By J. Pelton
The owners of Blue Lead Mine have proposed a 20-year gold-mining operation covering 74 acres in the Red Dog/You Bet area which is still in recovery after the devastation of hydraulic mining. They refer to this mine as a Mom and Pop operation, and say they will be using “only” 20,000 gallons of water each day for 10-12 months each year, about the amount required to fill a swimming pool. How many people do you know who re-fill their swimming pool every day?
Neighbors of the mine have challenged Blue Lead’s water consumption estimates as too low, citing rapid rates of evaporation from the on-site ponds in the summer heat that would need to be re-filled from wells. California’s drought adds weight to their concerns.
The Nevada County Planning Commission dropped the ball on this one. A mining operation of this size without a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR) would be precedent-setting. Other similar mining projects will undoubtedly follow, increasing the impacts exponentially. Charles Watson of Advanced Geologic (the apparent PR arm for Blue Lead) is doing all that he can to make sure that happens by hawking mining claims on his website.
A full EIR would assess the totality of impacts to the neighborhood and property values when (not if) other mining operations are proposed for that area. A full EIR would, among other things, include independent hydrologic studies to answer the questions raised by neighbors about the impact on their wells.
The owners of Blue Lead have already shown their hand with a pattern of offenses that cannot be dismissed by saying that they were “confused”, or waived away as Planning Staff tried to do by saying they just got off on the wrong foot.
The Blue Lead Mine was in the news as recently as four years ago for a long history of mining violations. Nevada County, the Bureau of Land Management, the Office of Mine Reclamation, the Water Quality Control Board, and the Forest Service, all have case files on Blue Lead for mining-related offenses, including: 1) Water pollution 2) Alteration of stream bed 3) Non-compliance with their plan of operation 4) SMARA violations 5) Building a road and settling pond on public land without permission and 6) neighbors have accused Blue Lead of trespass on adjacent property by grading and widening a private road without permission, and destroying timber and drainage in the process.
The Nevada County Board of Supervisors is responsible for protecting Nevada County taxpayers from the cost of cleaning up failed mining ventures. They must show leadership and vision by first requiring an Environmental Impact Report in order to have complete and independent information about the proposed project before deciding on a use permit for a phased project expected to last for 20 years, and before piece-meal re-zoning to accommodate mining. Given the still visible scars from past gold mining in the Sierras, they must set the bar high for new projects. If a permit is ultimately granted, the Supervisors must make the permit conditional on frequent inspections by County officials, and include firm enforcement provisions for stopping the work at the first sign of trouble.