Paul Schwartz, who resides in Grass Valley, reminds us that the story of gold in this area is primarily one of exploitation. The impact of mining on the health of the local populace and ecology were barely taken into account in the past and it appears that they are still coming in a distant second. Compliance with environmental regulations relies on monitoring by local authorities, who have often failed or been slow to respond.
Read it in The Union.
My first major decision as an adult was to leave my home town of Santa Barbara because the rents were very high and the wages low. I traveled to San Francisco in 1971 and the talk on the street was that Nevada City bicycle races and the Yuba River were both amazing. I arrived in Nevada City and while enjoying a sandwich in the Rainbow Mountain Inn, I was offered a job and a place to rent.
Over the next three-plus decades I married, raised a family, worked multiple jobs, bought a home, joined a food co-op, enjoyed the Yuba River and the bicycle races, got an education (commuted and long distance), participated in governing, and learned the beauty and the beast of our gold mining heritage.
That brings us to my opposition to the proposal by Rise Gold to reopen the Idaho Maryland Mine.
It’s easy to fall in love with the romantic story of the Gold Rush. The facts are that within one year of the discovery of gold, big money moved in and industrialized the removal of millions of dollars of gold.
Once that occurred there was little concern for the individual miner, environment, or the impact of dangerous chemicals flushed down Wolf and Deer creeks into the Sacramento River and the San Francisco Bay. Arsenic, mercury, and other chemicals outlawed today were used to remove the gold. The waste was stored in chemical ponds. When the rains came the ponds were opened up to flood into the streams and rivers.
Old-timers talked about Wolf and Deer creeks running white as milk on these occasions. When the mines closed in the 1950s, the remains of the waste ponds were pushed into the mine shafts and buried. We live today with this toxic legacy across much of our landscape.
If you see mine tailings, you are probably seeing legacy toxic waste. The Empire Mine State Park has begun to fence off these areas to keep tourists from picking through them for souvenirs.
We have learned from grand jury reports as recent as 2014 that the federal government, state, county and city regulators have failed to protect us from both the historical toxic legacy risks and current mining impacts.
I remember my kids playing in the stream that runs through Memorial Park and my wife picking watercress to add to our salad that night. That stream is now fenced off mainly due to the grand jury report calling it out.
The report called for Empire Mine and Newmont Mining to redirect the stream into safe holding ponds to limit the risk to the community. Although the stream is still fenced as it runs through Memorial Park, state parks and Newmont Mining completed a project to divert runoff away from the targeted contaminated soils and ensure they did not enter the greater watershed leaving Empire Mine State Park.
The mitigations are intended to stabilize and hold legacy mining process toxins in place. This is a mitigation strategy widely used to lower the risk of the poisons leaching into the community watershed. Thank you, Nevada County Grand Jury, for bringing this to the attention of our city, county and state leadership.
Aside from the million gallons of water that will be pumped out of the mine daily, the continual testing and monitoring of water quality, the dust and particulate that will cloud the air from the 1,000-plus tons a day of mine waste crushed and moved by truck every day, the noise that continuous industrial activity will add to our local soundtrack, the questionable practices that Rise Gold management used on their last gold mine that they are litigating currently in the Canadian courts, or the potential impact on hundreds of residential wells within the mineral rights boundary of the Idaho Maryland Mine, I question the ability of agencies responsible for oversight to regulate and control what Rise Gold does.
Speak out, write letters, talk to family and friends, ask our local leadership why they are considering retreating into our past instead of looking to our future.
Paul Schwartz lives in Grass Valley.