By Deb Murphy

Inyo County’s Board of Supervisors scrapped any hint of support for a mining exploration project in the Inyo Mountains from its letter to the lead agency following a three hour discussion.

Almost 30 speakers addressed the board with the majority, 5-1, strongly recommending either sending no letter or opting for the “no action” alternative in the Environmental Assessment completed by the Bureau of Land Management.

The Silver Standard project in question involves up to seven drilling pads on Conglomerate Mesa to evaluate disseminated gold deposits, referred to as Carlin gold. The project would be within a previously mined area but would have drilled past the 400-foot holes to a depth of 1,000-feet.

The company’s geologist Angela Johnson asked that the Supervisors and speakers focus on the project in question and not on what may follow. However, the speakers couldn’t ignore what one described as the gorilla in the room: the potential for an open pit heap leach gold mine.

The final decision on the project will be made by the BLM.

Arguments from those in support of the project:

  • It’s just an eight acre area in a vast expanse of land;
  • If the exploration turns up viable deposits, Silver Standard will still have to come up with an operation plan to launch a full mining operation;
  • The Supervisors’ decision should be based on process and policy, not speculation;
  • The cyanide used in heap leach mining is diluted and neutralized;
  • Speakers against the project were operating with a lack of knowledge.

The balance of the arguments against the project focused on damage to the environment if exploration evolved into a mining operation involving what was described as “toxic chemicals and tons of waste.”

Fran Hunt with the Sierra Club and other speakers zeroed in on the lack of substantive comments in the draft letter from the board—a letter Hunt said did not address the significant issues.

The question of how much water would be used during the four to six month exploration was answered by Supervisor Dan Totheroh, who actually read the whole EA: 500 to 1,000 gallons for each day of operation.

Lynn Bolton, chair of the Sierra Club’s Range of Light group, brought props, a Sara Lee cake, to illustrate the uniqueness of the mesa and the sequence of layers developed over the past 50 million years. “The mesa is used by geologists as the Rosetta Stone,” she said. “It tells the story of a unique geological history. Once the mesa is dug up, you can’t put the layers and fossils back.”

Then the Supervisors got their turn to comment.

Matt Kingsley and Mark Tillemans were reluctant to withdraw approval of the project. Kingsley stressed the tough environmental and reclamation laws in California. In response to speakers’ focus on tourism as a more sustainable economy than mining, Tillemans responded, “we’re in trouble if tourism is our future. It only offers low-paying jobs. It’s barely keeping us alive.”

Jeff Griffiths said mining shouldn’t be excluded from the county, but “we need to take a long, hard look at each proposal and its impacts.” Griffiths didn’t like the draft letter saying it didn’t address the issues in the assessment.

Totheroh’s preference was to send no letter. “I don’t feel I have enough information.”

Rick Pucci compared reclamation to mitigation. “It doesn’t work,” he said. “You can’t bring the land back to what it was.”

Given Griffiths statement the county had the right and responsibility to comment, the board recommended the letter be re-written to point out procedural errors.


The broad show of support for Inyo County’s Owens River Water Trail at last week’s Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Board of Commissioners meeting appears to have shaken loose the long-awaited agreement by the department to underwrite the environmental study.

The department sent the County the final agreement for the appropriate signatures. In turn, the County signed off on the document and returned it to LA, CAO Kevin Carunchio told the Supervisors at Tuesday’s board meeting.

DWP required the environmental work before a site agreement could be formalized. The grantor, the state Department of Natural Resources, needed that site agreement before the $500,000 grant funds could be released. Inyo couldn’t afford a full EIR having assumed a relatively simple negative declaration would suffice. Last spring, after a strong show of support by both Southern California and local veteran and river groups, the Commissioners offered to pick up the tab. And, now they officially have.


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