Nevada County's General Plans says that already existing development shall be protected from adverse environmental effects caused by mining. So why did it's planning department staff recommend certifying the environmental impact report?
This opinion piece was first published in The Union.
May 9. 2023
I’m having considerable heartburn over our Planning Department’s Staff recommendation that the Planning Commission vote to certify the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) for the Idaho Maryland Mine (IMM). General Plan Policy 17.14 states “Already existing development – commercial, residential and community, shall be protected from adverse environmental effects caused by mining through enforced use permit conditions and mitigation measures, OR DENIAL OF THE PROJECTS.” The FEIR identifies three SIGNIFICANT ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS that CANNOT BE MITIGATED: Aesthetics, Noise, and Traffic/Circulation. Asbestos should have been a fourth. Accurate measurement of asbestos contained in the tons per day of mine waste rock, cannot be determined until TWO WEEKS AFTER the rock has been trucked away. The FEIR also fails in its arbitrary and inadequate attempt to mitigate admitted threats to water wells, using sparse data collected over 15 years ago! This is a clear violation of California’s Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) which requires “current data be used to assess impacts and mitigations.” To deny certification of the FEIR requires identifying its inadequacies. I have spent countless hours reviewing all planning documents from DEIR and FEIR to Use Permit Applications documents, Variance Applications, Technical Reports, Management Plans, etc. and often found these documents incomplete, frequently incorrect, self-contradictory, and basically nowhere near worthy of certification or approval by our County decision-makers.
To build the main mining operation on the Brunswick industrial site, Rise Gold needs to rerecord the County Final Map of that site and erase a 1500’ long fault line that is shown running directly through the middle of their building site. In an “abundance of caution”, after admitting potential “SIGNIFICANT IMPACT” of removing the fault line, the FEIR concludes that “the fault line and its 200’ setbacks, can be removed from the Final Map if the mine’s building plans are reviewed and approved by the County Building Department”. Justification for this decision is that the mine is located in the Foothill Fault System which is reported to have “low seismicity…and low rate of recurrence”, with the nearest recent(1975) “activity” having occurred 25 miles to the north on the Cleveland Hill Fault, which is also part of the Foothill Fault System. The mine’s DEIR, FEIR, Geotechnical Engineering Report, and Management Plan for Potential Seismic Hazards all fail to note that a portion of the Cleveland Hill Fault is now designated within a high risk potential Alquist-Priolo ACTIVE FAULT ZONE! Each of these critical project documents also fail to mention an August 1978 article in California Geology which notes “Damaging earthquakes occurred in 1909 and 1888 15 km northeast of Nevada City.”
To build on the Brunswick Industrial Site, Rise Gold needs a Variance to work within the County’s 100’ riparian setback, and permission to exceed 30% slope standards within these same areas. The FEIR informs us that “temporary and permanent ground-disturbing activities of jurisdictional waters/wetlands cannot be avoided”. Mitigation is achieved by payment of “an in-lieu fee or off-site wetland creation… or purchase of habitat credits”. Let me get this straight, “modern/clean” mining decimates the Wolf Creek watershed and mitigates this waste by paying into a fund to restore habitat or wetlands somewhere else? Read the mine engineer’s 1/2/20 Steep Slope and Sediment Control Management Plan (outdated) to learn that “due to the proposed development and existing site topography, there is no alternative feasible location on the subject property that would have less impact on the Site and surrounding area, and “no feasible alternatives were identified…that could avoid these environmentally sensitive resource areas”.
The FEIR states “no groundwater level measurements have been completed since 2007, which creates some uncertainty to the predicted impact…of the water column in domestic wells”.(pg.147) Just the suggestion of millions of gallons of subsurface water being pumped out of the ground has already had an impact on the desirability and demand for real estate in Western Nevada County! The FEIR also makes the outrageous statement that “water quality impacts to domestic wells are speculative impacts that do not require analysis under the California Environmental Quality Act”.(pg.151) If local Realtors were required to include an accurate disclosure of IMM’s FEIR there’s no doubt that housing values throughout Western Nevada County would plummet!
A certified Final Environmental Impact Report leaves us with the specter of potential future development of the Idaho Maryland Mine. Rise Gold’s FEIR must not be certified! Rise Gold’s Use Permit must not be approved! The examples I’ve quoted above just begin to scratch the surface of the incorrect, inconsistent, self-contradictory, and misrepresented information contained throughout Rise Gold’s EIR’s and Permit application documents!
Write your Supervisor! Attend the Planning Commission hearings this Wednesday, May 10th (and 11th if necessary), at the Rood Center, Nevada City. Carpool. Ride the bus. Go to minewatchnc.org for more information.
Charles Brock, Realtor Emeritus, Past President Nevada County Board of Realtors