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Archive for February, 2011

Editor’s Note: The following article was submitted by Ralph Silberstein, President, and Mike Pasner, Vice-President, of Citizens Looking at the Impact of Mining in Grass Valley (CLAIM-GV ). In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I’m a member of CLAIM-GV and have assisted in efforts to research the Draft Environmental Impact Report.

February 6,, 2011 was the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s birth, and when Grass Valley evaluates the controversial proposal to reopen the historic Idaho-Maryland Mine the late president’s signature phrase holds a timely piece of advice: Trust, but Verify.

When President Reagan uttered those words he was referring to an arms control treaty with the Soviet Union. At first glance, a nuke treaty with the Evil Empire seems a world away from reopening a historic gold mine in rural Grass Valley, California.

But the proposal by Emgold – a Canada-based mining company that has never actually operated a gold mine – to resume mining at Idaho Maryland carries both big promises and huge risks for our community, and it deserves equally serious scrutiny.

First, some history: in 2006, Emgold proposed a scheme to reopen the mine and build a ceramics plant to manufacture tile from excavated rock. That proposal quickly ran into trouble. State regulators and mine experts found serious problems with Emgold’s Draft Environmental Impact Report and by 2009 the project appeared to have quietly died.

But like a bad penny, Emgold’s scheme has returned.

Emgold is expected to submit a revised proposal by April 8th, and ultimately the Grass Valley City Council will vote it up or down. Before approving the proposal, however, the Council must verify its many golden promises:

Jobs: Under its initial plan, Emgold promised to create four hundred jobs over the next 20 years – 200 in the mine and another 200 in the ceramics factory. Sounds pretty good, especially in these tough economic times, right? But hold on – not only are these jobs figures speculative, but the Grass Valley General Plan has slated the mine site for a business park with the potential for 800 new jobs – 400 more than the mine promises. A potential loss of 400 jobs is a bad deal for Grass Valley.

Impact on Existing and Future Businesses: Not only could the mine cost Grass Valley long-term jobs, but it’s common sense that a mine might dissuade other high-paying employers from locating in the area. High-tech manufacturers have cautioned Grass Valley that vibrations from mining and increased truck traffic could upset sensitive operations and force them to leave town. And visitors might decide to spend their tourism dollars elsewhere if, rather than a church bell, they wake to the sound of 20-ton trucks rumbling through town. Grass Valley is already burdened with the tragic closure of Weaver Auto. Imagine the repercussions from a failed mine operation in downtown Grass Valley.

Public Safety and Pollution: Emgold’s own project proposal envisions a huge burden on Grass Valley’s streets, totaling 220 20-ton truck trips per day, seven days a week (that’s one every 7 minutes!). Then there’s the need to drain and clean 72 miles of mine tunnels of toxics-laden water and the risk of dewatering local resident’s wells. The price tag for ensuring public safety and environmental health grows quickly.

Cleanup and Long-Term Costs: Emgold promises the mine will operate for 20 years, but this promise is based on both the speculative value of gold and assumed (but not proven) gold reserves left in the mine. If gold prices crash or the reserves are smaller than anticipated the mine could close and leave Grass Valley with an unusable industrial mine site and long-term cleanup costs. The uncomfortable fact is that there is a failed mine behind every ghost town in the American West. Grass Valley has recent experience with closed mines: the discovery that the Newmont Mining site was contaminating local waters, the city was forced to spend more than three years and $2 million in legal fees just to force the mine operators to clean up their mess.

Grass Valley cannot afford – and should not pay for – another costly mine cleanup.

Emgold has made a lot of promises to Grass Valley. But reopening the mine carries huge risks: loss of long-term jobs and businesses, increased traffic, air and water pollution, threats to public health and quality of life and a huge cleanup bill if those promises aren’t kept.

Before the Grass Valley City Council approves reopening the Idaho Maryland Mine it must prove to the community that the benefits greatly outweigh the risks.

The Gipper was right: when it comes to our long-term safety, security and prosperity we should Trust, but Verify.

Ralph Silberstein – President,
Mike Pasner -Vice-President,
Citizens Looking At the Impacts of Mining
CLAIM-GV

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I’m still getting Google alerts on “vested rights” after following the Blue Lead Mine application for that right some months ago.

Aerial View of Lehigh Quarry -- Cupertino

Today’s alert points to an article describing a decision by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors (against the advice of its own staff) to grant vested rights to Lehigh Heidelberg Cement Group, which will now not have to apply for new land-use permits to quarry on 13 of 19 parcels it owns in unincorporated lands adjacent to the towns of Cupertino and Los Altos in the San Francisco Bay Area. Instead, it will be able to operate under the rules in place at the time mining first began on their property.

The Santa Clara County BOS was apparently very influenced by our own Nevada County Hansen case. In fact, the attorney in the Hansen case (Mark Harrison) also argued this case before the Santa Clara County Board (he was allowed 15 minutes to speak, but the main opposition group, No Toxic Air, was not accorded equal time).

County staff members had placed a boundary around the areas where they said they could show there had been mining, or intent to mine, which included portions of parcels.

The recommendation was to grant vested rights within those boundaries. Instead, supervisors granted rights to entire parcels.

It was a disappointing decision for Quarry No founder Bill Almon of Los Altos Hills.

“The impact of this is huge,” he said. “I don’t think (the supervisors) realize what they were giving up.”

Despite the assurances by staff that future activities will include reclamation plans and environmental reviews, Almon called those measures weak compared with land-use permits, which he claimed gives government more regulatory control.

Also disappointed was Cupertino Councilman Barry Chang, who led a protest outside of the county headquarters before the hearing and passionately addressed the board—to some low “boos” from Lehigh supporters in the audience.

Chang said he and his group, No Toxic Air, had asked that their attorneys be given the same amount of time to address the board as Lehigh’s attorney, 15 minutes. The request was denied, leaving members one minute apiece to speak.

Their goal, Chang said, was to point to other court cases that they believe allow government bodies to rule against vested rights when there is potential harm to the public involved. It was why members pointed over and over again to possible harm from mercury and other toxins emitted by the plant.

This part of the Peninsula is our old stomping ground. Los Altos, particularly the town of Los Altos Hills, is a very upscale area, nestled near the mostly beautiful foothills of the southern Peninsula.

Here’s a fascinating short YouTube video posted on one of the opposition websites, No Toxic Air, highlighting the toxic mercury risks of Lehigh’s quarry operations:

And here’s the Granicus video of the portion of the February 8th Santa Clara Board of Supervisors meeting in which the Lehigh issue was discussed. AFTER VIDEO STARTS, CLICK ON ITEM #27.

CLICK TO PLAY VIDEO (THEN CLICK ITEM #27)

More Resources

Quarry No

No Toxic Air

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Originally published in Alternet.

By Payal Sampat and Scott Cardiff.

Communities affected by mining deserve meaningful changes that improve real conditions on the ground.

Thinking of giving your sweetheart gold jewelry for Valentine’s Day? You might want to first know what goes into making it. Extracting enough gold for one ring takes an average of two pounds of cyanide (a teaspoon will kill you). Processing the gold in one ring uses over 1,400 gallons of water, enough to meet the daily needs of 100 people. Left behind is a toxic sludge containing heavy metals, cyanide compounds, and arsenic. Each gold ring produces an average of 20 tons of waste – millions of tons over the life of a mine.

Producing gold can also come at great human cost. Mines are often imposed on communities that don’t want them, and cause communities to lose their lands and livelihoods. Human costs also include the use of child labor in mines in Mali, dangerous conditions in mines in Ghana, and armed violence and human rights violations that have been linked to gold mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Seven years ago, the No Dirty Gold campaign called on jewelers to stop using gold produced in irresponsible ways. The campaign focused on jewelry because it is the primary end use of gold, accounting for some 80 percent of the annual mine production. More than 100,000 people have since signed the No Dirty Gold pledge to demand that companies not sell gold produced at the expense of communities, workers, and the environment. Over 70 jewelers have signed on to the Golden Rules for responsible sourcing of gold and precious metals. By signing they have sent a clear message to their suppliers about their desire for more responsibly produced metals. They have committed to seeking out responsible sources and independent verification of sourcing claims, and to increasing their use of recycled gold.

Over 50 jewelers have also pledged to protect the world’s most valuable wild sockeye salmon fishery from an irresponsible mine project. At the request of the commercial fishing and indigenous communities of Bristol Bay, Alaska, they have promised not to use gold from the proposed Pebble mine. If built, Pebble would be the largest open-pit mine in North America, and would dump up to 10 billion tons of toxic waste at the headwaters of Bristol Bay.

Many jewelry companies have taken important steps in the right direction, but others, like Target, have turned a blind eye. Some jewelers have been so anxious to reassure their customers that they can shop without hurting their conscience that they have done so without any guarantee that the jewelry is actually being produced in more responsible ways.

Take Walmart. No Dirty Gold has commended Walmart for being the first Big Box retailer to sign the Golden Rules, and for taking steps to track its supply chain. But in its haste to launch a “green” jewelry line, Walmart made claims that were not accurate. Last month, an investigation for New Times by Jean Friedman-Rodovsky exposed the truth behind Walmart’s ‘Love, Earth’ line of jewelry, revealing that it comes at a great cost to workers in Bolivia and to the environment and communities around mines in the United States.

Another example of PR claims without meaningful change is the mining and jewelry industry-led Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC). This is a trade association ostensibly concerned about social and environmental issues throughout the gold and diamonds supply chain. But its members do not include affected communities, mining unions or public interest groups.

The system as it is currently structured doesn’t move us any closer to more responsible mining.

Communities and places affected by mining deserve meaningful changes that improve real conditions on the ground. One step in the right direction is the recent set of rules drafted by the Securities and Exchange Commission requiring companies traded on U.S. stock exchanges to determine if they are using gold from conflict mines in the Congo. An initiative to develop standards and an independent verification process for gold and other metals is now underway – and this effort, the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance or IRMA, includes both civil society and corporate participants.

Consumers care about their purchases and want to be assured that their gold jewelry or cell phone did not come at the cost of human rights or the environment. Jewelry companies should support transparency and truly independent verification of the metals supply chain, and insist that their suppliers provide them with cleaner alternatives to “dirty” gold. Now that’s an idea we could grow to love.

Payal Sampat is international campaign director and Scott Cardiff is international campaign coordinator for EARTHWORKS, an international mining reform organization.

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Jesse McKinley, writing in the New York Times on February 10th (“Old Mines Reopen in a Revival of California’s Gold Rush“), notes the local community opposition to re-opening the Idaho-Maryland Mine and finds that, “like many other towns in the Mother Lode, Grass Valley has long since moved its economy away from mining.”

The Idaho-Maryland project is much further from being shovel-ready than the Lincoln Mine: pumping out more than 50 years of water will take time, after all, as does completing a variety of environmental impact reports and permitting processes. And the prospect of a newly opened mine has also been met with opposition from some local activists, whose worries are rooted in both the legacy of the first Gold Rush — including contaminated and sediment-filled rivers and hillsides denuded by hydraulic drills — and by more modern quality-of-life concerns like traffic, noise and water rights.

“We’d be looking at reopening a mine in the middle of a city,” said Ralph Silberstein, the president of a grass-roots group called Citizens Looking At the Impacts of Mining in Grass Valley (or CLAIM-GV). “Which is not a good idea.”

Indeed, like many of the other towns in the Mother Lode, Grass Valley has long since moved its economy away from mining toward things like software and tourism.

Read the full story here.

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