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★ Mark Wilson: Questioning mine claims

Rise Gold promises a feast of plenty with protection for environment & health (take air, for instance), but a history of mismanagement and environmental degradation doesn’t cut it.


Life is messy. Even in the best of times, the careful plans we lay out for ourselves get derailed. Faced with an economic setback, a dishonest associate, a natural disaster or a serious health problem, our plans begin to fall apart and things slip through the cracks.

Even more messy are complex business plans. Take, for example, an underfunded penny-stock company attempting to reopen a gold mine cheek-to-jowl with a small rural community still trying to overcome the environmental legacy of its previous generations of mining.

Rise Gold’s slick mailers hope to convince us that every one of the more than 25 significant environmental and health impacts identified in the draft environmental impact report will be mitigated, and that they will protect our community from those impacts continually, 24/7, for the next 80 years.

That’s a bold promise. One might consider it utterly unbelievable.

In an environmental impact report, the applicant (here, Rise Gold) lists mitigation measures it has identified to prevent or lessen the adverse impacts of its operations.

Of course, success of these measures is based on a variety of economic, human, ethical and supply chain assumptions. That is, that all the ducks will line up in an orderly row to ensure compliance.

But as we’ve seen repeatedly over the past couple of years, life is messy. Shifting economic decisions alter business decisions. Humans make mistakes, act foolishly, and behave unethically. Critical equipment and supplies become unavailable, forcing new operational decisions and making required maintenance impossible.

So any mitigation measures laid out in the draft environmental impact report are only a promise made before one shovelful of dirt is turned, one ounce of water is drawn, or one cloud of emissions wafts into the air — nothing more.

Given these unavoidable uncertainties and the significant impacts on our community, we must ask two questions: Does the draft environmental impact report accurately characterize the situation? And Do those in charge have a track record of impeccable behavior in ensuring their heavy industrial facility will meet our health and environmental guidelines for today and the next 80 years?

The draft report’s 1,070 pages contain far too many issues to address here, so we’ll focus on one: Does it accurately characterize the area’s current air quality? It’s questionable.

The air monitoring data for ozone and small particulate matter is from monitoring equipment located about a mile northwest of the project site. Rise Gold didn’t conduct air monitoring at the project site or in any other direction emissions from their operations will travel.

Years ago, citizen ozone monitoring conducted at various locations around the Grass Valley/Nevada City area confirmed that ozone levels vary widely here due to our topography.

So it’s clear that Rise Gold’s use of data from a single air quality monitor is insufficient to characterize at least the ozone in our area. For other air pollutants, the draft environmental impact references a monitoring station in Yuba City — 31 miles away.

As for Rise Gold’s track history, there isn’t much. The company, formed for this project, has never operated a gold mining operation. Yet to approve the proposal, the county supervisors (and their constituents) are expected to believe that this group is capable of cobbling together a team that can implement the numerous, complex mitigation measures outlined in the draft environmental impact report from the get-go, with no slip-ups.

And then there’s the history of Rise Gold CEO Ben Mossman’s former mining management in British Columbia. In less than two years, his Banks Island Gold Ltd. operation had polluted the local environment enough for the Canadian government to shut it down. When the company’s safety manager identified safety issues in the mine, he was let go. And when they went bankrupt, scores of employees were left unpaid. And the security bond didn’t come close to covering cleanup costs.

Now Mr. Mossman and Rise Gold and their marketers want to set the same table for us, promising us a feast of plenty. They want us to believe they’ll protect our environment and health. But ladling sweet promises over a stale history of mismanagement and environmental degradation doesn’t cut it.

Let your county supervisor know that you’re not falling for their hype, and ask them to vote no on approving the mine.

Mark Wilson lives in Nevada City.


This opinion piece was originally published in The Union.


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