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

Election Season

November/December 2014
Wednesday, October 22, 2014

We didn’t intend this issue to have an election season theme. But politics has a way of seeping into the cracks and fissures.


Read more...

Kill the Meeting

November/December 2014
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
BY AMY MILSHTEIN

Meetings get a bad rap. A few local companies make them count.


Read more...

The short list: 4 companies engaged in a battle of the paddles

The Latest
Thursday, December 04, 2014
pingpongthumbBY JACOB PALMER | OB DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

Nothing says startup culture like a ping pong table in the office, lounge or lobby.


Read more...

Powerbook Perspective

January-Powerbook 2015
Friday, December 12, 2014
BY LINDA BAKER

A conversation with Oregon state economist Josh Lehner.


Read more...

Growing a mobility cluster

News
Friday, October 31, 2014
0414 bikes bd2f6052BY LINDA BAKER | OB EDITOR

Why are there so few transportation startups in Portland?  The city’s leadership in bike, transit and pedestrian transportation has been well-documented.  But that was then — when government and nonprofits paved the way for a new, less auto centric way of life.


Read more...

Justice for All

January-Powerbook 2015
Thursday, December 11, 2014
BY JESSICA RIDGWAY

Lawger upends the typical hourly based fee model by letting clients determine the cost.


Read more...

I Know How You Feel

November/December 2014
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
BY JESSICA RIDGWAY

Most smartphones come equipped with speech recognition systems like Siri or Cortana that are capable of understanding the human voice and putting words into actions. But what if smartphones could do more? What if smartphones could register feeling?


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