We first told you about Comstrock residents battle with mining corporations who want to drag their gargantuan hauling trucks through their town with impunity (roads, environment and the residents ears be damned) a few months ago, and the battle continues.
Here is guest blog from Robert Elston of the Comstock Resident Association describing the complicated battle residents are waging to protect their rural town from the mining industry:
The good news is that Comstock Mining Inc. (CMI) and Storey County, Nevada, have lost the first battle of their effort to stop legal action against them initiated by the Comstock Residents Association (CRA). The story is a little complicated, so bear with me.
Recall that Comstock Mining Inc. (CMI) decided not to apply for a haul road permit to cross Federal (BLM) land from the Lucerne Pit, apparently because they realized doing so would trigger an environmental study. Instead, they started using it anyway, claiming they owned the land. This resulted in a BLM cease & desist order.
To avoid another costly slow-down, CMI requested that Storey County not enforce Condition 5 of CMI’s existing special use permit (SUP) regulating the open pit mine in Gold Hill, which prohibits running heavy ore-haul trucks on State Highway 342, the only paved road that connects residents of the area to Virginia City & Carson City. Condition 5 has been part of the SUP (SUP 2000-222-A) for years, extending back to the days when the pit was worked by Oliver Hills and then Plum Mining.
The Planning Commission originally heard the request for the modification of the Special Use Permit on July 19, 2012. After more than 4 hours of testimony, including that from CRA attorney John Marshall detailing the detrimental effects of hauling ore on a public highway, the Planning Commission voted 3 to 2 to approve the modification to Condition #5 and to make an expedited referral to the Storey County Board of Commissioners (BOC).
Storey County BOC heard the recommendation on August 7th, but residents were not allowed to testify. Storey County DA Bill Maddox’s advised the Commissioners that they had no jurisdiction over use of the highway. A following letter from Storey County Manager Pat Whitten informed the mining company that “issues of your operations as the pertain to State Route 342 are not a matter of concern or oversight at the county level,” thereby abdicating the county’s responsibility to taxpaying residents.
On September 10, 2012 the Comstock Residents Association (CRA) filed suit in the First Judicial District Court of Nevada to force Storey County to stop the alleged illegal hauling of ore on State Highway 342. CRA allege Storey County Manager Pat Whitten violated Nevada Law by notifying CMI that the County would not enforce the conditions of the SUP, and that CMI has violated the law by not adhering to conditions of the SUP.
CRA sought a declaration directing Storey County to recognize that under Nevada Revised Statutes 278.020(1) it has the authority to protect its citizens’ health and safety from mining, and that it is standard practice for local governments to regulate traffic impacts from such activities, particularly when they generate substantial truck traffic. Despite this clear authority, the county has refused to act.
In the mean time, Storey County BOC again placed the he issue on November 13th agenda, and this time the Commissioners voted to approve the amendment to Condition # 5 of the SUP to allow haul trucks on the highway. Subsequently, Storey County and CMI filed a motion with the First Distrct Court to dismiss the CRA suite.
On November 23, CMI and Storey County lost the first battle to stop the legal action against them when District Judge James Wilson denied their motion to dismiss legal action brought by CRA:
“The court concludes….that Condition 5 of the Special Use Permit regulates Comstock Mining’s use of land. The condition does not regulate Highway 342 and does not impactNDOT’s control of Highway 342. Storey and Comstock Mining have failed to carry their burden of proof…Therefore, the motion to dismiss is denied.”
Robin Cobbey, board president of the CRA considers this to a good sign. “That the court will take our argument seriously. Our position is that the county has plenty of authority to protect its residents and should not give it up to help out this one mining company. We’re confident that, at some point, the court will rule in our favor.”
* mostly compiled from CRA press releases