Don’t trust that Cougar …
The recent presentation by Cougar Gold to the Mono County Board of Supervisors meeting on Feb. 15 left many questions and few answers about gold mining in the Bodie Hills. Drilling thus far has yielded little more than a hopeful story of deeply buried gold. If further prospecting of this dream uncovers deposits that are practical for mining, we have been given no plan for how that mining would be conducted.
Cougar indicated it would likely take hundreds more drill holes to find what may or may not be down there, and are asking that the wilderness study area (WSA) be released so they can proceed with impunity and expand the scope and area of that drilling. This alone would compromise existing WSA values, but if gold were found, how would it be mined?
Options are typically the more easily-accessed open-pit mines, or more-difficult and expensive underground mine shafts. In either case, exposure of rock in the ancient hot-spring formations where the gold occurs risks chemical reactions with air and water that can cause acid mine drainage.
Just 50 miles away, north of Monitor Pass, is the remnant of Leviathan Mine, now a Superfund site, where near-dead streams still run orange from acid mine drainage even after hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent to try to fix this abandoned mine. Sulfur in rock reacts with oxygen and water to form dilute sulfuric acid, leaching metals such as mercury and arsenic out of mine tailings that can then enter and poison streams or groundwater-fed springs.
Rough Creek, in the beautiful and remote backside of the Bodie Hills could be in the path of such contaminated water. The potential for contamination can be evaluated from analysis of the rock, but no such information was provided by Cougar Gold.
What we do know from other sources of information is that both arsenic and mercury occur naturally in Bodie Hills rock, and could be released by mining operations, entering the food chain of stream life including trout. We also know that clean-up can be expensive and much more difficult to undo damages than to cause them.
Mining operations also typically involve the need to de-water or pump-out water in the mine pits and shafts, resulting in the drying of springs and streams that depend on these sources to maintain flows.
We must ask Cougar Gold to be honest and forthcoming in revealing the true prospects and the risks of Bodie Hills gold mining. It is unacceptable to simply let Cougar Gold say, “Trust us,” when so many mining operations have gone awry.
David Herbst, PhD
Cougar Gold BLM clarification
Regarding comments made by BLM geologist Mark Spring in the story “Hell or Purgatory,” (The Sheet, Feb. 19), we would like to make a clarification.
The comment in the story says, “According to … Springer, Cougar Gold still retains an ‘open’ status, and has completed the required reclamation process to the area that had been part of its 2009 project.”
Cougar Gold has completed earthwork and re-vegetation requirements. However, Cougar’s 2009 Plan of Operation remains open until the vegetation achieves a specified maturity. At that time, the Plan of Operation will be terminated and the financial assurance (bond) relinquished.
BLM Central California Public Affairs
El Dorado Hills, Calif.
In search of … more details
During Cougar Gold’s presentation on the evening of Feb. 15 in Bridgeport, I was surprised by the lack of direct answers to audience questions about the potential mine.
The good people of Bridgeport are certainly in need of an economic windfall as the county government slowly moves south. But while Cougar Gold presenters were ever ready to tout their projects’ potential payoff to Bridgeport they were not as forthcoming with the downsides or the details. Rather than answer audience questions, Cougar Gold spent its time trying to create a false and unnecessary choice between the environment and jobs. The company can do its next phase of exploration under the rights it has and protect the environment. Sure, it will cost more but is this too much to ask from a multi-billion dollar hedge fund company in a County that prides itself in and depends on a beautiful, clean environment to fuel our recreation and tourism economy?
A Cougar Gold representative stated that the international average time between planning and digging on a mine was 10 years. He wryly suggested that in California you could double that. So our question is: what happens when the price of gold drops? Will the exploration or mine be abandoned, leaving an ugly mess in our beautiful backyard? We are also worried about how the impact of a mine could change our community – will it increase the population of Bridgeport, create a community of transient workers, impact our limited water supply, cause dust, noise, traffic and other problem? Don’t we deserve answers to these and other questions?
We would suggest that the Bodie Hills have economic value just as they are. Ask the business owners of Lee Vining and Baker how the Mono Basin Scenic Area and the Mojave Preserve have helped them. If you put it on the map and market it, they will come.
We hope to join all stakeholders including our friends and neighbors in Bridgeport in finding common ground on this issue.
Gary Nelson & Deborah Lurie
The flipside of Cougar Gold
After reading some of last week’s letters concerning the Cougar Gold Mining Co. I felt that some different opinions should be considered from among those who may benefit from an influx of available jobs. I did not attend the meeting; however, I have heard much feedback from friends and colleagues who did. Gold mining has had a bad wrap over the last century with environmental impacts on the surrounding areas, and yes, great mistakes have been made in the past with cyanide and mercury poisoning. Out of the thousands of mines, you only hear of the seldom problems that had occurred.
Take a look at the Kensington Gold Mine in Coeur, Alaska. This is a gold mine working today that does not use many of the traditional chemicals or processes, and will actually help the environment. The Kensington Gold Mine has been the subject of 900 environmental studies, and extensive public input. There have also been over 36 individual studies on the chemical impact and have shown that the tailings have similar geochemistry as the natural sediments. In fact, when the mine is shut down, the tailings will be reclaimed into a lake, which has poor quality due to nature, and will improve productivity leading to improved aquatic life, therefore making a dead lake alive. Their motto is, “Producing and protecting.”
If you look at some of the economic numbers in Mono County, the average household income is more than 7% below the state average. Mono County employs a significantly greater amount of government workers per capita compared to the rest of the state. Total household income in the county is dwarfed by most single government employee’s salaries. I am not insinuating that persons employed by local, state or federal governments make too much, just that if you are not under their employment, you are not making average county income. Jobs in Mono County are hard to come by for the average working man. This mine would bring opportunity for hundreds of residents in Mono County, not just for mine employment, but also that of surrounding businesses.
Today’s mines don’t have to eradicate the surrounding environment; they can be a positive force. Cougar Gold Mining Co. could mirror that of environmentally friendly mines throughout the country and have a positive impact on Mono County.
Threats abound, threats astound
I went to the [Feb. 15] public meeting in Bridgeport recently where Cougar Gold made a presentation about their interest to continue exploration for gold in the Bodie Hills. I came to the meeting hoping to hear convincing reasons why I should support gold mining in the Bodie Hills, because gold mining, especially open pit mining which Cougar Gold said was probable, can turn the area into an environmental wasteland, and in turn, an expensive reclamation nightmare.
Cougar Gold’s message was simply this: loosen environmental protections or we take our business elsewhere — and don’t jump to the conclusion that their explorations will lead to actual mining of the gold, even though their geologist explained they know gold is there, they just have to locate the veins. From this deflection, I have to assume Cougar Gold probably won’t be the ones mining the gold, that they’ll gain the development rights and then sell them to another company to do the mining. Then, the Bridgeport citizens also made their message clear. They would like to make money off of this “project” no matter what happens to the Bodie Hills or to Bridgeport for that matter, when it turns into a boom-bust mining town, so don’t stop it, don’t ask questions, and don’t interfere, especially outsiders. However, the reality is that the Bodie Hills are mostly public lands and everyone — from Maine to Hawaii — can weigh in on this controversy. It is an important decision and we need to consider the risks and the benefits of bringing mining back to the Bodie Hills.
I hope we can have a more honest discussion next time, because I’d sure like us to make the best decision for all life, for all posterity.
Pass problems are your problems
One of the things I really like about The Sheet is the predictability in which the same five or six goofballs will write letters, for humor or to react to a topic in outrage. It’s comical. So right on cue, here is my third or fourth letter to The Sheet.
In regard to the “locals” who are so up in arms over the Black Pass, what is the real problem here? I think I know. It’s definitely a “you” problem. This is America, where hardworking, driven people are rewarded with greater monetary means. Entrepreneurs, business owners, that type of person. Do you get enraged when someone passes you in a new Range Rover or Mercedes-Benz E320 4Matic? If so, then you are missing the point. I don’t care if you fell backwards into an inheritance or are a Hedge Fund manager, spend your money the way you want. Most people with the kind of disposable income required to buy a Black Pass have worked incredibly hard to get there.
As for the cutting of lines, I say what lines? I have an MVP pass and I don’t seem to wait in any lines either. Here is my trick, don’t ski on a Saturday because Monday thru Friday non- holidays there are no lines, ever. Never have been and never will be, even with air service. I can hear this “I work all week and have to ski on Saturday”. Well, there are untold killer pokes off chairs one, two, three, and her sister chair five. Try 12, or 22 … heck there are sweet pokes off of chair four and eight. So stop standing in line, or even worse, stop sitting at Tusks Bar and complaining about Black Passers and go skiing. That is, if you can …
I was parked at the top of Lakeview by Canyon Lodge the other day while skiing, and came back to find a ticket on my window. Apparently I was parked in front of a fire hydrant that was buried under a 10 foot snow bank. This was conveniently indicated by 2 signs which were sticking out of the top of said snow bank about 2 or 3 feet back. In addition to saying NO PARKING, the signs also say NO SNOW STORAGE. Oops, I guess the Town should be more careful where their plows put all that snow? I drove by the next day, and what do you know, a car was parked in the same spot with a ticket on it. It seems like MLPD has a pretty productive racket going on here. Anyways, this really pissed me off so I thought I would let you guys know about it.