By Staff Reports
(Victor Valley)– San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors Vice Chair Robert A. Lovingood told a U.S. Senate subcommittee Thursday that a proposed desert bill would shutter a major gold mine, costing hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenues that would benefit San Bernardino County residents.
Castle Mountain gold mine, which is planning to expand, would be forced to permanently close if Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s “California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act of 2015” becomes law. That would be very costly to county residents because the public earns income on every claim on public lands.
“When Castle Mountain scales up to full production in the next phase,” Lovingood said, “the County anticipates the operation will become the second-largest gold mine in California, creating approximately 300 full-time positions with a direct tax benefit in excess of $225 million to the County.”
The First District Supervisor testified before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining.
Lovingood told the subcommittee that any desert legislation should include reasonable and practical access and the potential expansion of existing mining operations and a process for permitting. Under the Feinstein bill, the gold mine would be under the control of the National Park Service, which cannot issue mining permits.
“Concerns remain in regards to the proposed legislation and the potential negative impacts to mining, economic development and jobs in our County,” Lovingood told the Senate panel. “In San Bernardino County, one of our most significant economic drivers is the minerals industry. The County regulates approximately 100 mines, which provide a wide variety of materials necessary for infrastructure, economic growth, national defense, and countless consumer products.”
The County’s mining industry provides well-paying core jobs. Between 750 and 1,000 people work in the local mining industry, with average earnings of $76,065 in 2012. On average, for every $1 in output from the mining and related industries, it generates $1.5 in economic activity in the County.
San Bernardino County is more than 20,000 square miles, with more than 80 percent of the land area under federal ownership. The 1994 desert bill set aside 11,875 square miles of desert — more land than the entire states of Rhode Island, Delaware and Connecticut combined. Sen. Feinstein’s bill would take set aside another 2,209 square miles.
With Route 66 and other Mojave Desert roads in dire need of repairs, reducing access to gravel and aggregate will increase the haul distances for road maintenance materials. It will also inhibit disaster recovery, increasing costs to the taxpayer, fuel consumption, air pollution, traffic congestion and accelerate wear-and-tear on our aging roads and bridges, Lovingood said.
Route 66, also known as National Trails Highway, is the only alternative route to Interstate 40 during emergencies and is a popular route of travel for American and international tourists. Several of the bridges were damaged during the storms this summer, requiring emergency closure of some sections. The County faces the daunting task of replacing these bridges, which require individual environmental clearances. This is a major cost and can take years to obtain.
In closing, Lovingood asked the Senate subcommittee to consider provisions in Congressman Paul Cook’s “California Minerals, Off-road Recreation, and Conservation Act.” That legislation strikes a responsible compromise among recreational activities and environmental preservation by establishing a special management area. The measure allows for protection of existing mining and reasonable future mining exploration.