” vs. “non-vested” designation were neither clearly understood or explained by the Commission. What was implied, from my understanding, is that neighbors of mining properties lose many of their rights with a “vested” designation. Does this mean that we have no recourse for environmental noise and road traffic/road degradation? Or for hours of operation? Does this further mean that the trees, which have had some time to re-establish themselves and lend a eerie beauty to the landscape, can summarily be removed?

Forgive me if I missed this point, but I don’t recall that any Planning Commissioner addressed the precedent raised by Ms. Hankins and Ms. Mayberry that, in the 1980’s, the County rigorously determined which properties were actively mining. The “diggins” was not thus identified in either pass. Why does this not stand as “evidence of abandonment” in the minds of the commissioners?

Finally, for the sake of brevity, as a member of the audience I could not understand why the commissioners contended they “had no choice” but to vote for the vested designation. As I witnessed Mr. Chadwick’s presentation, his graphically depicting “burden of proof” impressed me as a lawyer’s ploy to convince you/us that he had more evidence of timely and continuous mining than was actually the case. It is my hope that one of my neighbors, more expert on the history of mining in this area, can convince you that Mr. Chadwick’s evidence was not appropriately researched (and obviously slanted toward Blue Lead’s case). At times I was horrified by implications which should have prompted an “I object” from the opposing attorney in a court of law.

I do not deny miner’s rights to mine. But given the historical rape of this land from mining, before anyone can raise another pick in our back yard they must be required to follow modern enlightened mining practices/permits/regulations which have been determined as right and fair to both the environment and neighbors. To deny our neighborhood “vested” rights as long-term residential property owners is unjust and a move towards the lawless detrimental mining practices of the past. Consider the behavior of the Blue Lead owners in neighboring Plumas County, with their similar attempts here! Nevada County should be embarrassed for the lack of stewardship should they approve “vesting” per scant evidence. As one who has had to deal with the OHV problem without support of law enforcement for the majority of the time, I assure you that we locals do not deserve to take on further vigilance in regards to mining operations. We need the full participation of all possible monitoring agencies, particularly those within the county.

I urge you to reconsider the evidence, and find the Blue Lead bid for “vesting” to be both historically and morally unjustified.

Rita Jennings

See all Sierra Voices articles on Blue Lead here.

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