Grass Valley, CA – Nevada County Supervisors may soon consider whether or not to approve a controversial plan to reopen a historic gold mine in Grass Valley. To inform their decision, the County commissioned an Economic Impact Report studying the Idaho-Maryland Mine. The report was authored by consultant Robert D Niehaus, Inc. (RDN). A community webinar on Tuesday offered perspectives and insights from community experts on the report’s findings.
The long-shuttered Idaho Maryland Mine is proposed to be reopened by RISE Gold Corp – a company headquartered in Canada. Nevada County was once the epicenter for gold mining. The big mines shut down in the 1950s, and mining is now less than ½% of the local economy. The County, particularly Grass Valley, is now considered a scenic and cultural destination.
For the last three years, businesses, residents, and community leaders have expressed concerns about the potential economic impacts of the mine, including impacts on tourism, property values, tax revenue, and high-tech companies.
“We are grateful to the County for commissioning an independent economic report, which provided a useful framework for assessing the impacts,” said Ralph Silberstein, President of CEA Foundation. “It corrected some of Rise Gold’s most outrageous claims. And yet, like the Draft EIR released earlier this year, the report relied heavily on information provided by the applicant.” During the webinar, Silberstein noted that RDN downgraded Rise Gold’s local spending projections, adjusting initial claims of generating over $12.5M a year to just under $5M. Similarly, assertions about generating 300 “indirect” jobs were reduced to 163 jobs..
“Economic studies often present an incomplete picture,” stated John Vaughan, CIO PRIDE Industries, retired. “In this case, the software model used is designed to showcase benefits and highlight revenues – it is specifically designed not to show economic risk and real cost. When used in combination with data provided by Rise Gold, many of the economic benefits were unrealistic.”
IMPLAN, the software model utilized in the study, is widely used within the industry by project applicants to highlight the economic benefits of a project, but it has limitations. For instance, Vaughan asserted that Rise Gold’s estimate of annual expenses is half the industry average, thus inflating the estimate of mineral property taxes that would be paid to the County. In addition, the cost of risk to the County for catastrophic events, health consequences, and other unintended outcomes was not included in the report.
”This report is in no way conclusive,” stated Jim Steinmann, Founder of Steinmann Facility, Planning and Project Management. ”Benefits to the community are substantially overstated, the costs of operations are understated, and
the risks are ignored. For instance, over half the workers would likely be commuters sharing rental housing. Only a fraction of their spending would stay in the County.”
Mining is a different kind of job compared to most other industries. With 12 hour shifts and one-week-on / one-week-off schedules, many workers live elsewhere, commuting in for half the month and spending far less money locally. Steinmann asserted that commuting workers would comprise 58% of Rise Gold’s workforce, rather than the 32% stated in the report. He also downgraded their local spending estimates from $61M to just over $15M. Steinmann has decades of project management experience on mining and industrial projects, including the development of economic impact reports.
Impacts on property values were also a hotly contested issue. Attendees were taken through an extraordinary visual journey comparing the neighborhoods around the three mines used in the real estate case study. “The case studies show us that this project is unprecedented,” said Martin Webb, KVMR Radio Host and four-time business owner. “RDN identified three mines that were similar, but none were a good match for our properties, home values, or the sheer number of homes in close proximity to the mine.”
The Draft Environmental Impact Report states that dozens of long-term adverse impacts will remain, such as traffic, noise, and visual impacts. The RDN report acknowledges these impacts could make “the surrounding area a less desirable place to live or visit,” translating to economic costs, including reduced property values and county tax revenues. The report, however, does not try to quantify these costs.
“A closer examination of the RDN Report leaves a lot of room for questioning their conclusions. Tuesday’s panelists found that the numbers were overly optimistic, that the real estate estimates were a big miss, and that the possible economic benefits to the community would be overshadowed by a lot of downside risk.” Silberstein concluded.
The Final Environmental Impact Report was released Friday, December 16th. That sets the controversial proposal up for consideration in early 2023. The environmental review process does not require the completion of an economic study, but the five-person County Board of Supervisors will consider both reports when deliberating on the project in the new year.
A link to a recording of the webinar can be found at MineWatch December Meeting – Economic Report Review
For more information about the potential re-opening of the Idaho-Maryland Mine visit: www.MineWatchNC.org
About CEA Foundation: Community Environmental Advocates Foundation (CEA Foundation) performs research, education, and advocacy to promote responsible land use and environmental protection policies in Nevada County. www.cea-nc.org. CEA Foundation is the sponsor of MineWatch, a campaign that brings together a coalition of nonprofit organizations, residents, and businesses opposed to the mine. www.MineWatchNC.org