Auburn police removed two men from a storm drain beneath Old Town after business owners complained of hearing banging and seeing lights beneath the street.
Investigators believe the duo attempted to mine gold, although whether or not they succeeded is unknown.
City officials said the mining went on for as long as six months before anyone alerted officers.
“Our officers realized that they were actually picking some of our storm drain away by digging for the gold,” Auburn City Manager Tim Rundel said. “As a result, we had to call in our public works and they had to do some repair.”
Crews used 5,000 pounds of concrete and riprap to repair the damage; however, the city did not say how much it cost.
The storm drain in question runs directly beneath Café Delicious, a Mexican restaurant owned by Ruben Ramirez. Ramirez first heard a tapping noise last week, and through a trap door in his kitchen, lowered himself down into the drain to investigate.
“I heard a little noise, like someone was pounding, so I came to the door and said, ‘is anybody there,’” Ramirez said.
Down below he found a flashlight, chocolates and cigarettes.
“Those people, they were here for a while,” he said. “And, I’m assuming they did most of the work at night.”
Auburn was founded by Claude Chana in 1848 after he found gold. The city’s long been associated with searches for the precious mineral — and still is to this day.
Not far from the storm drain in question, Heather Willis sits behind the counter at Pioneer Mining Supplies. When she first heard of the pair’s attempt, she couldn’t help but scratch her head.
“I hate to say it, but it’s kind of embarrassing because it’s like, if they would have just came by and asked I would have sent them in a better direction,” Willis said.
She knows of at least nine different legitimate mining areas around Auburn where gold mining is legal, including her favorite — Bear River Camp Ground.
The two men removed from the storm drain did not admit to doing the mining themselves and were not arrested.
“They thought there was a possibility they might actually find some significant gold, but I’m here to tell you there’s not any significant gold in our storm drains,” Rundel said.
Despite the contrary message, in a town known for its gold, miners clearly aren’t deterred. In their minds, any stream could yield a potential fortune — no matter where it may be hiding.