Letters to the Editor, March 4, 2011

Europeans, after centuries of tradition, know the value of art. It is part of their culture. It’s in their blood. Instead of naming streets after politicians or military generals, the names of artists, poets, composers and musicians are commonplace throughout Europe. During hard times when the Bastille was stormed and people did not want to eat cake, art flourished anyway. There is something this country can learn from our European neighbors. Art helps us to innovate. When creativity stops – so do we. Children exposed to the arts learn skills in creativity and self-expression that could very well lead them to develop new world policies or a life-saving vaccine. The arts are paramount to forward-thinking change. It should come as no surprise that there are visionary administrators right here in Mono County that hold degrees in art. In times when certain political movements want to stifle critical thinking, erroneously believing no changes are required and the arts don’t really have much value beyond aesthetics rendering the search for gold more important – the visionaries dramatically contribute to the community by discovering what we create best – and then doing it.

Mammoth Lakes has a healthy artistic community with lots of local artists and artisans located here. The different forms of art are numerous. Theater productions, dance studios, two highly successful musical festivals ... why even the founder of Mammoth Mountain is an avid photographer! A poetry competition was recently introduced further expanding this mountain community’s passion for art and humanities. There are exquisite sculptures on our streets and on our golf courses as well as numerous musicians and visual art galleries here. Some very exciting things are happening in our art-laden community. Mammoth Lakes, California will probably never match the scope of the Louvre in Paris, the West End theatre in London, or the masterpieces of Florence, but an evolution of sorts is happening. More festivals are forming. Musical events are selling out way in advance. Film producers are finding their way here. Mammoth Lakes is developing a reputation as a bona fide arts and humanities place. Perhaps a subliminal awareness is growing that our community needs much more than snowboards, fishermen and mountain bikes for its viability and survival.
Dennis Kostecki
Mammoth Lakes

During Cougar Gold’s presentation on the evening of Feb. 15 in Bridgeport, I was surprised by the lack of direct answers to audience questions about the potential mine.

The good people of Bridgeport are certainly in need of an economic windfall as the county government slowly moves south. But while Cougar Gold presenters were ever ready to tout their projects’ potential payoff to Bridgeport they were not as forthcoming with the downsides or the details. Rather than answer audience questions, Cougar Gold spent its time trying to create a false and unnecessary choice between the environment and jobs. The company can do its next phase of exploration under the rights it has and protect the environment. Sure, it will cost more but is this too much to ask from a multi-billion dollar hedge fund company in a County that prides itself in and depends on a beautiful, clean environment to fuel our recreation and tourism economy?

A Cougar Gold representative stated that the international average time between planning and digging on a mine was 10 years. He wryly suggested that in California you could double that. So our question is: what happens when the price of gold drops? Will the exploration or mine be abandoned, leaving an ugly mess in our beautiful backyard? We are also worried about how the impact of a mine could change our community – will it increase the population of Bridgeport, create a community of transient workers, impact our limited water supply, cause dust, noise, traffic and other problem? Don’t we deserve answers to these and other questions?

We would suggest that the Bodie Hills have economic value just as they are. Ask the business owners of Lee Vining and Baker how the Mono Basin Scenic Area and the Mojave Preserve have helped them. If you put it on the map and market it, they will come.
We hope to join all stakeholders including our friends and neighbors in Bridgeport in finding common ground on this issue.
Gary Nelson and Deborah Lurie
Bridgeport, California

I went to the public meeting in Bridgeport recently where Cougar Gold made a presentation about their interest to continue exploration for gold in the Bodie Hills. I came to the meeting hoping to hear convincing reasons why I should support gold mining in the Bodie Hills, because gold mining, especially open pit mining which Cougar Gold said was probable, can turn the area into an environmental wasteland, and in turn, an expensive reclamation nightmare.

Cougar Gold’s message was simply this: loosen environmental protections or we take our business elsewhere – and don’t jump to the conclusion that their explorations will lead to actual mining of the gold, even though their geologist explained they know gold is there, they just have to locate the veins. From this deflection, I have to assume Cougar Gold probably won’t be the ones mining the gold, that they’ll gain the development rights and then sell them to another company to do the mining.

Then, the Bridgeport citizens also made their message clear. They would like to make money off of this “project” no matter what happens to the Bodie Hills or to Bridgeport for that matter, when it turns into a boom-bust mining town, so don’t stop it, don’t ask questions, and don’t interfere, especially outsiders. However the reality is that the Bodie Hills are mostly public lands and everyone – from Maine to Hawaii – can weigh in on this controversy. It is an important decision and we need to consider the risks and the benefits of bringing mining back to the Bodie Hills. I hope we can have a more honest discussion next time, because I’d sure like us to make the best decision for all life, for all posterity.
Lynn Boulton
Lee Vining

I would like to address the Cougar Gold Mine proposal or lack of one. Buck McKeon is trying to get a BLM-WSA (Wilderness Study Area) designation removed so the mine will not have to face more strict practices.

The first question I have is why make a land area a WSA in the first place if you just intend to reverse that status down the line? I don’t consider the Bodie Hills to be any more sensitive than other WSAs like the Volcanic Tableland in Bishop or Crater Mtn. in Big Pine.

The Bodie Hills are in a historic mining area with large mines like Aurora and those that existed on the other side of Lucky Boy Pass near Hawthorne, Nev. Excellent mining reclamation and rehab work has been done in that area forming hills and contouring the land. When the trees grow back, one will not be able to tell that mining went on there. Other mines like Aurora are not looking so good.

Here are some questions I would ask the mining company representatives:

Are you going to do open pit or shaft mining?

Will you use haul trucks and make larger roads to transport the ore out?

Will you construct a mill and slag ponds on site or haul out?

What is your rehab plan for tailings or open pit and how will you pay the huge expense?

Mono County Supervisor Hap Hazard “…acknowledged the wilderness qualities in the WSA but also said the mine would be over a ridge and not within sight of Bodie.” This is what is commonly referred to as, “out of sight, out of mind.”

I try to look at all sides of an issue. I am not an environmentalist trying to shut down the mine, but on the other hand, I will not let resource abuse slide or turn my head the other way so some rich people can get richer.

I know that the miners in our area are in desperate need of work and would rather be employed locally than out of state in places like Montana or Arizona.

I think we all understand that natural resources must be harvested to keep things going in this great country. All we ask is that big business doesn’t cut corners on the environment and shows some respect for the land that provides their bread and butter and our lifestyle.
Even if the Bodie Hills were to become wilderness today, all existing, current, valid mining claims would be grandfathered in. The only way the Bodie Hills can be preserved in its current state is national park status. Until then everything is up for grabs.
David McNeill

As the U.S. Representative for Mono County from 1983 to 1993, I am writing regarding what I understand is a request by a mining company to release the Bodie Wilderness Study Area (WSA) from protection under the Federal Land and Policy Management Act (FLPMA) to facilitate the development of a gold mine in the Bodie Hills. I am deeply concerned about this proposal.

While in Congress, I authored the Bodie Protection Act, which was signed into law in 1994. At that time, a mining company proposed to develop a gold mine within the Bodie Bowl immediately adjacent to Bodie State Historic Park. I am grateful that the Board of Supervisors had the foresight at the time to oppose gold mining, which would have fundamentally altered the State Park and destroyed the wonderful sense of history one gets from visiting Bodie and its surroundings. Bodie State Park today remains one of the jewels of the State Park system, receiving nearly 200,000 visitors annually.

As a member of Congress I also seriously contemplated measures to set aside the Bodie Hills to preserve its extensive cultural and natural resources, including wilderness and continued livestock grazing, both uses that were especially important to me as a Representative of my district. In my travels throughout California and the west, few places touched me in the way the Bodie Hills did. The landscape of the Bodie Hills is not merely beautiful; it conveys a wonderful sense of isolation and an authentic feeling of the old west that is really unique in California.

I must therefore share my deep concern regarding both proposed gold mining and release of the Bodie WSA. Our undeveloped lands are dwindling rapidly and becoming more precious as the years pass. We need to preserve these treasures, not develop them. Gold mining is inherently destructive to the land and our precious waters, and almost invariably leaves behind a toxic legacy to be inherited by future generations.

I understand and sympathize with the concerns of rural communities regarding jobs in today’s challenging economy. While in Congress I also authored legislation creating the Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area in 1984. It has been truly gratifying to see how the creation of the Scenic Area has helped to put Mono Lake on the map as an international destination and, in doing so, aided the economy of the County and its small communities. I hope that Mono County will seriously consider a variety of alternatives to stimulate the economy of northern Mono County, instead of mining. Whereas mining may create jobs in the short-term, history has repeatedly shown that mining creates a boom-bust economy which could have lasting adverse impacts on Mono County. Job creation alternatives could focus on sustainable economic development and could include measures to recognize, preserve and promote the unique values of the Bodie Hills and the northern portion of the County for tourism while retaining historical, traditional uses such as agriculture.
Thank you for your consideration of my views. I urge the Board not to take hasty action. Rather, I respectfully suggest that you proceed cautiously and deliberately and with full transparency as you confront the challenges ahead. The decisions you make will last well beyond our lifetimes.
Richard H. Lehman

Having read and re-read Ms. Grasseschi’s article on proposed housing in Lee Vining Canyon, there are two things to which I must respond:
First, to use the adjective “infamous” to modify the proper noun “Whoa Nelly-Deli” is both grossly inaccurate and highly offensive to myself and probably to my friends Dennis Domaille and Matt Toomey as well. Their actual reputation is that of world famous, quality, top-notch, creative cuisine; a true dining delight! If Ms. Grasseschi was merely having a “Jimmy Olson” moment and erred in word selection perhaps an apology would be in order. If “infamous” does in fact clearly describe her opinion of the deli, then I would not recommend her to continue as the Times “food critic.”

Second, I must assume that Hap Hazard was vastly misquoted in saying There is only one R.V. park in Mono County outside of Mammoth.” Hap if you were correctly quoted then I would like to offer you my personal enlightening tour of your county visiting its numerous quality R.V. parks any time you like.
Am I crazy or what!
Jeff Hansen
Lee Vining

Editor’s note:
Hansen is correct: the writer was having a “Jimmy Olson” moment. The writer has nothing but admiration for the Whoa Nellie Deli and has dined there frequently. In regards to the statement by Hazard: when the writer called Hazard to clarify, he noted that he was talking about hoping to increase the number of modern, full-service RV parks in the county, stating its a “growing need” not that there were none in the county except the one in Walker mentioned.