It's been a few years since I found myself deep inside the stomach of the Original Sixteen To One Mine. I'd been invited on a tour with the mine's manager and spirited leader Mike Miller.
I remember Mike telling me that the only reason there is a United States Post Office in the town of Alleghany — population of roughly 70 — is to handle the piles of paperwork required by the state regulators.
I bring that up to kind of put some perspective into the debate on Grass Valley's proposed reopening of the Idaho-Maryland Mine. While it is always fun to discuss that issue — and we've been discussing that issue since I had hair — the odds of any of us seeing that mine reopen are greater than the chances we will be visited by Martians and zapped with ray guns.
No matter what the environmental impact statement on the mine determines, we will never see that mine operating again. I don't care if the report says that the water inside the shaft is more pure than Perrier, that “bold, bubbly” water the French drink to get rid of bad wine hangover. It won't matter if the environmental scientists discover that the mine tailings are better for you than carrots and that you can use them to top ice cream Sundays.
Last time I checked, Grass Valley was still located in California, where nothing gets done unless it is studied to death, hurdles 32 lawsuits and results in something good for a majority of the lobbyists.
Ask Mike how fun it is to operate a gold mine in California.
“The Bureau of Mines doesn't exist anymore,” he said once. “It's now the Bureau of Environmentalists.”
The Gold Country, located inside the Golden State, which was created on the backs of miners, no longer exists. The state would rather go broke, cripple its schools, let its highways crumble and kill most all of its social programs than mine for gold, or drill for oil.
That's a fact.
No matter that the state is $20 BILLION or so in the hole with no clue how to climb out of it. No matter that 12 or 13 percent of its workforce is at home watching Oprah, collecting checks from empty federal and state bank accounts.
Enough with the mine talk already. The Gold Country, as they say, went the way of the wineries and tourism. “As a gold producer, I don't think California is on the map anymore,” a mine industry expert told reporters.
It doesn't help the case for mining when we read of mine collapses and deaths, even though there have probably been more injuries and deaths at amusement parks. Mining is a dangerous job. Kind of like logging, or crab fishing, or other labors consumers rely on to fill their insatiable needs.
Mike knows about that, too. Ten years or so ago a man named Mark Fussell was driving a locomotive into the shaft at the Sixteen To One when he hit his head on a protruding ore chute, killing him. State and local officials went nuts, screaming for Mike's head. A grand jury charged Mike with negligent homicide, even though a state inspector had been to the site a week before and didn't see any hazards. When that tidbit was revealed (and Mike wondered why it wasn't revealed sooner) Mike was absolved, but not before it caused him untold grief, lots of money and lost investors.
Accidents do happen. Ask any state highway construction worker, or rollercoaster operator.
Then there are the courts. You can bet what's left of your 401(k) that if the Grass Valley City Council, or Planning Commission ever give the Idaho-Maryland Mine the OK to reopen, there will be at least 100 lawsuits filed against it that will tie it up for another 100 years.
There are, according to the directory, more than 500 state agencies in California, which might help explain why the state is broke. I would guess that 400 of them — including, but not limited to, the California Access for Infants and Mothers, California Anti-Terrorism Information Center, California Center for Analytical Chemistry, California Respiratory Care Board and the California Smart Growth Caucus — would have something to say about the Idaho-Maryland Mine.
So let's stop with the dog and pony show. The Idaho-Maryland Mine will never see the light of day. Not in my lifetime and probably not in yours. If you don't believe me, go on up to the Alleghany Post Office and check the mail.
Jeff Ackerman is the editor/publisher of The Union. His column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 477-4299, firstname.lastname@example.org
, or 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.