Conflict swirls around gold mining

| Print |  Email
Articles - October 2010
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
1010_ATS16
The Chetco River is the site of a battle over gold dredging operations. // PHOTO COURTESY OF FRIENDS OF THE KALMIOPSOS
A long-simmering conflict over individual versus public rights has converged on the banks of the rivers of southwest Oregon, stirring resentment between gold miners and environmentalists. In question is whether suction dredging poses a threat to river wildlife and if the long-standing individual right to mine in the state should be amended.

Suction dredging is a mining technique by which riverbed gravel is removed by a gas-powered machine, sifted for bits of gold, and released back into the river. Both sides cite conflicting evidence as to whether it is harmful to wildlife in river habitats. U.S. Forest Service geologist Greg Visconty, based in Portland, says the high price of gold (about $1,200 an ounce) in addition to a temporary ban on suction dredging in California is driving the increase in mining in the Rogue, Chetco and Illinois rivers. According to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, dredging permits in the state rose from 934 in 2009 to 1,205 this year.

The general mining act of 1872 establishes the individual right to mine. The anti-mining contingent is trying to protect the rivers by stopping further mining claims. The Forest Service, trying to accommodate both sides, has restricted dredging equipment size to reduce potential harm.

The most contentious point right now is how much mining can be done under current laws, which allow mining in wilderness areas if the claim was awarded before any wilderness protection. Most miners mine recreationally or for supplemental income. Robert Stumbo, owner of the Armadillo Mining Shop in Grants Pass, says most of his clientele are struggling to make ends meet in a county with high unemployment.

But Seattle developer David Rutan’s company, Chetco River Mining and Exploration, has bigger plans for its claims on the Chetco. Chetco River Mining has built a group of cabins on the Little Chetco River to attract prospector-tourists and proposes to commercially mine one of its claims in the Kalmiopsis wilderness area. Rutan’s plans have environmentalists up in arms. “He can’t do this legally,” Pete Frost of the Western Environmental Law Center of Eugene says of Rutan’s proposal. 

“It’s not an antiquated law, it’s been updated several times,” Rutan says of the 1872 mining law’s legitimacy. “The law speaks for itself.”

The Forest Service currently is assessing Rutan’s claim in the Kalmiopsis. If the claim is deemed profitable and was filed before the Oregon Wilderness Act of 1984, Rutan will have the right to mine.

“Whether it takes five or 10 years, we’ll get it through,” Rutan says. “It’s immaterial how long it takes or how much it costs.”
PETER BELAND
 

More Articles

Modern design defines new Portland indoor market

The Latest
Thursday, June 25, 2015
thumbSnøhetta JBPM exterior www mir noBY KIM MOORE | RESEARCH EDITOR

An international architecture firm known for its design of the National September 11 Memorial Museum Pavilion in New York unveiled its plan this week for a modern indoor/outdoor food market at the foot of the Morrison Bridge in downtown Portland.


Read more...

House of Clarity

July/August 2015
Monday, July 13, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER

Holding a Power Lunch at Veritable Quandary in downtown Portland.


Read more...

The Backstory: Portland Youth Builders

The Latest
Wednesday, June 03, 2015
blog002 1BY JASON E. KAPLAN | STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

As part of our green workplaces story, Oregon Business checked out a community service project undertaken by Portland Youth Builders, a nonprofit alternative high school. In partnership with Whole Foods, PYB built garden boxes for a Home Forward  housing site. Home Forward is a government agency that provides housing for low income residents and people with disabilities.


Read more...

Farm in a Box

July/August 2015
Friday, July 10, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER

Most of the food Americans consume is trucked in from hundreds of miles away. Eric Wilson, co-founder and CEO of Gro-volution, wants to change that. So this past spring, the Air Force veteran and former greenhouse manager started work on an alternative farming system he claims is more efficient than conventional agriculture, and also shortens the distance between the consumer and the farm.


Read more...

Business partnerships: taming the three-headed monster

Contributed Blogs
Monday, July 06, 2015
070615-businessmarriagefail-thumbBY KATHERINE HEEKIN | OB GUEST COLUMNIST

Picking a business partner is not much different than choosing a spouse or life partner, and the business break-up can be as heart-wrenching and costly as divorce.


Read more...

Reader Input: Energy Overload

June 2015
Wednesday, July 15, 2015

We asked readers to weigh in on the fossil fuel-green energy equation.


Read more...

Storyteller in Chief: Natural Prophets

July/August 2015
Monday, July 13, 2015
BY SAM BLACKMAN

Storyteller-in-chief with the CEO and co-founder of Elemental Technologies.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS