Comstock Mining Update – June 21, 2013

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   There’s been a lot going on. Much of it — like Comstock Mining Inc’s truckload-by-truckload destruction of the Virginia City National Historic Landmark — is painfully obvious, but some of it took place quietly out of the public eye, quietly in court rooms and sparsely attended public meetings.

 

Goodbye Hartford Hill, you'll be gone soon. At $1300/oz it takes about 60 tons of National Historic Landmark to produce a
Goodbye Hartford Hill, you’ll be gone soon. At $1300/oz it takes about 60 tons of National Historic Landmark to produce a “gold-equivalent ounce”. Photo by Max Winthrop

One such was the Silver City Town Meeting of May 7 at which a proposal for community workshops between the citizenry and CMI was discussed. The company wants its nose in the tent, and few local residents see any benefit to working with CMI when the pay-off is the destruction of their community.

Highlight of the public discussion was provided by Scott Jolcover, a representative of CMI who informed the citizenry of his business acumen and high professional standing. “When I was a young man in the Bay Area,” he went on to say, “I smoked a lot of pot.” CMI’s CEO Corrado De Gasperis was seated next to him, and he sank down in his chair and put his head in his hands as Jolcover continued — “and I wore bell-bottom pants!”

Not all the meetings we attend are as entertaining as that, but maintaining an active presence is essential to our mission. In order to prevail, we must show up, and show up prepared. Some of these meetings are heavily attended and reported in the press, others are not, but they all require time and energy to stay in the game even if no-one ever hears about it.

For example, on May 15, the CRA was invited to make a presentation to the seven-member state Mining Oversight and Accountability Commission (MOAC) in Carson City.

MOAC was established by Governor Sandoval after it was discovered that no-one was auditing the mining companies to see that they honestly fulfilled their tax obligations. Administratively, MOAC is a part of the Nevada Tax Commission, but its purview includes operation, safety and environmental regulation of mines and mining as well as taxation.

CRA board members Joe McCarthy and Gayle Sherman spoke, as did Lyon County Planning Commissioner Larry Wahrenbrock and John Hadder of Great Basin Resource Watch.

Gayle pointed out that although the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection does a good job of protecting the public with limited resources, there is no overarching review of all the activities of a particular mining company. “CMI is regulated one permit at a time without regard to cumulative damage to the environment or the Landmark,” she said. Gayle’s full remarks are here.

Joe McCarthy spoke about the ongoing degradation of the Virginia City National Historic Landmark by CMI’s open pit mining; Joe’s remarks are here.

Larry Wahrenbrock urged the Commission to review and overhaul the mine permitting process, and to establish a single entity empowered to review compliance with regulatory requirements, ensure environmental responsibility and provide a transparent public process for review of proposed mining operations. Larry’s remarks are here.

John Hadder of Great Basin Resource Watch asked the Commission to support legislation requiring that pit lakes created by surface mining be designed or modified to provide beneficial post-mining recreational use. John’s remarks are here.

Bill Sjolvangen introduced himself as a Storey County Commissioner, and said everything is hunky-dory with CMI and Storey County.

Meetings, meetings, meetings. Long hours on hard seats. Standing up as citizens because if you don’t stand up you get run over.

This was a meeting early in the struggle, before Storey County DA Bill Maddox banned our signs and symbols.
This was a meeting early in the struggle, before Storey County DA Bill Maddox banned our signs and symbols. Photo by Max Winthrop

The next one was more exciting, but less productive. The Storey County Planning Commission met on Thursday June 20 to consider an SUP amendment request from CMI to expand its production facility in American Flat.

Previous to the meeting, CRA had discovered that Senior Planner Austin Osborne’s father is employed at the CMI processing facility. CRA sent Storey County District Attorney Bill Maddox a letter pointing out that this has the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Senior Planner Osborne opened the meeting by making an impassioned statement to the effect that he loves his father, and is proud he’s out working at his age but would never stray from the path of rectitude out of concern for his dad’s job.

He then went on to say that the SUP amendment request is for a 35-acre expansion and rearrangement of the American Flat production facility and that nothing else could be discussed. In Storey County the staff tells the Commissioners what they can discuss and what they can’t.

Five CRA board members and supporters spoke in hopes the Commissioners would table the expansion request until CMI has the necessary permits in order to allow a real review of the impacts. CMI people spoke in favor of their expansion request without delay.

Then Planning Department head Dean Haymore made the rafters ring as he denounced any hesitation by the Commissioners as hinting at a “Taking”, and suggesting a big liability for the County if the Commissioners were to impose conditions on CMI’s request. Speaking forcefully from the audience, Haymore made it plain he opposed any interference with the mining company getting what it wants.

Many meetings draw dozens of citizens to sit for hours in order to speak for three minutes.
Many meetings draw dozens of citizens to sit for hours in order to speak for three minutes. Photo by Max Winthrop

Rattled by Dean Haymore’s high-amp lecture, the Commissioners began their consideration with a proposal by Commissioner John Herrington that Condition 5 of the original SUP be restored, preventing CMI’s future use of the highway by its ore trucks.

However, his suggestion was met with uncertainty since it concerned an aspect of the SUP not confined to American Flat and was therefore a forbidden topic.

District Attorney Maddox then spoke up. He said the Commissioners could not consider restoring Condition 5 to the SUP because it wasn’t on the agenda, even though the item on the agenda was an amendment request to the SUP and there is nothing to prevent the Commission from setting conditions in their recommendations.

If Commissioner Herrington actually managed to make a motion, it died without a second as Senior Planner Osborne, District Attorney Maddox and Dean Haymore had skillfully prevented full discussion of the SUP amendment. Instead of discussion and debate the Commissioners expressed confusion, and meekly took the only path left open to them: they voted unanimously to recommend approval of the company’s request without change or condition.

The expansion will allow CMI’s production capacity to increase by about four times, and the approving vote was just in time for the CMI executives to make a happy announcement at the annual shareholders meeting.

When the amendment request reached the County Commission at its next meeting a few days later, Commissioner Gilman asked a few questions and then it was granted by a unanimous vote.

Once again the County has sided with the mining company without concern or consideration for the residents who bear the brunt of converting a quiet residential area into a heavy industrial zone. The damage to the National Landmark is not a consideration.

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