Comstock Mining Update – July 21, 2012

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Here on the Comstock, the citizens who act for the Comstock Residents Association (CRA) were geared up for the Storey County Commission meeting on July 19.

Polluted air and traffic congestion, compliments of CMI.
Polluted air and traffic congestion, compliments of CMI. Photo by Max Winthrop

The Commissioners were to vote on a request from Comstock Mining Inc (CMI) to allow ore trucks on the highway in Gold Hill. We expected to lose, and we did, but never did we expect to have the rug pulled out from under us the way it was.

We had come prepared to speak against allowing the trucks, but when the item came before the board it was immediately continued to the next meeting.

We were nonplussed, but in a little frenzy of whispers we decided it was a way of acknowledging the Open Meeting Law violation by the Planning Commission, which will have to re-agendize and hear the request again before it can be acted upon officially by the County Commission. Later one of the commissioners said no, it was because the signed minutes of the Planning Commission meeting hadn’t reached the County Clerk in time to consider them.

A round of staff reports ensued. It turns out that everything in Storey County is hunky-dory, and as citizens we couldn’t help but feel great about that.

And then, in a surprise move, and a dazzling display of bureaucratic legerdemain, Storey County Manager Pat Whitten turned everything upside down. He announced that on the advice of District Attorney Bill Maddox he was instructing county employees not to enforce any provisions of the Special Use Permit regarding trucks on the highway.

“The company can do as it pleases in that respect,” he said.

And that, suddenly, was that. It was as if, when a high-stakes chess game was about to begin, the referee had suddenly tipped the table over and declared a winner.

On to the next item on the agenda, the county endorsement of Congressman Mark Amodei’s bill to turn over some BLM surface rights to Storey County. While Pat Whitten described the Amodei bill and its beneficial effects, those of us still stunned by his previous pronouncement were trying to grasp the fact that the rug had been neatly pulled out from under us.

I spoke up, mentioning that the public hadn’t been given any information about the bill until five days before and had not been given an opportunity to participate in any discussion and blah blah blah.

I was having trouble catching my breath as I turned to Pat Whitten and told him that what he had said previously truly took my breath away, that I could scarcely believe my ears, and did he actually mean to say he was suspending the rule of law in Storey County?

He said absolutely not, he never said anything like that.

I asked him to repeat what he did say, so I could understand it properly.

He refused. “It’s in the record,” he snapped, and zipped his lips.

Then the commissioners voted unanimously to endorse the Amodei bill without further discussion. We’ve since learned that as much as 75% of Gold Hill could eventually be pit mined under this arrangement, and the entire Virginia City National Historic Landmark could be lost. 

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