Here’s an update on the ongoing degradation and destruction of the Virginia City National Historic Landmark by Comstock Mining Inc. I reported previously on the topic here.
At the Storey County Commission meeting on July 7, 2012, County Manager Pat Whitten announced the County would henceforth ignore Condition 5 of CMI’s Special Use Permit. Condition 5 required the mining company to limit its trucks to 10-wheelers and keep them off the highway, and had been in place for 12 years.
But because the company had bungled its Right Of Way permit application to the BLM for use of the haul road, it desperately needed to use the highway for its ore trucks.
As a matter of procedure the company’s request to amend the SUP was referred back to the Planning Commission, which narrowly approved it, 3 votes to 2 at its long and rancorous meeting of July 19. I may be wrong but I think those were the first two votes our position received in an official Storey County proceeding.
In recognition of the fact that ore trucks on the highway would have a negative impact on everyone else — residents, commuters, tourists and the general public — Commissioner Prater proposed a “Gentlemen’s Agreement” by which the company would mitigate this impact until such time as it could again use the haul road.
Pay close attention now, because this is where the story leaves mere complexity behind and enters the surreal. Recall that District Attorney Maddox had advised everyone that Condition 5 was illegal from the start because only NDOT can regulate highway use. Everyone is going forward with that as their mantra.
Storey County’s Senior Planner Austin Osborne said, “Because we do not have jurisdiction over the state highway, no condition we impose is binding. . . . CMI continually expresses that they want to be good stewards of the land and good for the community. . . . I believe in this case . . . that they will conform to these conditions, regardless of them being a requirement or not.”
Company representatives eagerly agreed to observe the conditions: No trucks on the highway on weekends or holidays, otherwise Monday through Friday, 9 am – 7 pm. No trucks to run when snow or ice is “obviously” present. Loads will be covered.
Starting the next morning those conditions were scrupulously observed.
When the matter came back to the Storey County Commissioners on November 13, each Commissioner cited the District Attorney’s opinion that Storey County doesn’t have the authority to keep haul trucks off the highway so long as they are licensed and insured, and voted unanimously to amend the SUP and allow the trucks on the highway as the company requested.
The next day two things happened.
First, the good stewards at CMI abandoned the “Gentlemen’s Agreement”. Trucks now run from 7 am or before with loads uncovered and on seemingly random weekend days. There is no longer any thought of mitigating the noise, the dust and the traffic congestion.
And second, the Comstock Residents Association sued Storey County and CMI.
We asked the Court to tell Storey County that it does have the authority to keep mining trucks off the highway after all — which is what I mean about surreal: CRA is suing Storey County to prevent it from giving up its authority to govern. It’s like dealing with a crazy person who wants to hurt himself, and it’s sad to see the County reduced to such a pathetic state.
District Attorney Maddox responded to our suit with a Motion to Dismiss. He asserted that NDOT was in control and should have been named in the suit.
The judge rejected the motion, stating “The condition does not regulate Highway 342 and does not impact NDOT’s control of Highway 342.”
Good. Not only is the Motion denied, the whole line of argument is rejected. We now expect Judge Wilson to rule that the County has a perfect right to keep ore trucks off the highway.
In the meantime, CMI continues to ignore its end of the “Gentlemen’s Agreement”. Perhaps the vote by the Commissioners to let them do as they pleased meant it was no longer necessary to keep up the pretense.