Wed. Apr 17th, 2024

Commentary and Opinion by Samuel Strait – April 12, 2023

After being laid up for the past eight days, as promised, a look into
the remote possibility that the drinking water of both Smith River and
Crescent City is unfit to drink.  So says Mr. Grant Werschkull, acting
on behalf of the Smith River Collaborative, an activist group formed
recently in Del Norte County.  The question immediately becomes, “Can
this possibly be true?”  Seems that Mr. Werschkull, after being anointed
as some kind of “expert” on all things Smith River by our fumbling Chair
of the Board of Supervisors, Darren Short, was then “left footed” by Mr.
Werschkull’s inability to live up to Chair Short’s expectations. The
“short” answer is “NO”.  The water for both districts is completely safe
to drink as certified by the fact that both community’s water is tested
quarterly for the past ten years and found absent any evidence that the
water contains sufficient contaminants to be a danger to public health.

So what is all the fuss about?  Seems the local Forest Service has
rather than satisfactorily maintaining its forest responsibilities for
fire danger, directed its attention to a much more suitable and
environmentally acceptable target, “Legacy Mines”.  Clearly something
that will not fight back and groups like Friends of Del Norte, The Smith
River Alliance, and now the Smith River Collaborative can get behind
with regard to the exploitation of the Smith River by evil humans.  Of
course the target has long been dead and buried by a century or more,
but it in the minds of people like Grant Werschkull and his friends at
the local forest service headquarters, the dangers continue waiting
patiently for abatement.

While Mr. Werschkull totally abused the public comment period limit of
three minutes with his long rambling prattle lacking any notion of being
an expert for twenty minutes, Chair Short, mouth agape, seemed unable to
raise his gavel of authority, to cut off Mr. Werschkull’s vain attempt
to appear relevant, and the public was suitably warned about the
impending crisis the “Legacy Mines” posed to our water supply.  Seems
this particular folly was preceded by a similar plea to the City’s
Council who folded like a cheap suit in the face of some one getting
some grant money, worthy or not.

We now know that Mr. Werschkull was using his well tested method of
“protecting” the Smith River from any and all human activity in the
vicinity of the Smith River, valid or not.  What we did not find out
until recently, is that minute traces of metals, which include copper
and chromium, as well as arsenic, are the result of surface runoff 
during our normal wet weather months that pose no issues for drinking
water.  Unless the forest service is planing to abate the entire County
for the contamination rather than a few hundred cubic yards of old mine
tailings, the forest service’s request for the County’s letter of
support is an expensive to the taxpayer fantasy of further mismanagement
by the forest service.

Questions posed by several Supervisors, “Does the forest service
abatement program pose any future contamination issues for drinking
water once the mine material is disturbed?”  With no answer forth
coming, perhaps a little digging into the less than stellar performance
of other federal government abatement projects around legacy mines is in
order.   Prior to 2008 issues with Department of Interior scientists
were exposed first in several “mine abatement ” projects that did not
turn out as expected, then dam removals, the Klamath River dams among
the exposures, with highly questionable data driven conclusions.  This
forced the Department to re-examine several projects with expertise from
outside the department where they learned that the information from most
of these projects were tainted by inaccurate findings. One of the
projects consisted of a mine abatement where the project located in
Colorado contaminated the water supply of several towns along the river
in question.  So, “Yes” there is the concern that the forest service
project could cause future contamination of the water supply. And,
secondly there is no reasonable conclusion that leads one to believe
that the legacy mines pose any sort of contamination risk to the public
currently if ever.  The Board of Supervisors should refrain from
offering support to the forest service and be more concerned with the
County’s “real” issues, something Grant Werschkull clearly has opposed,
like fostering a viable economy, say what?

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