The struggle over pit mining in the Virginia City National Historic Landmark has shifted south through Devil’s Gate from Storey to Lyon County.
At last month’s scheduled hearing before the Lyon County Planning Commission, Comstock Mining Inc asked for a continuance, saying it hadn’t had time to prepare. This time (December 10, 2013) company CEO Corrado De Gasperis delivered the applicant’s response to the Planning Commission Staff Report just 30 minutes prior to the meeting, giving no-one any time to prepare a reasoned response.
He was rebuked by two board members for introducing new and irrelevant material relating to the drawing of the town boundaries, materials requiring careful review, but allowing no time to do it. Commissioner Wahrenbrock mentioned CMI’s incompetence, Commission chairman Davies criticized Mr. De Gasperis’ manipulating and misleading the Planning Commissioners.
To a resident of Storey County like myself it was a stunning revelation. In Lyon County the commissioners tell the Staff what to do, not the other way around. They ask questions intending to form opinions, and they state opinions openly. Most startling of all: they protect their residents’ rights.
Whatever the reason, Mr. De Gasperis was noticibly off his game once again. Where he has so often met setbacks by rushing to spread Harmony, Good Will and Yes-Indeedy, he seemed hesitant, chastened and vague.
“I thought the staff would correct our presentation,” he said at one point. Board member Larry Wahrenbrock of Silver City responded: “You thought our Staff would do your job?”
“We decided not to rebut Staff because there are so many debatable points,” Mr. De Gasperis stated. “We are committed to proper planning, but we think some properties were wrongly excluded from the town limits.” The commissioners replied that the town boundaries are not important to the issue. “But blah blah blah,” Mr. De Gasperis said in a tired whine. “Bleat bleat.”
Besides the bankruptcy of his arguments, Mr. De Gasperis’s remarks emphasized that CMI isn’t really a mining company, it’s a real estate management firm, “one-third owned by Intergroup” he stated, and showed attractive scenes of apartment complexes from that company’s website. The thought that real estate manipulators like John V. Winfield or whoever he sells to might end up owning dense development rights in Silver City cast a further pall over the proceedings.
Erich Obermayr, Chairman of the Silver City Town Board, explained the town’s position, which is that granting the application would be a disaster for Silver City. “This is an effort to reinvent our town by outsiders,” he said, “which is neither wanted nor needed.”
John Marshall, the Comstock Residents Association attorney, spoke to the point that CMI shifted its ground in its new response to the Staff Report. He pointed out that CMI’s abandoning that argument in favor of this new one was an admission that the staff had it right.
He reminded the Commissioners that their predecessors had consistently ruled that open pit mining was an incompatible near neighbor to the quiet town of Silver City.
Major Player Bails Out of CMI Deal
CMI announced shortly after this meeting that Al Fiegehen, owner of the Dayton Consolidated and 3 additional claims, had exchanged all remaining interest in his property and any claim to future royalties for one million shares of common stock, worth about $1.50/share when the deal was struck. If he is careful about it, and the stock price holds after the Lyon County setback, he will escape with about 1.5 million dollars. CMI now owns outright the properties it deems “the company’s second largest, classified gold and silver resources”, but for the company’s sweet dream of mining there to come true, the Lyon County Commission would have to break all precedent and renounce the Planning Commission’s recommendation to spare Silver City.
When the CRA video had been shown, the floor was opened to public comment. Speakers on behalf of Silver City wore a distinctive loop of red ribbon pinned to their lapels. Many of the speakers on behalf of the mining company wore new CMI caps and brown shirts.
Prominent among the speakers was Scott Jolcover, a former Director of CMI, who threatened Lyon County with a lawsuit that would go all the way to the Supreme Court if the County rules against CMI’s request. Where Mr. De Gasperis had seemed grasping at straws, Mr. Jolcover was blunt: “If you get in our way we’ll take Lyon County to all the way to the Supreme Court.”
There were so many speakers, in fact, that the meeting was recessed for lunch and Item 1 on the agenda didn’t conclude until after 2 pm with a 5-1 (1 absent) vote against the Master Plan Amendment and unanimous 6-0 against the Zoning change.
These questions now go to the Lyon County Commission for decision at its January 2 meeting, with emphatic recommendations for denial from the Silver City Town Board and from the Lyon County Planning Commission.
There are five commissioners on the Lyon County Board, and one of them was elected with help from the Intergroup Corporation, the real estate management company that Mr. De Gasperis claims owns a big piece of CMI. John V. Winfield, CMI’s Chairman of the Board, owns a big piece of Intergroup as well. He also controls Santa Fe Financial Corp and Portsmouth Square Inc. Each of those three California corporations contributed $2,500 to one Lyon County Commission candidate at the last election, and CMI contributed $10,000 on top of that for a total of $17,500 from John V. Winfield.
That candidate was elected; his name is Hastings.
I’ll be at Yerington wearing the red ribbon. You should come too, extra ribbons will be available.