Reopen the Idaho-Maryland Mine? Trust, but Verify

Editor’s Note: The following article was submitted by Ralph Silberstein, President, and Mike Pasner, Vice-President, of Citizens Looking at the Impact of Mining in Grass Valley (CLAIM-GV ). In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I’m a member of CLAIM-GV and have assisted in efforts to research the Draft Environmental Impact Report.

February 6,, 2011 was the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birth, and when Grass Valley evaluates the controversial proposal to reopen the historic Idaho-Maryland Mine the late president’s signature phrase holds a timely piece of advice: Trust, but Verify.

When President Reagan uttered those words he was referring to an arms control treaty with the Soviet Union. At first glance, a nuke treaty with the Evil Empire seems a world away from reopening a historic gold mine in rural Grass Valley, California.

But the proposal by Emgold – a Canada-based mining company that has never actually operated a gold mine – to resume mining at Idaho Maryland carries both big promises and huge risks for our community, and it deserves equally serious scrutiny.

First, some history: in 2006, Emgold proposed a scheme to reopen the mine and build a ceramics plant to manufacture tile from excavated rock. That proposal quickly ran into trouble. State regulators and mine experts found serious problems with Emgold’s Draft Environmental Impact Report and by 2009 the project appeared to have quietly died.

But like a bad penny, Emgold’s scheme has returned.

Emgold is expected to submit a revised proposal by April 8th, and ultimately the Grass Valley City Council will vote it up or down. Before approving the proposal, however, the Council must verify its many golden promises:

Jobs: Under its initial plan, Emgold promised to create four hundred jobs over the next 20 years – 200 in the mine and another 200 in the ceramics factory. Sounds pretty good, especially in these tough economic times, right? But hold on – not only are these jobs figures speculative, but the Grass Valley General Plan has slated the mine site for a business park with the potential for 800 new jobs – 400 more than the mine promises. A potential loss of 400 jobs is a bad deal for Grass Valley.

Impact on Existing and Future Businesses: Not only could the mine cost Grass Valley long-term jobs, but it’s common sense that a mine might dissuade other high-paying employers from locating in the area. High-tech manufacturers have cautioned Grass Valley that vibrations from mining and increased truck traffic could upset sensitive operations and force them to leave town. And visitors might decide to spend their tourism dollars elsewhere if, rather than a church bell, they wake to the sound of 20-ton trucks rumbling through town. Grass Valley is already burdened with the tragic closure of Weaver Auto. Imagine the repercussions from a failed mine operation in downtown Grass Valley.

Public Safety and Pollution: Emgold’s own project proposal envisions a huge burden on Grass Valley’s streets, totaling 220 20-ton truck trips per day, seven days a week (that’s one every 7 minutes!). Then there’s the need to drain and clean 72 miles of mine tunnels of toxics-laden water and the risk of dewatering local resident’s wells. The price tag for ensuring public safety and environmental health grows quickly.

Cleanup and Long-Term Costs: Emgold promises the mine will operate for 20 years, but this promise is based on both the speculative value of gold and assumed (but not proven) gold reserves left in the mine. If gold prices crash or the reserves are smaller than anticipated the mine could close and leave Grass Valley with an unusable industrial mine site and long-term cleanup costs. The uncomfortable fact is that there is a failed mine behind every ghost town in the American West. Grass Valley has recent experience with closed mines: the discovery that the Newmont Mining site was contaminating local waters, the city was forced to spend more than three years and $2 million in legal fees just to force the mine operators to clean up their mess.

Grass Valley cannot afford – and should not pay for – another costly mine cleanup.

Emgold has made a lot of promises to Grass Valley. But reopening the mine carries huge risks: loss of long-term jobs and businesses, increased traffic, air and water pollution, threats to public health and quality of life and a huge cleanup bill if those promises aren’t kept.

Before the Grass Valley City Council approves reopening the Idaho Maryland Mine it must prove to the community that the benefits greatly outweigh the risks.

The Gipper was right: when it comes to our long-term safety, security and prosperity we should Trust, but Verify.

Ralph Silberstein – President,
Mike Pasner -Vice-President,
Citizens Looking At the Impacts of Mining
CLAIM-GV

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