This article originally appeared after the Sept. 26, 1998, Water Quality hearing. It provides a background for a better understanding of the state government's latest assalt on the Company.
SACRAMENTO? Alleghany's Sixteen to One Mine was assessed $20,000 by the regional Water Quality Control Board on Friday, September 26. The assessment comes as a result of an undescribed amount of sand, most probably from the mine's 40 acre property, which went into Kanaka Creek in February.
The Water Board's staff had originally assessed a $40,000 fine, although suggesting the actual liability was over $7 million. The mine requested a public hearing before the Board, which was granted.
The hearing, held last Friday, can only be described as an odd ritual, reminiscent of the Air Quality Board's Downieville meeting when staff stubbornly refused to admit that a mountain range between western Sierra County and an air quality monitor near Loyalton had any significance.
In the Sacramento event, described as a "quasi-judicial hearing," six of a nine-member panel were to hear a recitation of the staff complaint, allow the "discharger" to cross-examine witnesses and present its side of the case. According to published procedure, public input was to be allowed. The accused is required to provide their case and evidence well in advance of the hearing. Staff is allowed to respond to this evidence, although the accused does not hear this response until the hearing.
Well, a Water Quality Board official told the Messenger, the fact that a mine proponent was not allowed to speak was an oversight, a regrettable error, but the board had a lot of pressing business later that day and was anxious to get on with it.
The anxiety of the board to get done with business was obvious from the beginning. The board's attorney, sighing her dismay that no lawyer was representing the mine, interrupted the mine's cross examination of witnesses regularly, advising mine CEO Mike Miller that he was only aggravating the board.
She was, evidently, right. At the conclusion of the meeting, one board member thought the $20,000 fine proper as they had been polluting for a long time. Another thought a mere $20,000 was proper as the mine has not been a polluter. The board was unimpressed that the material going into the water was sand, the same sand purchased by Sierra County for winter road maintenance.
They were unimpressed that the material lost was a salable commodity. Fish and Game Warden Dennis Messa, who lives locally and should know, did not mention that the uncorroborated testimony of long-term pollution came from a man whose loathing of Miller is well known. The board was unimpressed that whole mountains were going into the water last winter.
But, it is what Miller feared, as the judge was also the prosecutor. The mine has yet to decide if it will appeal the ruling. Since the issue is one of "strict liability," i.e. the mine is liable, even if not culpable, the $20,000 may merely be the price of mining in California.
Owner and Editor of the Mountain Messenger, Downieville, California