Historic issues with mine wastewater are paid for with both public and private funds, e.g., the Mine runoff from the Empire Mine which is now being treated by a wastewater treatment system built by Empire Mine State Park and mine owner Newmont Mining.
This opinion piece was originally published in The Union.
On Mothers’ Day in 2006, after my husband Guari and I had moved back to Nevada County, our grown kids and grandkids gathered at Memorial Park for a picnic. I had requested it since I had happy memories of being there at the park when we raised our children. I imagined that our grandchildren would also enjoy playing at the playground and splashing in the creek.
I was shocked to see that metal fencing blocked the so-called creek. Signs warned people to stay out because it contained hazardous chemicals. What a nightmare. As it turned out, it was not a creek at all, but the Magenta Drain, which handles discharge from the Empire Mine. Some weeks afterward, I saw people in Hazmat suits working to strengthen the fence. Chilling.
I thought back, remembering the kids playing in the creek and wondering what they had been exposed to and how it might have impacted their health. I still wonder what ailments might be traced back to those exposures. I know now that toxic waste at the mine included mercury, arsenic, cadmium, lead, and other pollutants, and that it flowed into Wolf Creek and other area streams, where people fish and swim.
In 2014, a grand jury report found that local residents’ health, welfare, and water quality may be compromised by toxic pollution caused by the Empire Mine, Lava Cap Mine, and North Star Mine, and that for over 30 years governmental agencies failed to coordinate or properly enforce cleanup required by legal settlements and abatement orders.
Mine runoff from the Empire Mine is now being treated by a wastewater treatment system built by Empire Mine State Park and mine owner Newmont Mining. In other words, it was paid for with both public and private funds. This commonly takes place with mining corporations around the world. In fact, there is often no accountability for mining corporations that pollute. Cleanup from mining operations (if it happens) is often paid for by the state. It’s called corporate welfare—private gain for corporate “persons” at the expense of flesh and blood human beings, communities, and ecosystems.
For example, Rise Gold’s CEO Ben Mossman is currently on trial in Canada. He faces nine federal and twenty provincial charges related to toxic spills by his previous mining company, which polluted tribal waters, went bankrupt, and left Canadians with the costs.
Naturally, we oppose the reopening of the Idaho-Maryland Mine. The Environmental Impact Report is deficient in so many ways. Members of our community have spent countless hours analyzing it and uncovering its flaws. And we have prior commitments as a community that we the people have worked hard to implement. Why would any member of the Planning Commission or the Board of Supervisors vote to approve this project, which would override and negate the stated goals of the Nevada County Energy Action Plan?
I entreat each member of the Board of Supervisors to oppose it. Community members, please take this time to study the issues. Go to Minewatch at https://www.minewatchnc.org/ to find out what you can do to stop this travesty from taking place. Make your views known to the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors.
The promises of a re-opened gold mine ring hollow considering the potential health risks, disruption of community values and commitments, damage to local ecosystems, threats of further toxicity to our children and future generations, and so much more. Our beloved Nevada County has been damaged by the toxic legacy of the Gold Rush, but there is still so much beauty and life here, so much to be saved and protected. We may think that we sit on top of the natural world and try to control it, that is not true, and the natural world is not expendable for human gain. We are part of the interconnected and interdependent community of life, and as Indigenous people have always known, what we do to the community of life, we do to ourselves.