Cougar Gold addresses Bodie Hills mine plan

A mining company that said it can create hundreds of jobs in Mono County if a potential gold mine in the Bodie Hills goes forward will be in Bridgeport next week.

Cougar Gold, a mining exploration company with ties to a global financial company Tigris Financial Group, will be in Bridgeport Feb. 15, talking to both the Mono County Board of Supervisors in the afternoon, then holding a “town hall” meeting later that evening.

Cougar Gold got permission from the Bureau of Land Management in 2009 to do some exploratory drilling in the BLM’s Bodie Hills Wilderness Study Area.

The drilling and potential for a gold mine roused the ire of environmental groups, who are pushing for final protection of the Bodie Hills. It conversely excited pro-mining residents hoping for an economic boost to a faltering North County economy.

In 2010, the issue hit the public airwaves again, when Congressman Buck McKeon proposed removing the Wilderness Study designation from the Bodie Hills, something that can only occur by Congressional action.

The ensuing supervisors meeting filled the room to overflowing with members on both sides of the issue. In the end, the board chose not to publicly support McKeon’s bill.

The bill, meantime, died last year.

Things have been quiet since then, but Bridgeport’s supervisor, Tim Hansen, has been working since he was elected in December to get the mining company to come to Mono County to let both the board and the community know its plans.

That opportunity is finally here, with “senior executives” from Cougar Gold expected to be available to answer questions from both politicians and residents on Tuesday.

That will be welcome, said the BLM’s Bishop office director Bernadette Lovato, whose region includes the Bodie Hills. She will attend at least the board meeting in the afternoon, again at Hansen’s request.

But don’t expect the BLM to be far ahead of the public in knowing what Cougar Gold is planning, if anything.

“We have not had a discussion with them about any proposal since we approved doing some exploratory drilling in 2009,” Lovato said.

Hansen, who believes a mining operation could help North County increase employment and bring in revenues, said he’s been getting letters regarding the issue and expects another full house Tuesday.

“Most of the letters are opposing the mine, but I think the crowd that shows up at the evening meeting, the working people of this area, will be saying something different,” he said.

“Working people can’t attend that afternoon meeting. They’re working.”

Stacy Corless, director of Friends of the Inyo, said mining companies like Cougar Gold and its parent company, Electrum Limited, rarely bring what they promise.

“They are talking about creating as many as 900 jobs here (from a 2009 report),” she said. “Where are the numbers to back that up. And how many would go to locals? What kind of jobs are they?”

Mono County’s future depends on “sustainable” activities, not a mine that lasts for a few years and in the meantime, could damage the landscape, she said.