Retired capital planner Paul Schwartz sees several gaps in the Independent Economic Impact Study commissioned by the County.
This opinion piece was originally published in The Union.
December 6, 2022
I am generally disappointed in the depth of the economic analysis and the decision to use the Rise Gold economic and jobs projections as the baseline for the analysis.
There was no testing the data or comparison to actual data from comparable operating mines. There is no analysis that considers the impact on the current balanced and prosperous economy in our County when we entertain a return to industrial gold mining.
What will the impact to an economy that more and more is built around tourism, recreation, and seniors?
In the Niehaus Economic Impact Report for Santa Barbara County, they concluded the impact of expanding the oil industry would seriously impact tourism. As a result of the study Santa Barbara rejected the expansion proposal. Where is the similar analysis for the impact of industrial mining operation in a residential neighborhood, on a scenic entryway to our County, and close to Grass Valley and Nevada City?
I can see a long list of what-ifs and unintended consequences that could affect the economic impact of the reopening of the IMM.
One need look no further that the Rise Gold leadership’s last gold mining enterprise and the unfunded toxic material cleanups in excess of $1.4 million, according to the media coverage.
What if the workers live outside the county because of affordable housing shortages here, thus spending their dollars somewhere else? What if labor contractors bus workers in? Again, no local spending.
What if the IMM purchases supplies and materials outside Nevada County, and there is no tax or multiplier revenue to the local economy?
What if the two years of construction to prepare the project for operations is completed by contractors from outside our county and that revenue disappears?
What about issues related to climate change and energy consumption that change the way we require an industrial enterprise operate? Does the county have the authority to change the requirements placed on Rise Gold in their 80-year permit approval?
What if Nevada County adopts stringent climate change regulations, carbon footprint restrictions, and county-wide carbon reduction goals? Will the residential sector have to make all the reductions or will Rise Gold and the Idaho Maryland Mine have to conform to new county and state climate change carbon reduction regulation?
One revealing part of the Niehaus report on the economic impact of reopening the Idaho Maryland Mine is the data pulled from our local real estate professionals. Seventy-nine percent of those responding to the questionnaire thought real estate values would decline. Eighty-nine percent thought the loss in value would be permanent. Seventy-two percent of the respondents thought the environmental impacts documented in the EIR would be significantly greater. These are folks who are intimately involved in the heartbeat of our local economy. We should trust their understanding in this case.
My wife and I took a 3,000+ mile road trip this summer through Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada. We drove through a lot of mining communities. In general, and anecdotal, our biggest take away in these communities was massive poverty and cultural decline. Silver City, New Mexico represents my biggest fears of the long-range impacts of industrial mining. At one time the town was very prosperous. The residential areas similar to ours had large Victorian homes. The downtowns had government buildings, restaurants, retail similar to ours. Today, the economy has collapsed. Residential properties and the downtown are in serious disrepair. Stores are closed and boarded-up and restaurants are gone.
Where in the Niehaus economic analysis is any work related to the possibility of this kind of impact of industrial mining to our local economy. Our local economy recovered from the age of big gold and large timber. Over the last four to five decades, we have built a strong balanced economy around construction, manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, information and finance, professional, scientific, and technical services, healthcare, arts and entertainment, and government and government services. Two years of COVID impacts hurt some sectors more than others, but generally, compared to many communities, we are doing OK because of the diversity of our economy. Niehaus presents no analysis related to the impact of reintroducing industrial mining to our well-balanced economic mix.
Thinking outside the box for a moment. What happens when the IMM reopens with a multimillion-dollar gold processing plant ready to go. Why wouldn’t other gold mining companies with deep pockets connect the tunnels and reopen the Empire and the North Star mines pumping out the water and processing the waste rock and gold at the Brunswick location. How big do the piles of waste rock grow? How much new particulate clouds our air? How many trucks are hauling waste rock on our roads? What is the impact of gold on our elections and governing? Just a thought on the slippery slope.
Paul S Schwartz lives in Grass Valley.