John Vaughan: The tale of a wolf, and a gold mine
This delightful fable reveals the absurdity of the Rise Gold's financial promises. Vaughan is a retired CIO of Pride Industries.
This opinion piece was originally published in The Union.
January 31, 2023
I’m going to tell you a story. It’s a bit whimsical but I assure you the numbers are real, directly from the recently published “Economic Impact of the Proposed Idaho-Maryland Mine”.
Once upon a time, there was a small idyllic community in the foothills of Northern California. The community attracted lots of visitors, many choosing to stay and raise their families, start their own small businesses, or retire. The people of the community loved it for its natural beauty, limited traffic, and small-town quality of life.
One day, a wolf arrived in the community and purchased the property and mineral rights to a long-closed gold mine. Soon, the wolf submitted a proposal to re-open the gold mine, assuring the people of the community the mine would create lots of high-quality, high-paying jobs. The wolf’s proposal included spending money on locally hired employees and local suppliers while contributing to the communities “General Fund” based on profits from the mine.
The wolf’s proposal promised everyone in the community, including their children, their grandchildren, and their great grandchildren, that for 80 years the wolf’s proposal would not do any environmental damage. No air or water pollution. No bad wells. No health hazards. No traffic accidents. No contaminated mine rock that can’t be sold.
Many people in the community were skeptical and worried about degraded air and water quality, bad wells, negative health consequences, lower property values and traffic – as well as unforeseen events from the wolf’s large industrial operation. Over 5,500 community members and 250 businesses signed petitions or wrote letters to the community’s Board of Supervisors documenting their concerns about the wolf’s proposal.
The Board of Supervisors paid attention and sponsored an Economic Report to help the Community understand whether everyone would benefit from the mine.
Unfortunately, when the Economic Report arrived, the community realized that virtually all the data used to support the reports calculations came from the wolf’s proposal, like the claim the wolf would produce 108,400 ounces of gold every year for 80 years. The wolf had no current data to prove he could achieve that, so his proposal used ancient data from the 1940’s and 1950’s when the mine last operated.
The wolf’s proposal said that after everything was built and ready for production, he would spend about $68 million each year to get the gold. He knew not all the money would be spent in the idyllic community. But the wolf told the people and their leaders not to worry, the community would still be much better off.
The wolf also said that when he sells 108,400 ounces of gold each year at market price, he creates about $180 million in annual revenue. Nice! The wolf’s profit from $180 million after expenses of $68 million is…wait for it…almost $112million…every year, for 80 years. Happy, happy wolf!
“How much of the profit stays in our community?”, the skeptical local folks asked. The wolf just smiled and said, “Well actually, virtually all $112 million profit goes to my shareholders, but don’t worry, your community will be much better off.”
Then he smiled even wider and said, “But the profit feeds the community’s property tax calculations which the Economic Report says will add about $760,000 to the community’s General Fund. Good for everybody, right?”
Now, in case you are not a financial analyst, you might be surprised to learn a $112 million profit gives the wolf an astounding, virtually magical return on Investment of just over 63% for one year’s work, every year for 80 years…63%...how cool is that? Cool enough to make the wolf smile bigger and bigger!
This made many people in the community even more skeptical as none of them had ever received 63% interest on their bank accounts or any other investments, and a 63% return on investment each and every year for 80 years seemed truly unbelievable. But that’s what it said in the Economic Report, so maybe it’s true.
Don’t worry though, the story ends well. The Board of Supervisors were much more savvy than the wolf thought. They could see the proposed “General Fund” contributions were based on a 63% return on investment every year for 80 years, which is really and truly unbelievable, so they chose to protect their community and just said NO to the wolf’s proposal.
And everyone lived happily ever after (except the wolf).
John Vaughan is a 55 year resident of Nevada County and a retired CIO of Pride Industries.
Vaughan was a member of the powerhouse panel of mining and business leaders who reviewed the Economic Impact Report at the MineWatch Community Meeting in December 2022. The report left a lot of room for questioning conclusions about jobs, tax revenue, and impact on property values. Watch John's (more serious) presentation. See what the rest of the panelists had to say.