During the recent Board of Supervisors meeting an agenda item by County Counsel’s Office, increasing the contract price for legal services pertaining to the Rise Gold project, yielded a new development. Rise Gold, via their lawyer, informed the county they consider filing a petition granting them the “vested right to mine.”

Required public hearing will delay BOS decision on Rise Gold application

If Rise Gold moves forward with the petition for vested rights, Nevada County will have to hold public hearings on the matter. A California Appeals Court decision in 2006 requires vested rights decisions cannot be simply determined by the lead agency (generally a county or a city) but are subject to noticed public hearings.

During the August 8th BOS meeting, County Counsel clarified, “The reason for this current increase [in the legal fees contract] is, in meetings with Rise Gold recently, they have asserted that they have a vested right to mine. A vested right is a legal principle that asserts that they have a legal right to mine on the Brunswick site. They have not yet filed the petition, but they have told me that they are planning to file that petition. Once they do that, we have a mandate to address that and to take that first before the Planning Commission and then to the Board of Supervisors.”

On May 11, 2023, the Planning Commission unanimously recommended denying the project and the Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) submitted by the applicant. The decision to approve or deny the project and/or the EIR rests with the Board of Supervisors.

The Board of Supervisors Public Hearing for the proposed Idaho Maryland Mine – Rise Grass Valley Project was scheduled for October 2nd and 3rd. This would be postponed to allow for the vested rights hearings to be held.

Preparing the necessary documents, once the petition is filed, scheduling Planning Commission and BOS hearings on the matter might be accomplished by the end of the year.

If the petition is rejected, the BOS will then take up Rise Gold’s current application and EIR again in 2024.

Vested right to mine

A simple definition of “vested right to mine:” A mine operated before 1976 — when the state’s mining law, the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act (SMARA) became effective — and has continued to operate to the present time.

In Rise Gold’s own reclamation plan submitted with their application in 2020 and updated in September of 2022, the background information (page 8 of 957) reads as follows:

The Idaho-Maryland Mine is a historic, past-producing, underground gold mine. The mine produced 2,414,000 ounces of gold between 1866 and 1956. The mine has been inactive since its closure in 1956 and was inactive for several periods during its production period. In 1901 the mine was allowed to flood with water, and then the mine was dewatered in 1904. In 1914 it was again allowed to flood, and then it was dewatered in 1919. The mine was allowed to flood again after its final closure in 1956.

Idaho-Maryland Mine Reclamation Plan submitted by Benchmark Resources on behalf of Rise Gold

Any vested mine does not need to apply for a mining permit to the county and no California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) document for the mining operation itself is required. Another exemption concerns grading permits for roads, landing pads, staging areas, etc. Culverts and diversion ponds are also exempt from any oversight under the vested right to mine.

While a vested right to mine relieves an operator from some of the county regulations, all other Surface Mining and Reclamation Act (SMARA) requirements apply, including annual reporting, a lead-agency approved reclamation plan, and an annual financial assurance. Failure to have either a complete reclamation plan or financial assurance is subject to a penalty of up to $5,000 per day, and may also result in a cease-and-desist order.

Déjà vu

This is not the first time an applicant for a mining project applies for vested rights in Nevada County. In 2010, Blue Lead mine, represented by the same attorney now representing Rise Gold, applied for and ultimately failed to obtain vested rights.