Cooling Off Nixon's Mine

Cooling Off: Dredge III Mine

The Prospect has continued to ask questions about the Forest Service removal of the people and structures from Dredge III mine, also known locally as Jack Nixon’s mine.

It continues to be a kind of dis-orienting tale, as though the object of it were viewed through two different, distinct lenses.

First, there is the raft of confused, dutiful bureaucrats. The Prospect has spoken to County staff, including law enforcement involved, and for them, this was a no-brainer. The landowner, meaning the Forest Service, was responsible for cleaning the problem up. Tom Quinn indicated that County Health staff had been to the site, had found violations, and had written reports, including letters identifying the Forest Service as the lead agency in cleaning up the violations. The violations were well known. Even the state Mining and Geology Board had identified the site, and given Sierra County notice to take charge of the situation or lose lead agency status on the cleanup. For more on the SMGB go here

Law enforcement also wondered what the problem was. It was a routine evacuation, the residents had been told they were going to be moved. There was the potential for a "homeless camp" there, and two of the people moved weren’t even there when Jack Nixon was care-taking. Eventually word would have gotten around and no telling how many squatters would have moved in.

Forest Service staff, including some recently transferred, had been working since 2007 on the cleanup. When Tom Quinn came in 2008, it was being handled in the field. He might well be correct that his knowledge of the mine dated back to a Sierra County health department letter asking about the progress of the cleanup.

Straight along, our good and dutiful public servants at every level have patiently explained about the lack of permits, the sewage running on the ground, the electrical hazards, and the hazard material and trash.

The problem is, what permits? Miners were living on property to mine. That used to be encouraged, in fact, up until 1994 it was possible to "patent" a mining claim and do what you liked with the land after that. Those days are long gone, and the Forest Service was not going to apply for permits to put in a septic system for Don Wilson.

That leads to the second view.

There is the view of locals, particularly old timers, and especially miners, that people who are working the land for minerals need to be left alone. Nobody is building big houses, nobody is building equity. If you haven’t noticed, there’s been a shortage of trucks hauling gold bullion out of the county lately. Mining these days is hard-scrabble work. Few miners can live on what they make, particularly old miners.

What is going to happen to these people and those who come after them? Society doesn’t need them, doesn’t have a place for them, and won’t even let them live a hard life in the hills. If the public can’t live on public land, where can they go?  What can we do to prevent any more miners from being moved off their claim/long term residence.

We have questions in to the forest service on these issues; they’ve been forwarded to "Headquarters."

If Headquarters answers, providing their answer isn’t a squad of Forest Service swat troops, we’ll let readers know what they are.

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