California Gold Country Objects to Opening Mines


"Old mining towns have become havens for tourists and retirees."

Despite sky-high prices and the state's rich gold legacy, California's mining industry is mostly dormant.

A revival is hardly imminent. Companies trying to reopen old mines in Grass Valley and near Sutter Creek have slogged through years of red tape, and there are no guarantees of success. The Sutter Creek plan is at least a year away, while Grass Valley is several years from reopening.

Standing in the way: scarcity of capital and strict environmental standards.

There's a cultural issue, too. Old mining towns still embrace their Gold Rush roots but have become havens for tourists and retirees. Some residents aren't convinced that blasting through rock is compatible with boutiques or bed-and-breakfasts.

In Grass Valley, for instance, a thriving high-tech industry has sprouted in a community where the high school sports teams are called the Miners. Emotions are mixed on the proposal by Emgold Mining Corp. of Vancouver, British Columbia, to reopen the old Idaho-Maryland Mine, which hasn't operated since 1956.

"The landscape of the community has changed," said Mayor Lisa Swarthout. "When it was an operating mine. . .it was pretty much in the middle of nowhere. The community has grown around it."

Swarthout said she hasn't yet taken a position on the proposal.

The allure of gold at more than $1,300 an ounce could bring about more mining. Sutter Gold Mining Inc., which wants to reopen a mine that runs alongside Sutter Creek, has said it's sitting on at least 223,000 ounces and maybe as many as 680,000 ounces.

At today's prices, that's a bounty of $300 million to $900 million. Company executives say the price boom isn't a fluke.

The question is whether California can cash in.

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