Terry McLaughlin: Still not convinced mine should reopen
After a year of following mine news, this conservative Union columnist still believes the negatives overwhelm any good the mine could bring to our community.
This opinion piece was originally published in The Union.
Almost a year ago in this column I waded into the discussion about the potential reopening of the Idaho-Maryland mine by Rise Gold Corp. At the time, I was skeptical about Rise Gold’s claims and have since closely followed the news articles, research and progress of this proposal.
To date, nothing has been presented sufficient to change my belief that the negative aspects of this project overwhelm any good that may come to our community.
Specific environmental issues have been discussed in depth in this newspaper, including the potential dewatering of wells situated near the mine, air quality, vibrations from blasting and other mine operations, noise and decibel levels, gravel-hauling trucks making up to 100 round trips per day for seven days a week on Brunswick and Whispering Pines, as well as trucks on our roads transporting fuel oil, diesel fuel, explosives, and other flammable supplies.
Carefully researched information on those environmental issues has been presented by multiple residents in our community with far more experience and knowledge than myself.
The draft environmental impact report concludes that every one of the impacts is between neutral or negative, with many significantly negative. None are neutral positive. Absent any positive impact, there must be a significant economic or quality of life benefit to offset the negative environmental aspects to justify this project.
To gain more insight into the actual logistics of a project of this scope, I have been communicating with a local friend who has decades of experience as a project manager on multi-million dollar development projects in the United States and around the world. He has served as a consultant on the preparation of a number of environmental impact reports and economic evaluations and has been engaged by multiple governments on projects where response to an environmental review was required.
I found his reflections on the current proposal to reopen the Idaho Maryland mine to be very valuable, as they were based upon years in the field dealing with exactly these types of scenarios.
Whether the draft report understates the negative environmental impacts of this project or not, the report requires monitoring and mitigation, and currently there are no teeth included.
In similar projects my friend has been involved in worth hundreds of millions of dollars, the approval by the city, state or county requires payment to the public entity for the continuous monitoring of the environmental conditions.
If the Board of Supervisors were to approve this project, it should minimally require a specific performance bond to fund any mitigation that may be needed to correct deficiencies for the life of the project, which is currently proposed to be 80 years. The county would then have the legal authority to tap into the bond to mitigate problems should Rise Gold not do so in a timely manner, or if they should file bankruptcy, as they have done in the past.
My friend’s recommendation for a project of this scope, based upon his experience, was that the mitigation bond should be $100 million, which could potentially be decreased by mutual agreement after several years of successful operation.
He observed that Nevada County has no ability with current staff or budget to adequately monitor environmental performance, as well as to review and authenticate the reports required to be filed by the operator. Estimates for continuing monitoring of this project could require one and one-half full-time employees, at a cost of approximately $180,000 per year. The operator should be charged a fee each year to cover the cost of year-round monitoring and evaluation, and if the fee is not paid, the funds could be drawn from the performance bond.
My friend also challenged the employment projections made by Rise Gold. Rise Gold’s latest glossy mailer claims that “Our project will create over 600 jobs and $50 million in new local spending annually …. Reopening the mine means over 300 new employees in safe and satisfying careers with an average expected annual earnings of more than $122,000, including benefits. The mine will also spur an additional 300 jobs through related new business in the area.”
This will simply not occur, as a large proportion of the two-week-on, two-week-off employment will be out-of-area workers who will not relocate to the county, and their spending patterns will be only a fraction of those represented.
My friend has just completed five years of work in the oil fracking fields of North Dakota, where $80,000,000 of county funds were spent to mitigate the impact of thousands of transient workers coming in to work two-week shifts of 12 hours on, 12 hours off.
Workers coming from out of Nevada County would have a negative impact on temporary low-cost housing — of which Nevada County already has a shortage — law enforcement, road maintenance, traffic improvements, public health, and other county costs, with no resulting increase in property taxes and very little impact on sales tax.
In contrast to Rise Gold’s claim that “the Idaho Maryland Mine will strengthen and diversify the local economy and provide a brighter future for Nevada County families,” it looks more like reopening the mine would only negatively impact the environment, increase the cost to the county for services, require constant monitoring, and produce only a fraction of the jobs promised for current unemployed workers.
I am not convinced that Rise Gold’s claims would ever reflect reality for this community.
Terry McLaughlin, who lives in Grass Valley, writes a twice monthly column for The Union. Write to her at email@example.com