NevadaGram #132 – August 2012 Pit Mining the Comstock and A Visit with Marta Becket

What They’re saying About Us

The New York Times goes crayfishing at Lake Tahoe.

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The Virginia City National Historic Landmark is under attack by Comstock Mining Inc., a rogue company hoping to dig enormous pit mines in Silver City and Gold Hill.

Even before it begins mining in earnest the company has ravaged the historic landscape.

The struggle began in November 2010 when CMI’s president, Corrado De Gasperis, appeared at a Silver City Town Meeting and announced the company’s plan to turn about 15% of the historic town into thin air. The great hole it planned at the Dayton Consolidated mine would take the southwestern part of Silver City with it.

“We’re here and we’re doing this, so get used to it,” De Gasperis said, or words to that effect. Before he put away his Power Point presentation the Comstock Residents Association had formed in the back of the room and the war was on.

It has been on ever since.

The CRA is not opposed to mining, and we don’t oppose pit mining where it is appropriate and done responsibly. But it’s not appropriate within a National Historic Landmark, in the national priority Carson River Mercury Superfund site, or where people live. We’re all three.

CMI has embarrassed itself and the state’s mining industry with its clumsy and increasingly desperate efforts to avoid environmental oversight.

Here’s what’s happening now. Recently the BLM changed its rules for Right Of Way (ROW) access on public lands, requiring everyone with a permit to re-apply, including CMI. In October, 2011, the company applied for ROW access to use the haul road connecting the Lucerne Pit with the processing facility at American Flat. In this application CMI stated emphatically (three times) that it would be crossing public land.

When the BLM returned the application as incomplete (no Mining Plan, among other discrepancies), the company did not reapply.

CMI workers conducted a search for mercury contamination in Gold Hill, adding to the impression that they are alien invaders.

Nevertheless, in the spring of this year CMI’s beleaguered CEO launched a 76-trombone “March to Production”. De Gasperis promised shareholders that this golden outcome would occur this summer, and there would be an August pour (meaning an ingot of precious metals derived from the local ore).

And yet the leaves tore themselves off the calendar . . . April . . . May . . . June . . . and still no ore. For a time an endless chain of trucks came grinding up the highway hauling materials for the expanded leach pad in American Flat, and then hurrying back down empty to get another load. There was a truck going by every two minutes.

But without the haul road, how could CMI move any ore? Had it literally dug itself a hole it couldn’t climb out of? So it seemed.

If the request is granted, fully-laden truck and trailer combinations will enter the highway here from a dead stop and proceed up the steep grade, adding an unexpected obstruction on the main southern access road to Virginia City.

And then De Gasperis made a sudden, desperate move: he closed off the haul road to the public and started sending the 50-ton Haul-Paks over it without permission, asserting that it was private land after all, and under company control.

That decision defines CMI: Fumble the application, but then take what you want anyhow, and make up a plausible-sounding story to justify it if you get caught.

And of course CMI got caught: BLM served the company with a Cease & Desist Order citing Trespass, and closed the haul road to CMI’s traffic. The company has been given temporary ROW access for street-legal vehicles (but not the huge ore trucks) on a second road under dispute.

Now CMI is desperate. It can’t operate but it can still wriggle. Early in July the company requested a change in the County Special Use Permit (SUP) modified most recently in 2004.

It wants to use the state highway to haul its ore and it wants no County constraints on the kind of trucks it uses. The request was presented on the Planning Commission agenda as a “minor administrative adjustment”.

CRA objected, and on July 19 the court room upstairs in the Storey County Court House was packed as the Planning Commission meeting was called to order at 6 pm. For almost five hours company employees and contractors spoke in favor of granting the request and local citizens spoke against it.

The BLM representatives performed well, explaining in simple and straightforward terms the process by which CMI had been red-tagged.

But it was Corrado De Gasperis who took the Oscar. Once again he flung himself and his “March to Production” on the mercy of the Commissioners, groveling and whining over the bad hand that fate had dealt him. As hard as he and his minions had tried to be compliant, he sobbed, they hadn’t been able to satisfy the rigid demands of the heartless regulators. Never once had the company avoided any environmental rule or regulation, he sniffled, his innocent eyes brimming with tears, and the dog ate his homework.

CMI’s activities involve putting dust of unknown toxicity into the air we breathe.

When a nearby spectator laughed under his breath, Corrado called him out: “When have we?”

“When you withdrew your ROW application to use the haul road because you don’t dare face an Environmental Impact Study,” the man said. (It was Larry Wahrenbrock of Silver City).

Corrado glared at him for a moment, and then wilted. “I wish you were in my shoes,” he said.

In the end the people lost. The Commissioners voted 3-2 for approval. But the people are winning the war. We’re Grant, CMI is Lee.

When the minutes of this meeting are approved, the request goes to the County Commissioners for their decision. It will be a momentous vote with far-reaching after effects. For example, the County Commissioners might grant the request and with the ore trucks crowding the scenic/historic corridor we could see commuters and tourists confined to the truck route.

Gold Hill in the bonanza years.

Or, the Commissioners might decide that the time for “minor administrative adjustments” lapsed many years ago and refuse the request, while inviting the company to apply for a new SUP with the conditions it wants.

If the company succeeds in pit mining lower Gold Hill, the integrity of the National Historic Landmark will be ruined. Our history will be hauled off, pulverized and treated with cyanide like the rest and when it is done there will be nothing but an enormous empty crater, forever.

And when it becomes a poison pond in our grandchildren’s time, as the Anaconda pit at Yerington has become in ours, they might wish CMI had been made to follow the rules from the beginning.

More next time, with the outcome of the vote.

A Visit With Marta Becket


Ted Faye

Ted and Marta

I first met Marta nearly

20 years ago while roaming Death Valley working on my first film,“Death Valley Memories”. I saw her onstage performing her unique dance-tales and she truly left an impression, not only for her performing but also for her amazing art which is now the stuff of legend in Death Valley.

I think, as one of my good friends often says, that Marta will be remembered like Death Valley Scotty. People came from all over to visit Scotty in his “castle”. Today it’s much the same for Marta.

Marta in an earlier time.

But time takes its toll on all of us and Marta, now in her mid-eighties, retired from the stage this February and isn’t seeing as many guests as she used to. But every time I stop by the Junction she always seems to have some time to visit and at her invitation it’s always a treat. So when I visited the Junction to meet some friends on my way back from Tonopah to L.A. last week it was great to see Marta again.

Ted Faye is an independent filmmaker who has produced ten films on the Death Valley region and also works with many Nevada communities and the Nevada Commission on Tourism to interpret and promote Nevada’s rich heritage. His work can be found here. For “The Ghosts of Death Valley Junction”, a one hour film in the Weird Tales series go here.

“Do you have the tape ready yet?” she asked. I knew exactly what she meant. I had recorded (we don’t use ‘videotape’ anymore) her retirement performance in February and she wanted to see it.

“Well, almost. I just need to grab the audio from my sound man.” I felt like I was making excuses.

“Well, I really want to see it,” she said. “Yep, I’ll get that for you.”

She looked at me intensely and with a really warm twinkle in her eyes. Marta gets these wonderful warm, knowing ‘twinkles’. There’s a bit of a mischievous quality to her at times and I’m never quite sure exactly what she’s going to say next. But I did want to change the subject.

“Do you remember the first interview we did?” I asked.

“Yes, I do,” she said.

Amargosa Opera House, Death Valley Junction.

“It was about the ghosts here at the junction,” I said, “That was one of the first things we talked about because I think some of them were giving you a hard time.”

“Yes,” she said, “we talked about the spirits and I showed you my painting.”

“I remember. You called it‘Family Reunion’“, I said.

“That’s right. The spirits could be seen hovering over a family sitting down for dinner. They were the spirits of their loved ones joining them here on earth.”

“I loved that painting,” I said. “There was something about those spirits hovering that was somehow comforting.”

I thought about the interview I did with her for my project“The Ghosts of Death Valley Junction”. I asked her if, after she passed on, she planned to stay at the Junction in her afterlife. She never missed a beat and said, “Absolutely. Unless I get a better offer.”

The Promenade, Death Valley Junction.

I have many fond memories of Death Valley Junction and Marta and one of the best was being one of the guests invited to sit at her table for her retirement dinner. It was a special night and she made, as always, a graceful exit from the stage.

These days it can be a challenge for a non-profit organization like the Amargosa Opera House (which is both the name of the theater and non-profit organization at the Junction). Stop by if you have a chance. Marta could use some help right now. Spend the night, get some grub (the food’s really good at the café!), pick some goodies up at the gift shop, or just send some bucks to the Amargosa Opera House at Death Valley Junction. After all, it is a non-profit and you can deduct it.

Marta Becket is truly a wonder in the desert and her gifts have enriched all of us who have known her or seen her work.

The Vegas Club at Lehman Caves.

Quick Notes from beyond the mountains: The Gillette Brothers are appearing at Piper’s Opera House in Virginia City on August 3. The concert starts at 7 pm. For advance tickets ($20.00; $25.00 at the door) or for more information, e-mail or call Toni Givant at 775-847-0433 . . .

Travus T. Hipp, 1937 - 2012
Travus T. Hipp, 1937 – 2012
Andrew Barbano bids farewell to Chandler Laughlin of Silver City, the acerbic radio broadcaster whose “Rawhide Reality Review” was broadcast on stations around the West.

photo courtesy Sparks Tribune

. . . Anthony Ithurralde is a young Ely artist now living in Salt Lake City. He recently created posters using Lehman Caves and caricatures of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. He writes: “I want to share with you my latest art project. I’ve posted it on a website called HERE.

It’s a webpage where artists can post projects and try to raise funds. The only stressful thing about it is if you don’t reach your goal by the deadline then you won’t receive anything! This project is important to me because it’s a satire regarding the Southern Nevada Water Authorities and their pipeline project from Spring Valley. This project is not

Is This What Happens in Vegas?

The new Cosmopolitan suggests that it is in this series of television commercials. This ad won Las Vegas’ first Effie award from the American Marketing Association in 15 years (a silver trophy for travel and tourism). The hotel also picked up a Clio Award for a commercial that depicted a showdown between two men fighting over the same woman, set to the spoken lyrics of Queen’s 1970s hit, “Bohemian Rhapsody”. The campaign is called “The Right Amount of Wrong.”

like my other art works. It’s has a little more edge.” I’m putting in $30 for the set of 7 cards, of which I will keep one or two, and give the rest to friends & family. I think it’s a visual treat with an indelible message . . . The Fourth Annual Renaissance

Village Art & Wine Walk will be held Saturday July 28 in Ely, 5 – 7 pm . . . If golf is your game, consider the 2012 “Ticket to Paradise”: for $289 you play a round at each of nine courses in the Carson City / Carson Valley areas. Only 300 passes will be sold; they are valid through December 31 for play any time after 10 am, Monday – Friday, Saturday and Sunday anytime after noon. A great value and a great gift for friends, business associates or the golfer in the family . . . Nevada Magazine recently conducted a survey to discover “Nevada’s Treasures” and has posted a set of excellent photos of the winners. Makes you want to see them with your own eyes . . .

Overheard at the bar of the Gold Canyon Steak House in Dayton: “Just remember Ethel, those who questions God’s infinite love will burn in hell for all eternity.”

Happy Highways,

David W. Toll



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