LETTERS TO THE EDITOR, March 18, 2011
BODIE SHOULD BE A NATIONAL PARK
Supporting a mine or Wilderness Study Area is chump change compared to what really needs to be done with Bodie.
The supervisors should go for broke and propose national park status for the historic mining town.
Bodie is the only bona fide ghost town left in the West. It is the only place a visitor can go to experience what it was like to live in the West in the 1860s.
Based on that fact alone, Bodie is worthy of national park status. It deserves to be linked with Death Valley, Manzanar, and Yosemite.
The biggest benefit of a park that would far outlast the boom and bust of mining is the boost to the local economy from tourists buying gas, food, souvenirs, Bad Man from Bodie T-shirts, and staying in motels and campgrounds.
The American public has a love and thirst for the national parks and Bodie would attract many more visitors because of it.
In the long run it makes more sense to push for a national park and avoid any new mining altogether. No tourist is going to want to come to see some wasteland.
GOLD MINE: BOOM OR BUST?
It is understandable that many look to the Cougar Gold Mining Project in the Bodie Hills as a promising economic boost to our communities. But would a big local mine be the solution to these difficult economic times? Recent studies of rural towns experiencing a “boom” in development due to resource extractive industries paint a different picture.
A report “The Influence of the Pace and Scale of Energy Development on Communities: Lessons from the Natural Gas Drilling Boom in the Rocky Mountains,” (Michelle Haefele and Pete Morton, Western Economics Forum, Fall 2009) looks at numerous studies of boomtown conditions due to natural gas drilling in the Rockies. These towns “experienced an influx of non-local workers, a rise in crime and emergency service calls, increased demand for public services, more wear and tear on local infrastructure, and upward pressure on local wages and housing costs.”
This report adds, “Social problems develop from a sudden influx of workers migrating into the area during boom times, including the sense of dissatisfaction arising from rapid change. Drilling booms increase housing demand, which raises prices, leading to increased poverty among those unable to take advantage of new jobs. Local governments need to provide basic services for a rapidly growing population, along with increased per capita service demand, resulting in fiscal burdens for taxpayers.”
There is no guarantee that revenues from energy development, when they finally arrive, will come back to impacted communities. If the pace and scale of development is slowed, this can benefit a community, but industry is more likely to extract the resources as fast as possible.
The report observed that communities with the greatest economic diversity were best able to weather the boom and bust cycle. It was often the case, however, that a drilling boom “crowded out” new businesses, creating a decline in economic diversity. This may be due to competition over affordable housing, an exodus of retirees and long-term residents and conflicts with tourism. The report found that Colorado counties with more employment in mining experienced lower overall income growth.
Another review of the literature, “Mining the Data: Analyzing the Economic Implications of Mining for Non-metropolitan Regions,” (William Freudenburg and Lisa Wilson, Sociological Inquiry, Vol. 72, No.4, Fall 2002,) concluded that “the expectation that mining increases the prosperity of isolated communities, is not supported by the data across the U.S.” Especially during the inevitable post-boom conditions, “workers, communities and regulators are being asked to make wage, tax and regulatory concessions to mining operations, in the interest of keeping them open.” It is not promising that Cougar Gold is asking Mono County for concessions before the mining has even begun.
These are just some of the problems that can impact communities that are being asked to embrace a large scale mining development. It is important, therefore, that we look hard at other options that could increase our long-term economic diversity and are beneficial for the majority of our residents.
COMMENTS TO COUNTY SUPES
I commented several weeks ago during your deliberation of the proposed mining operation from Cougar Gold. Mr. Hazard’s recent proposal acquiescing to Cougar Gold’s request for the release (albeit a portion) of the Bodie WSA compels me to provide additional comment.
Cougar Gold should submit its plans to BLM and proceed like every other mining company, and not be granted special favors by Congress or the Board of Supervisors such as support for release of the Bodie Wilderness Study Area. Cougar Gold has grandfathered rights to conduct exploration within the WSA and should be willing to abide by the rules and regulations in place to protect this area while the company is conducting exploration.
Without a full, detailed disclosure of the manner in which they plan to conduct actual mining operations, or whether they intend to sell the entitlements they are seeking to the highest bidder, Mono County should not do anything to grease the skids towards forever changing the wild aesthetic of Bodie.
In addition, the most important lesson all of us have learned during the spirited debates we participate in regarding Eastside affairs is the need to carefully consider the long-term, oftentimes irreversible consequences of decisions made in haste. Mr. Hazard has, in the past, demonstrated a willingness to bring all stakeholders to the table and provide genuine opportunities to review and reflect upon all points of view before any action is taken. This press for action is highly out of character; within his own proposal, he acknowledges displeasure with fast-tracking such a contentious issue.
I respectfully ask that all of our Supervisors not support a proposal that does not represent the best interests of Mono County, and will only set a precedent allowing seated or future Supervisors to fast-track equally contentious issues.