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Mines maintain strict marijuana policies

As Nevada government grapples with how to manage the legalization of marijuana, northeastern Nevada’s major mining companies maintain a hard stance on alcohol and drug use policies for employees.

“Newmont has taken a zero tolerance position on marijuana use in the workplace,” Newmont Mining Corp. said in a statement. “Employees who test positive will be terminated.”

Nevada voters legalized the use of recreational marijuana effective Jan. 1, 2017, and medical marijuana in 2001. The state’s first medical marijuana establishments became operational in 2015.

Over the past three years, marijuana positivity in safety- sensitive and general U.S. workforces increased, according to a May 2017 Quest Diagnostics report that analyzed millions of workforce drug test results. In urine tests of the safety- sensitive workforce, marijuana positivity increased nearly 10 percent — 0.71 percent in 2015 versus 0.78 percent in 2016, the report shows.

Local governments can regulate cannabis businesses in their jurisdictions, and Elko’s elected officials have approved ordinances that prohibit marijuana establishments. In past years, Elko County prohibited recreational and medical marijuana establishments in unincorporated areas, and the City of Elko approved an ordinance Feb. 13 that bans recreational and medical marijuana businesses in the city.

“We are a mining community, and we depend on the mines for jobs, for tax revenue base, and we do not want to do something by implementing recreational marijuana and/or medical marijuana,” said city councilman Reece Keener during a Jan. 9 city council meeting. “Marijuana use is not compatible with the mining-sector employment.”

In response, councilman John Patrick Rice said that “the mines are fully capable of managing it themselves.”

Mining companies consistently adhere to policies that prohibit the use of substances — including marijuana — that could endanger employees and others at worksites where risks are present. Jobs in the industry rank among the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s top 10 most dangerous professions.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1970 states that an employer must “furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees,” according to Section 5 of the act.

“Barrick’s intent is to provide a safe, healthy, productive and respectful work environment for all its employees, contractors, and visitors,” Barrick Gold Corp. said in a statement. “Our drug and alcohol policy was written with these priorities in mind and in accordance with current laws. We continue to monitor the issue but do not foresee a change to our policy at this time.”

The Mine Safety and Health Administration provides guidance about drug and alcohol use at mines through the Code of Federal Regulations. The administration states in 30 CFR 56/57.20001 that “intoxicating beverages and narcotics shall not be permitted or used in or around mines. Persons under the influence of alcohol or narcotics shall not be permitted on the job.”

Although cannabis is not considered a narcotic, federal law still classifies marijuana a controlled substance. The Drug Enforcement Administration categorizes cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug, defined as “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” according to the DEA. Marijuana extract is also listed as a Schedule 1 controlled substance.

Perhaps in response to the state law change, mining companies’ policies seem stricter now than ever, said Virginia Babiuk, spokeswoman for A1 Alcohol & Drug Collections in Elko.

“In mining, they still adhere to a very strict standard,” she said. “They follow, as well as we follow, the federal regulations.”

A1 has served Elko for eight years, plus 10 more under a previous name. The locally owned and operated company provides drug and alcohol testing for businesses, including mining companies.

“It’s still a safety concern because they don’t want to jeopardize safety-sensitive issues,” Babiuk said. “It is still not [federally] legal. Every company has their own policies about what to do with it if it showed up. The policies are strict.”

Through A1, marijuana normally is identified via urine analysis in a lab, Babiuk said. Some forms of marijuana can stay in a person’s system for days or weeks, depending on metabolism rates and frequency of use.

“Every test we take goes to a certified lab,” Babiuk said, explaining that the company follows U.S. Department of Transportation standards and every technician is certified. “That’s why we have the clients we do. They want to be safe.”

Barrick and Nemont conduct pre-employment screenings and random testing, and administer tests based on reasonable suspicion and after safety incidents or accidents, the companies stated. Barrick also requires its contractors and vendors to have drug and alcohol testing procedures for their employees.

“Employees and contractors found to be in violation of Barrick’s drug and alcohol policy face disciplinary action up to and including termination,” Barrick stated.

Lab tests detect tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is the psychoactive chemical in cannabis. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is another chemical found in marijuana that has antipsychotic effects, according to the National Library of Medicine. THC and CBD can be found in medical marijuana.

Employers, including mining companies, are allowed to restrict medical marijuana in the workplace, according to the Nevada Revised Statutes.

NRS Chapter 453A.800 states that an employer is not required to allow the medical use of marijuana in the workplace. The statute also does not require an employer to modify the working conditions of a person who uses medical marijuana.

The law does, however, state that an employer “must attempt to make reasonable accommodations for the medical needs of an employee who engages in the medical use of marijuana if the employee holds a valid registry identification card,” provided that the accommodations do not “pose a threat of harm or danger to persons or property or impose an undue hardship on the employer,” or “prohibit the employee from fulfilling any and all of his or her job responsibilities.”

The law of the state might change, but the law of the land in the mining industry remains the same.

“Newmont does not foresee changes, however, Newmont continuously reviews employment policies to ensure compliance with all State and Federal laws,” Newmont said.

“Every company has their own policies about what to do with it if it showed up. The policies are strict.” Virginia Babiuk, A1 Alcohol & Drug Collections

Nevada No. 3 mining jurisdiction

Nevada rose to the No. 3 place in a list of the world’s top jurisdictions for mining based on the 2017 Fraser Institute Survey of Mining Companies.

The state moved up from its fourth-place ranking in 2016. This year, Finland took the No. 1 slot, with the Canadian Province of Saskatchewan in second. Fourth is the Republic of Ireland, followed by Western Australia in fifth. Rounding out the top 10 are Quebec, Ontario, Chile, Arizona and Alaska.

“Rich mineral reserves, competitive taxes, efficient permitting procedures and certainty around environmental regulations will still attract significant investment — even with slumping commodity prices,” said Kenneth Green, senior director of the Fraser Institute’s energy and natural resource studies, in a statement.

The survey went out to 2,700 mining executives between Aug. 22 and Nov. 10, 2017.

From the 360 responses, Fraser Institute evaluated 91 jurisdictions using an “Investment Attractiveness Index,” which considers perception of minerals and policy. Regions are ranked on geologic attractiveness and the effect of government policy on attitudes toward exploration investment. The report was released Feb. 22.

When considering just perception of government policies, Ireland takes the lead as the region with the most attractive policies toward mining. Finland, Saskatchewan, Sweden, Nevada, Northern Ireland, Michigan, Wyoming, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador also made the top 10.

Guatemala ranked worst for combined policy and mineral potential. Also in the bottom 10 were Kenya; Mendoza, Argentina; Chubut, Argentina; Mozambique; Bolivia; Venezuela; Romania; China; and Nicaragua.

Overall, investment attractiveness decreased worldwide, according to the report.

Canada ranked as the most attractive region overall, followed by Australia and the United States.

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Garibaldis opens on Idaho Street

ELKO — Garibaldis Mexican Restaurant recently opened in Elko, offering the same colorful menu as its parent location in Idaho and employing about 20 people.

Owner Jose “Chuy” Perez opened his first restaurant in Twin Falls in 1994 after working in the food service industry since he moved to the U.S. from Jalisco, Mexico, in 1985.

“And now I started my own business,” he said, reflecting on his beginnings working as a dishwasher and cook in Seattle. “I started from low to up.”

Perez and wife Rocio now own four Garibaldis locations, including full-service menus at restaurants in Twin Falls, Jerome and Elko, along with a reduced selection of offerings at the Magic Valley Mall.

Elko’s Garibaldis opened Feb. 19, serving lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

“We’re so busy!” Perez said.

The manager, Susy Godoy, relocated to Elko from Twin Falls to run the restaurant.

Perez said he opened the Elko venue “because I like Elko. I like Nevada, and I have a lot of friends in Nevada.”

A specialty on the menu is “molcajete,” an entree featuring grilled chicken, steak and shrimp with “nopal,” or cactus, in a spicy sauce.

Drinks available at the full bar include mango margaritas and micheladas.

“Everybody likes Mexican food, especially when it’s good,” Perez said.

Enhanced 911 Board may need to change name

ELKO — Elko County Enhanced 911 Board will recommend to county commissioners they pursue Next Generation 911 rather than Enhanced 911, which Lisa Madden of Winbourne Consulting LLC said would “provide significant challenges.”

The Enhanced 911 Board voted Monday to tell commissioners Next Generation 911 is the best way to improve the county’s 911 services, and the board accepted Winbourne’s report that recommends Next Generation.

Madden said that along with being the best option, Next Generation would cost less than Enhanced 911. Winbourne estimates standard pricing for Next Generation 911 would be $432,000, with an annual recurring cost of $151,474; or the cost could be lower at $192,000 with a service provider and annual recurring costs of $199,474.

“You can own it or have it serviced,” said consultant Sharon Counterman, who said that personally she would go with leasing through a service provider.

Winbourne estimated Enhanced 911 would cost $815,000 with a recurring cost of $173,250 with selective routing; or $665,000 with recurring costs of $275,750 with trunking to Reno. Trunking is a method for providing network access by sharing a set of lines or frequencies.

Elko Police Chief Ben Reed, who chairs the Enhanced 911 Board, pointed out Winbourne’s figures in a graphic didn’t add up to $815,000. Madden said Winbourne would provide the missing figures, but she thought the $815,000 figure was correct.

She said the cost could “easily get to $800,000 for selective routers.”

Madden said Elko County should prepare for costs to run up to 20 percent higher than quoted because “Elko is unique,” with no existing infrastructure for improving 911.

She also told the board the timeline for Next Generation or Enhanced 911 would be about the same, 18 months.

Winbourne recognized in the report that funding will be an issue. The county receives a 25-cent surcharge for improving 911, but Madden said that has a “level of uncertainty.”

Reed asked whether a lack of money now would delay the timeline, but Counterman said requests for proposals could be done in phases and payments spread out.

Cash Minor, assistant county manager and the one keeping track of the surcharge money coming into the county from big and small phone providers, reported $46,000 has come into the county so far, and the 911 funds are now at $226,214.

Madden also recommended the county ask the providers of landline and cellphone service in Elko County to provide an audit of the surcharge collections.

The 25-cent surcharge is at the lower end of the scale nationwide for 911, Madden said, suggesting that if Nevada had a 911 state coordinator, there would be “brainstorming” with the rest of the country that could include a push to raise the surcharge. Madden said a surcharge of $1 would be reasonable.

Madden also suggested the county begin a 3 percent surcharge on prepaid cellphones to bring in extra revenue.

“That’s when you would see fast revenue,” Counterman said.

She said one of the next steps would be to develop technical specifications to request proposals for Next Generation.

In her presentation, Madden said the first 911 call was 50 years ago, and that service that was basic 911. Enhanced 911 is roughly 30 years old, and Next Generation 911 went into play about 2010. She called Enhanced 911 obsolete.

“Citizens of Elko County today have basic 911,” Madden said, adding that there are only a dozen entities in the nation with basic 911 out of 6,600. More than 2,000 now have Next Generation 911.

Next Generation 911 will allow location of cellphones and connect 911 centers so law enforcement and emergency services can better connect in times of crisis for unified action. The technology would also allow Elko County to participate in FirstNet, which will allow people on the scene of a crisis to send photographs.

Going to Next Generation 911 will “require commitment and work,” Madden said, such as establishing cyber security policies, setting up a governance board, determining a policy for photographs when that becomes possible, deciding on law enforcement backup policies, and training.

Undersheriff Ron Supp questioned whether Owyhee can participate in the update of 911 and how to find out from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs what the status would be. Owyhee is one of three 911 call centers in the county. The others are in Elko and West Wendover.

Board member Jessie Bahr, president of the Spring Creek Association, said she hoped some research on the questions raised could be done before the next board meeting on April 12.

Winbourne’s lengthy report and recommendations comprised the first phase for the consulting company. The second phase will be procurement of equipment. Winbourne’s original bid was for $161,280 for three phases. A contract with the county presented last September was for $137,000 for the first two phases.