In 2019, Rise Gold Corp., a private company based out of Canada, submitted plans to the Nevada County Planning Department outlining a proposal to reopen the long-abandoned Idaho-Maryland Mine – hidden away beneath the vibrant community of Grass Valley, an archive of toxic mine waste and an intricate underground tunnel system dating back to the Gold Rush Era of the 1800s.
In a community still recovering from the legacy effects of past mining operations, including exposure to both physical hazards on an altered landscape and chemical hazards such as mercury contamination, acid mine drainage and arsenic, lead and asbestos inhalation, the prospect of reawakening the mine has given rise to intense scrutiny and local activism, calling greater attention to the project’s significant environmental and public health impacts.
If you asked the average community member about the project, the sentiment is clear. Driving around the County and beyond you will see bright yellow lawn signs with the simple plea: “No Mine. Protect our Air. Water. Quality of Life.”
The project is currently under review by the Nevada County Planning Commission and will ultimately come before the Nevada County Board of Supervisors for a final vote, expected sometime in mid-2023.
As it turns out, a decision on this project is much more complex than meets the eye, particularly when considering the boarder context of California’s climate policy agenda.
In the fight against climate change, the proposed reopening of the Idaho-Maryland Mine is in direct conflict with not only local climate goals and initiatives, including the County’s own General Plan, but also with the State’s climate policies and long-term goals more broadly.
A key question to consider is, what role does our community want to have in the statewide effort to fight climate change? At the local level, this requires going far beyond the simple checking of boxes and comes down to a deeper question of true leadership and ethical obligation.
Proposed operations at the Idaho-Maryland Mine would generate an overwhelming 9,000 metric tons of new greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions annually from the proposed site in Grass Valley, plus another 4,000 metric tons of new GHGs from cement manufacturing performed offsite.
Nevada County already suffers from poor air quality due to extended wildfire seasons, vehicular pollution, factory emissions and other sources of dust and particulate matter accumulation, yet the community would have to endure further air quality impacts from rock crushing, hauling, and compacting activities that could release hazardous chemicals such as asbestos and silica particles into the air during mining operations.
Further, the excessive increase in diesel truck operations, road usage, and traffic generated by this project will only exacerbate local air quality concerns, damage to roadways, and increase electricity demand equivalent to approximately 5,000 new homes. The major uptick in new GHGs from this project reaches beyond local impact and contributes significantly to the state’s carbon footprint, ultimately detracting from statewide environmental goals.
This just scratches the surface when it comes to the project’s potential environmental impacts, which also include significant impacts to water quality, groundwater resources and wildlife habitat.
These impacts are not only harmful to the community directly, but they are in direct conflict with the state’s climate agenda.
So where does the Idaho-Maryland Mine project fit in to the broader context of our state’s climate change goals, and where should we go from here?
In 2022 alone, building on the work of years’ past, California enacted a sweeping portfolio of new climate laws, ranging from codifying the state’s long-term climate goal of achieving net-zero GHGs by 2045, to prioritizing clean electricity, to enacting a strong state budget that prioritizes tens of billions of dollars in climate spending – referred to as the “California Climate Commitment.”
From building regional climate resilience, to transitioning our state’s workforce to a carbon-neutral economy, to decarbonizing buildings, to prioritizing zero-emission vehicles, all while responding to wildfires, drought, and other catastrophic climate events – forward-thinking climate action is and has been at the forefront of decision making in California.
The bottom line is that the Idaho-Maryland Mine simply doesn’t have a place on the state’s path to a cleaner, greener economy, and California simply can’t afford to be set backwards in its intentional fight against climate change.
Reopening a toxic mine with significant environmental impacts for the benefit of very few is simply not a risk worth taking, particularly as we consider our role in the larger fight against climate change in California.
Every policy decision is a chance to do better for our communities and our environment. That is why our community is relying on our local government and its leadership to do the right thing and reject the reopening of the Idaho-Maryland Mine.
Join us in person at the Nevada County Planning Commission hearing on Wednesday, May 10 at 9:00 AM at the Eric Rood Administrative Center, at 950 Maidu Avenue in Nevada City, California, to let our local government officials know this project is wrong for our community and for California.
Gianna Setoudeh is the Policy Director for the South Yuba River Citizens League