Reprinted from the Helena, Montana Independent Record, February 2, 2012, with the permission of the author.
(Note from Sierra Voices Editor: Many of us opposed to the re-opening of the Idaho-Maryland Mine here in Nevada County, CA, have warned of well failures due to mine de-watering, 24×7 truck traffic congestion, arsenic contamination of water, increased flow burden in local streams, etc., and have been called alarmists by Emgold’s CEO, David Watkinson. In the following article you will read that every one of these concerns have borne out in the actual case of the re-opening of the old Drum Lummon mine in Helena, Montana by Toronto-based RX Gold & Silver Inc).
By Eve Byron
MARYSVILLE — A standing-room-only crowd on Wednesday outlined impacts to their daily lives to Lewis and Clark County officials from the renewal of operations of the historic underground Drumlummon gold mine, less than half a mile from the formerly sleepy hamlet.
County officials had called the meeting to hear concerns of area residents, and they got an earful from the crowd, largely made up of frustrated neighbors.
Noise from mining rigs backing up and rocks being dumped into trucks wakes Roger Nolte multiple times at night. Heavy truck traffic on Marysville Road, mixed with recreational vehicles going to the Great Divide Ski Area and residents going into Helena, frightens commuters, noted Karen Marble.
Silver Creek, which used to dry up in August, is running year round and causing flooding downstream along Applegate Drive, said Larry Michaelson. He attributes the consistent water flows and flooding to mine operators treating, pumping and discharging 300 gallons per minute into the stream out of the lower mine depths.
Meanwhile, wells in town are drying up due to that pumping, said Earl Fred, because it allows mine operators access to historic drillings of past owners. The springs that supply residential water on his property dried up, and a new well drilled last December by the mine owners, RX Gold & Silver Inc., already has had its static water level drop by 30 feet.
“I’m particularly disappointed that public officials at all levels are not protecting our right to a peaceful environment,” said Nolte, whose house is directly across from the mine, which restarted exploration work in 2008. “It’s enough to make me go insane.”
Lainie Christensen added that the renewed mining exploration and
excavation are enough to make anybody crazy.
“Their operating hours when they were doing core drilling outside the mine were 24/7, all the time, unless they were changing drill bits,” she said.
County commissioners said they’re trying to work with the Canadian-based mine operators. The company submitted an application for an operating permit to the state Department of Environmental Quality on Dec. 28, and that state agency has 90 days to review it. The DEQ is expected to issue a deficiency letter to Toronto-based RX Gold & Silver Inc., since mining applications typically are lacking in one area or another.
While county officials and the public can comment on the proposed mining operations via DEQ, commissioners said they have a better opportunity to mitigate impacts via the Hard Rick Mining Act, which is under the state Department of Commerce.
“This law forces local government and the mine operator to sit down and negotiate in good faith and determine how the mine will mitigate impacts caused by the mine to local government,” said Harold Blattie with the Montana Association of Counties. “It looks at road, law enforcement … and schools. To do that, the mine has to give a plan laying out how many employees it will have, how it will grow, what their production expectations are, the basic plan and intentions.”
RX has been extracting ore from the Drumlummon since 2009. While it employs about 120 people and has pulled millions of dollars of gold from the mine, it’s been operating under a “Small Miners Exclusion Statement,” and an exploration license from the DEQ. Under those documents, the company could only disturb 5 acres or less and extract up to 10,000 tons of ore.
State and county officials have noted that while the mine is operating within the strict parameters of the law, they’ve questioned whether it is in fact a “small mine” and noted that the actual operating permit, along with mitigation mandates, could be years off.
Many at the meeting said the mine’s impacts already are being felt, and they urged the county to become involved as early as possible in the process.
“Sure we get emotional … but this is our homes, and lives and for some a life investment in this place, and we stand to be impacted the most by RX operations,” Christensen said.
Commission members agreed that was important to work with the company to try to lessen impacts to Marysville residents, as well as those downstream in the Helena valley.
“We are here, and will be by your side,” said Commissioner Andy Hunthausen, who added that they’ll meet with residents again in a month, and also with Canyon Creek residents to talk about possible impacts. “But there are some things we have impact over and something we don’t, because some things are state law.
“But we can work through this and do the best we can to try to come up with solutions.”
The underground Drumlummon Mine was created more than a century ago, with 29 miles of shafts that were drilled, chipped and blasted into a honeycomb maze. After a lengthy legal dispute, water flooded the lower levels, the mine closed and few paid attention to the mine that made Marysville and millionaires.
Yet RX Gold & Silver believes there’s still pay dirt left, missed by the previous miners who removed 586,000 ounces of gold and almost 5 million ounces of silver from 1 million tons of ore. The company, formerly named RX Exploration, plans to pump out and treat an estimated 100 million gallons of arsenic-tainted water, then use the latest available technology — which basically involves more powerful drills and equipment than that of the late 1800s— to search for precious metals.
Darryl James, a representative of RX, was at the meeting but didn’t comment.