Now comes a Modesto developer with the latest plan for Tuolumne County’s 450-acre Jamestown Mine property: Gold Rush Gardens, a botanical wonderland that would be the centerpiece of a major tourist attraction including a convention center, campground, hotel, shops and athletic fields.
The mine property’s star-crossed history notwithstanding, Estell’s imaginative plans deserve a careful look. But county officials charting the mine site’s future should do so with caution and with resolve not to repeat the mistakes of the past — which have been legion.
None of these ideas were realized.
Instead the county was successfully sued by the state, which
insisted that arsenic and other residue left by 1980s and early ‘90s
mining operations was threatening neighboring properties. In a 2005
settlement, Tuolumne County agreed to pay $6 million in cleanup costs
in return for state pledges that not a cent more would be sought.
The settlement confirmed what many had long suspected: That the
Board of Supervisors’ 1996 decision to release Sonora Mining Corp. from
a multi-million dollar reclamation bond in return for title to the
tainted property was not the best outcome.
Now, with $6 million in bonds sold to pay into the state cleanup
fund, the county is understandably looking for ways to cut its losses.
So is Estell’s fascinating plan the answer? Is it the idea that
will finally fulfill the potential envisioned by officials who years
ago named the mine property — with apologies here to Henry Fonda and
Katharine Hepburn — “Golden Pond.”
Or is there truth to the old adage, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is?”
At this point, either could be the case. That’s why the developer’s plan deserves a closer look.
On first blush, Estell’s proposal seems not just like pie in the
sky, but pie in the stratosphere. Lush, beauty akin to Victoria,
British Columbia’s spectacular Butchart Gardens? Atop a once-toxic mine
in Jamestown? Attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors annually?
It’s tempting to dismiss such vision as frivolous, but skeptics
have routintely doubted the visionaries among us. To their credit,
Supervisors Dick Pland (“Impressive, ambitious,” he said) and Mark
Thornton (“Kudos,” he told Estell) saw potential.
And the developer himself reminded the board that The Butchart Gardens itself rose from the ruins of a played-out rock quarry.
Certainly, many questions must be answered — not the least of
which will be whether Estell, as he hopes, can tap into the state
cleanup fund to help make Mother Lode Gardens a reality. Also, the
county — which Estell said would be “an equal partner” — should assure
that this partnership comes without liabilities or costs.