UPDATE ON COMMUNITY ASSESSMENT OF NORTHERN EUREKA COUNTY
Dr. Fred Steinmann, Assistant Research Professor at UNR’s Center for Economic Development, and formerly UNR Cooperative Extension Educator for Eureka County, gave the Commissioners a synopsis of the work he has completed at the request of the Crescent Valley Town Advisory Board’s ‘Crescent Valley Community Development Implementation Plan Working Committee’ (CVCDIPWC) to conduct a survey of northern Eureka County (The Crescent Valley and Beowawe areas). Steinmann’s report is titled “A Community Assessment of Northern Eureka County, Nevada’ and it builds upon and uses data from the 2013 Needs Assessment of Eureka County Steinmann wrote (a UNCE Special Publication), and the Crescent Valley Community Development Plan (The Implementation Plan of October 2012) with the data collected in the recent survey of Beowawe and Crescent Valley residents.
Steinmann thanked the County Commission, the CVTAB, and Barrick Gold for their support for the survey done in late 2013.
Prior to Steinmann’s study, the most recent county-wide Community Assessment by the Cooperative Extension had been done in 2009 for the entire county. That needs assessment focused on survey work and in 2013 Steinmann added demographic, housing, employment, and income and industry trends.
The 2009 Assessment identified 7 needs to be addressed including a need for adequate and reliable supply of water for residents and industries; underage drinking; medical care; use of illegal drugs; retention of a rural atmosphere and quality of life; juvenile crime; and noxious weed invasion As a result of that 2009 needs assessment, the previous Extension Educator identified and began to implement four educational program areas ranging from addressing water availability and reliability; the youth crime rate; illegal drug use; and general economic development and economic/community development initiatives.
In his 2013 work, Steinmann focused on providing additional demographic and socio-economic trends. ‘One thing you see in this table here, much like the rest of the state,” Steinmann said, is that the majority of the population is retired or moving into retirement which Steinmann noted from a community economic development perspective has significant implications as the population ages and individuals’ consumption patterns shift from buying homes and “purchasing toys” to “more retirement-oriented expenditures” with monies expending shifting to health care and pharmaceuticals (which are not taxed). Steinmann noted that local government then has to deal with that shortfall in terms of revenue over time and has to be aware of the implications of that trend.
In terms of various housing trends, Steinmann found it interesting to see that the total number of occupied housing units throughout Eureka County increased from 2000 to 2010 showing a stable population that is not just renting, working and moving on. Rather people are staying in properties they own, a driver of economic activity in the community. Steinmann noted that 51.7 percent, the majority, of residents are owner-occupiers rather than renters.
Turning to employment and income characteristics, Steinmann noted that both the unemployment rate and median family income outperformed the state of Nevada as a whole which Steinmann observed is both a “blessing and a curse to some degree because the numbers kind of hide what’s happening” with the unemployment rate as Eureka’s main industry, mining, booms at which point population comes in and then with a bust mining leaves and aren’t reflected in the numbers. These numbers are a problem from a community economic development perspective as far as bringing in resources from the State and Federal government.
Steinmann noted that as the County just completed its Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy for the federal government and that not meeting two of the qualifications, having an unemployment rate greater than state or nation and income less than the state or government, disqualifies Eureka County although there is a special need determination the EDA allows as the studies show that the County really needs economic diversification. Steinmann said from a “total number of businesses, the County looks fairly diversified and not overly dependent” but when looked at more closely one sees that mining remains the totally dominant industry which is problematic as the nature of boom/bust cycles is that when mining declines every other industry and the employment base is “tied to the fortunes of that one industry.”
The 2013 Assessment identified four primary needs: water management, and water quality and supply which Steinmann noted is very important in Diamond Valley. He noted that historically when mining declined, agriculture, farming and ranching, has “stepped up to take on the responsibility of maintaining some level of economic activity within the county” but now as the County faces economic uncertainty “water scarcity is a real issue” with “on-going pressures.” Steinmann said developing programs from an economic development stand-point to conserve water and sources is a key area moving forward. Tied into that is natural resource management on which Steinmann is working with Natural Resource Manager, Jake Tibbitts, on natural resource issues such as dealing with encroaching pinon-juniper and bio-char.
Another area of focus is youth development on which Cooperative Extension has been heavily focused. When Steinmann arrived as Extension Educator three years ago, 4H had about 12 youth enrolled; now the number is up to some 50 students. The program allows youth to have a productive focus.
In addition, sustainable economic development remains a focus in order to smooth “the curve between the high highs of a boom and the low lows of a bust.” Steinmann espoused overall diversification of the economic base by looking at what can be added to the existing economic base to “smooth out economic activity.”
In May 2014 Steinmann was approached by the Crescent Valley Community Development Implementation Plan Working Committee with a request to survey northern Eureka County, specifically Crescent valley and Beowawe in relation to Rex Massey’s Community Development Plan. 43 survey questions were developed with 18 focused on demographic and employment information, seven addressing public perceptions regarding the community and Eureka County; 10 questions related to interest in civic engagement; and 8 questions whose purpose was to examine and identify areas in need of revision in the Community Development Plan moving forward.
The survey was distributed by mail, and at a public event and was also available on-line and had a total response rate of 15 percent with which Steinmann was happy.
Steinmann said in terms of demographics and employment, the northern part of the county’s population is stable with residents living in the area a long time; but the population is aging which is problematic in being able to bring in additional retailers. Respondents indicated that they travel a long distance to purchase groceries and basic sundries and other retail products. Respondents felt the local economy is heavily dependent on mining and natural resource extraction. The public emphasized that there’s a strong need to diversify by “adding to.” Steinmann said there are opportunities announced at the state level that may help with diversification. Survey respondents saw a need for investment in infrastructure such as roads and sewers, and quality affordable housing from a work-force stand-point.
Survey respondents generally felt several actions could happen that they thought could contribute to that sustainability ranging from marketing closed mine sites to increasing the availability of quality affordable housing. “As many of you know, Eureka County participated in the FIND project that was done” with Lander and other counties. Steinmann described the FIND project as the baseline inventory of all the infrastructure that’s involved in mining activities and he noted that Lander County recently completed their CEDS and incorporated a lot of the strategies from the FIND project into their CEDS document. “There are several strategies that Lander County developed that with some modification may make sense for the northern part of the County as well.” Steinmann said.
Steinmann said the respondents felt optimistic and noted a high degree of optimism is positive moving forward. Steinmann stressed that civic engagement is critical moving forward with citizens taking responsibility for their community. Steinmann noted that survey respondents indicated they are not very involved in various organizations. Steinmann found that despite the optimistic sense people felt that was a surprising result. Steinmann acknowledged that the survey is “only talking about 43 people that responded to the survey,” but noted that that reticence to be involved in the community might be an area to address in terms of implementing any development.
In addition the survey asked questions about people’s thoughts and feelings about the CCRs (A deed of restrictions which are part of each and every property within Crescent Valley which were put in place in the late 1950s without the association infrastructure ever established to make them functional). The survey identified that for the most part respondents were not aware of the CCRs existence. Those familiar with the CCRs were not overly supportive of them. Respondents discussed a belief that the CCRs inhibit individual freedoms or economic development or are relatively confused about them. Steinmann encouraged educating the public about the CCRs.
Steinmann noted that the respondents were also surveyed about recycling, and showed a high level of support for recycling in Crescent Valley although implementing recycling in Crescent Valley presently faces logistics and cost issues; but with the community generally supportive, Steinmann saw that as opening the door for actions moving forward.
Steinmann noted that the Crescent Valley Community Development Plan focuses on 5 major near-term tasks with the first being the formation of the working committee that requested the survey. Steinmann said the University Center for Economic Development has been “talking internally about what we can do to assist here,” understanding that the community is desirous of a community store and to improve the town’s aesthetics. Steinmann said the UCED is willing to continue working with the committee on economic development and will provide assistance the county “feels comfortable with us providing.”
Turning to long term tasks, Steinmann turned to the issue of business expansion opportunities within Crescent Valley, relating that Dr. Tom Harris, head of the UCED is piloting initiatives in Ely in White Pine County and that the initiative with modification could be “fairly successful here in Crescent Valley as well.
Steinmann turned to the subject of the Citizen’s Institutes planned for Crescent Valley and Eureka designed to enhance civic engagement and improve overall levels of citizen engagement. Steinmann and the UCED are working in partnership with the Nevada Chapter of the American Planning Association and can offer a capital improvement plan workshop; a comprehensive land use planning workshop; a community visioning charrette; and help in revising the current covenants, conditions and restrictions for the Crescent Valley area.
Mike Isaak, General Manager of Klondex Gold & Silver Mining Company’s, Fire Creek Project in Crescent Valley gave the Commission an update on Klondex mining activities in Eureka County. “We’re still currently operating under sampling project status which limits the quantity of ore we are able to produce at the site” and are in the process of submitting an EA which will allow them to transition from a small sampling project to full scale mining. 11 case studies had to be completed involving funding, air and water quality which will accompany the request to the BLM and will be submitted by the end of October and they expect 9 months to receive their permit and will continue to operate under sampling during that time. Isaak reported the rapid infiltration basin project has been completed and pipelines are being pressure-tested. “We will then have that capacity to discharge water” of drinking water quality. Wells have been upgraded, down-graded and fully commissioned with a water quality baseline determined. No ore processing is taking place. The mine is projected to have a 5 year mine life with a progressive increase of production of 40 to 50 tons per year. Currently there are 52 Klondex employees, 32 contractors (maintenance and security). When fully established they’ll be in the 100 employee range and many Crescent Valley people are already employed in security.
Concerns were expressed about mine trucks observing speed limits and stop signs as they get off the Interstate and travel on SR306. Isaak said Klondex is having radar equipment installed at the entrance to 10th Street from SR306 to observe the trucks’ speeds and data that shows driver infractions will be reviewed and addressed with drivers. They’d appreciate enforcement by the Sheriff’s department in areas beyond their “area of influence.” Isaak said, “We are concerned. We’re here for the community and want to be transparent” and will provide regular updates on how they’re progressing.