By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
By New Times
"What we want to do here is, in the purest sense, engage in the creation of new capital," he says, probing the earth with his boot. "This is where wealth, wealth that drives the entire world, starts from. Mining is what built this country. Mining is what built the world."
Ross nods in agreement and scampers over to a large, metal bin, retrieving a rock about the size of a tennis ball. He grins and gestures for a visitor to come nearer.
"You see this?" he says, pointing a gnarled finger at thin, sparkling strands that line the rock, only a few days before taken as a sample from the King Pin. "That's gold. And that, my friend, is what it is all about."
So strong is their commitment to those spidery gold veins in the stone that Parks and Ross seem almost incapable of comprehending the concerns of residents.
"Basically, their worries are based on ignorance," Parks says. "The public has a lot of misconceptions about mining, and the idea that a little dynamite, detonated by professionals, is going to cause people's homes to fall over or mine shafts to collapse is just . . . well, ridiculous."
Despite the fact that state mine regulators share residents' concerns, Parks downplays the suggestion that the mine will lead to contamination or destabilization of the water table.
"We will be responsible," he says dismissively. "I wouldn't be involved in a project that would hurt this town.
"Plus, you've got to remember, this is only a tiny mining operation. People are making a big fuss out of nothing."
The word "tiny" comes up repeatedly in conversations with officials of Marra/Majestic, who endeavor to highlight the limited nature of the King Pin project. But their other comments and actions hint at something else. It became clear after a recent contentious meeting with the Walker community that while these prospectors, in traditional miner fashion, are keeping their data on the mine's worth close to the vest, they have big plans.
Walker's citizens were introduced to the mining company during a meeting on Memorial Day weekend, when Ross met with practically the entire town. At first, Ross announced that the "small mining operations" would only require "a few" trucks to ramble down Walker roads every day, and that mining would be confined to the King Pin site.
But Tara McCabe, who caught wind of the project a few weeks before her neighbors, was prepared. She peppered Ross with questions--in the process, bringing out the real truth.
Under the heat of her questioning, Ross equivocated for a time, but finally admitted that up to 40 trips, by semi-size ore carriers, could be made daily on the narrow, dusty roads, and that Marra/Majestic had been buying up property and patenting mineral rights all over Walker.
In fact, the company had become one of the largest landowners in town in preparation for possible mining operations at several sites, and did not rule out digging and dynamiting on lots adjacent to homes and cabins.
The crowd began to get surly. One resident was heard to mutter, "Anyone got any tar and feathers?" Ross became defensive.
"Look," he told the crowd. "The Mining Law of 1872 gives me the right to do this. That's the law, folks.
"I'm sorry, but that's just the law."
There are other indications that Marra/Majestic is gearing up for extensive operations in the Walker area.
Parks and Ross say the company has sunk an estimated $250,000 into the project so far--just for initial surveying and consulting fees. Much more, perhaps three times that, will be necessary to commence full-scale mining operations. One doesn't drop $1 million without some expectations that the mine is a glory hole.
McCarra, who wasn't present to witness the vitriol at the town meeting, happily volunteers that Marra/Majestic hopes to construct a helicopter pad, buy several ambulances to handle "worker injuries on site" and even dig a milelong tunnel through the mountains to move ore to a railroad line--just as miners did a century ago.
He also suggests that a host of other mines in the area will be tapped by the company, and that the full-time population of Walker will swell to 3,000 (up from several hundred) within three years.
"We think [the King Pin] is going to be pretty rich," McCarra says. "And that's going to produce a lot of big changes around here."
And, as McCabe can attest, the company has shown how hostile it can be to anyone who dares stand in the way of those "big changes."
Soon after McCabe started urging residents to write letters of protest to the Interior Department, the Forest Service and the state Mine Department, she says she got a menacing phone call from McCarra.
"He told me it would be better if I stopped fighting this and 'got on board,'" she says. "He told me it was in my interest and in the community's interest to shut up.
"I'm not a timid person, so it didn't affect me. But I think it was meant to intimidate me."
When McCabe, who lives on a private road that leads to the King Pin site, refused to give permission for Marra/Majestic to run trucks over the road, she received another, more subtle sign that the company isn't fond of dissent.