Why Did Grass Valley City Council Ignore Public Comments on IMM Contracts?
By Don Pelton
Four of the five members of the Grass Valley City Council, in its meeting of November 8th, voted unanimously to approve the proposed contracts with ASCENT Environmental (for the revised Idaho-Maryland Mine EIR) and with Emgold (the reimbursement agreement). Dan Miller was absent.
Before the vote, Mayor Jan Arbuckle allowed public comments, within the following guidelines:
“I’m going to allow public comments on this, but before I do I want us to be clear that what we’re talking about is not the merits of the Idaho-Maryland Mine, whether it should happen or it shouldn’t. This is strictly to award the contract for the revised EIR. So, we’re not going to make a decision on whether the mine should go forward or should not go forward. It’s just to grant the contract for the revised EIR.”
Several of the nearly one dozen speakers specifically addressed contract issues, calling on the city to include some time constraints in the new contract with IMM, and to avoid the sort of unlimited, open-ended agreements that have allowed Emgold to drag-out the process with no action over the last several years.
Other speakers called for a new economic viability study to be provided in the contract for the revised EIR. And still others suggested refraining from entering into the ASCENT contract for the revised DEIR “until Emgold has bonded the money for the completion of the work up-front.”
Notice that these are all business considerations regarding the contracts, not environmental issues regarding the re-opening of the mine itself.
Why, then, did the council members — when all the public comments were complete — vote immediately to approve the contracts, with no discussion of the relevant business concerns raised by these speakers?
There is no way to know what thoughts were in the council members’ minds as they listened to the public comments, although they did appear to be awake.
Had they misunderstood what they were hearing as criticisms of the mine project itself, rather than — as was the case — criticisms of the structure of the proposed contracts with IMM and ASCENT? Or, also possible, had they simply made up their minds in advance?
One of the speakers in favor of the project, Libertarian Gary Bryant, dismissed all the critics as environmentalists who, he said, he was “sure are doing God’s work, but … ”
David Watkinson, President of Emgold, who — as usual — contrived to have the last word, also mis-stated these issues of the flawed contracts as environmental issues. He said, “the questions that most of the people brought up tonight will be addressed in the CEQA process.” That is clearly not true, since several speakers called for time-limited contracts.
Here are the videos of most of the dozen or so speakers in the order they occurred.
Note: David Watkinson was the only speaker of the night whom Mayor Arbuckle inexplicably allowed to exceed the 3-minute time limit during the public remarks. He spoke for nearly 6 minutes publicly before being invited by the council to sit down and answer some more questions. I’ve combined both of his opportunities to speak into one nearly 9-minute video below.
“I applaud the fact that the city is requiring initial deposits totaling $440,000, but given the past history of IMM, it may be many months or years before the deposit is made. So I am here tonight to ask the city to not create another open-ended contract with IMM. This is not fair to the consultants, and it is not fair to the community.
In summary, what I am asking is a simple common sense approach: put an expiration date in. Require that the contract should specify that the initial deposits are to be made within 30 days, or the contract is canceled. If they are not prepared to make the deposit now, after over 3 years since the project was submitted, then they have no business being here.”
“I wanted to bring the Council’s attention to a recent press release that is on the Emgold web site and to request that no contracts be approved at this time and that Emgold be given a deadline as to when they must fund the DEIR or withdraw their application.”
“As soon as the city signs the contract with Ascent for preparation of the revised draft EIR, Emgold intends to immediately ask for an indefinite deferral before the contract work actually begins – because they do not have the money to pay for it.
“Emgold also specifically spells out the possibility of terminating the application if they cannot get enough money to pay for Ascent’s work.”
“Since the tile factory is such an integral part of the project, I ask that an independent study be made of the economic aspects of the tile factory that I have outlined here. And that this study be prepared as part of the RDEIR so that it can be reviewed and commented upon by the community.”
Suzanne Smith said she noticed that in Emgold’s revised project description they provided for some shifts to run as long as twelve hours, so she called CAL-OSHA and asked about that issue:
“I called CAL-OSHA and asked, ‘Do you allow mining operations to have their employees work 12 hours, because it seems dangerous to me?’ And he said, ‘Whoa … yeah, they can come in with that proposal, but accidents start happening after 8 hours, and that’s when we step in.'”
“Please protect the people who elected you with a full disclosure statement. As you hire Ascent make sure they know the IMM has already asked for another 60 or 90 day extension and that this is their method of operation … Whenever you are doing business with someone who is deeply in debt, it makes sense to get the money up front and have a drop dead deadline.”
“I’m totally baffled … From a plain business aspect of this thing, it seems very strange to me why you are even considering this business prospect this evening, under the condition that the only person you are dealing with … is a semi-broke in-debt pennystock company from Canada and no one else is even knocking on the door that I’m aware of to try to start this mine … “
“The questions that most of the people brought up tonight will be addressed in the CEQA process.”